Teaching kids about $$$

Last year, myself and two colleagues conducted empathy interviews with high school students. The aim of the interviews was to gain a better understanding of what was important to our students. The interviews were conducted as part of a UTS workshop about implementing project based learning at school.

Empathy is about truly understanding the positions other other individuals. It allows us for quality relationships and partnerships to develop. Positive relationships are central to the learning process.

One of the questions from the interview was “If you could learn one thing at school to make you ready for your future, what might that be?”.

“One thing I would want to learn in school is all the mundane things that we actually need after we leave school. These include how to do finances, job interviews and other things such as those.”

Year 8 student

From our empathy interviews, we found that financial mathematics was a common area of concern for students. Students were worried about their competency in navigating the world of being an adult: lodging tax returns, understanding the fees in owning a home, running a business and investing hard earned pay checks. Although our study had a small sample size, the interviews were a valuable exercise that allowed us to acknowledge that our students’ perceptions and realities are valid and should be considered when we plan our teaching and learning programs.

To unpack the information gained from the interviews, we used a visualisation board. This allowed us to see and similarities between students’ responses.

Often in our Maths classrooms (or even other KLAs), “Ms/Sir, when are we going to use THIS in real life?”.

The honest answer is, “Never”.

The true answer is that mathematics is not an end in itself. It is not meant to be learned for the purpose of potentially implementing a particular operative method in real life. Mathematics develops our lateral thinking, critical thinking and deep knowledge. It is the language of the purest form of thinking.

Is it odd for 12-16 y.o. kids to be concerned about their financial proficiency? Absolutely not. Let us try to empathise with their position. There is an obvious discrepancy between what students think they need (from their observations of their parents and other adults on navigating the world) with what they are taught by their teachers because it is in the curriculum. For anyone, this would cause doubt with the purpose of school and angst with their own competency. When teachers hit financial maths, where the links to real life are obvious, teachers need to capture student’s interest in learning mathematics. Financial mathematics is one of my favourite topics to teach as learning can be inquiry-based and directly related to their personal lives.

My Investment Portfolio

Background information

This activity was designed to simulate scenarios that enable students to make financial decisions and to reflect upon the consequences of their decisions. This activity can be implement when students are learning about financial mathematics (e.g. the effect of interest and risks associated with investments), to allow students to put their theory and knowledge into practise.

Grade level

I designed this activity to be used for the Year 12 Mathematics Standard 2 course. The concept of the game can be easily adapted to all grades.


3 lessons (15 minutes each)

The activity

Students start with $50 in their investment account and each lesson they are given 4 investment options. Each lesson for 3 lessons, students will be invited to invest their money. Students will choose how much money they want to invest and into which investment options.

Rules to play My Investment Portfolio

In an Excel spreadsheet, the teacher runs the calculations and then reveals the results of each student at the beginning of the next class. The teacher then leads a discussion with the help of students to identify which strategies were more successful than others. Students copy down their new account value at the top of their next hand out and continue the game.

Additional notes

The rules of the activity are presented in a PowerPoint. The teacher needs to clarify any unclear rules before the start of the game because the game will run for 3 lessons and the results of each lesson carry on to the next.

I displayed the results of all each student’s investment at the beginning of each class. This adds an element of competitiveness in the classroom which contributed to a high degree of engagement from the Year 12 students.

As it stands, the teacher needs to simulate the probability events on Excel which can take up some time. However, I did not mind getting my hands dirty with spreadsheet formulas and daresay enjoyed it a little.

Free Download

I am a big fan sharing and collaboration. Click on the links below to download the files.

Leave a comment below to let me know what you think! What games do you use when teaching financial maths?

MIP PowerPoint Instructions

MIP Excel Sample

MIP Student Handout

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