Curriculum Problem and Solution


My problem was initially identified by me a few years ago when my school district eliminated a course call Business Math. The course was very outdated, yet some of the skills were important for students to learn who were graduating from a technical high school. There is a need to teach students some financial literacy previously found in Business Math. In addition, there is no rigorous alternative course for motivated students aside from the honors courses geared toward preparing students for college.

The existence of my school system is to prepare students to work in traditional trades such as automotive, carpentry, electrical, and plumbing. In preparing students to enter a vocation, we also strive to give students a high quality academic education and prepare them for all possibilities post high school, including apprenticeship, entrance into a trade program, or college opportunities. About when the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) went into effect my district hired a new superintendent with a mandate to increase the academic rigor, or non-trade part, of the school system. In doing so, I believe we have placed more emphasis then we should on academics somewhat to the detriment of the trade program. This shift in focus caused the Business Math course to be cancelled and all math curricula to be revised. This revision created two pathways for students, depending on ability and post-high school goals. The pathways created were the regular pathway and an honors pathway.  With the requirements of the NCLB law taking hold, the revision of curriculum placed an additional emphasis on preparing students for the state mandated test or CAPT. Hence, most of the district math resources went toward supporting the 9th and 10th grade curricula to increase success on CAPT.

With this background, and anecdotal evidence of a need for financial literacy, I looked for data to substantiate the belief that students need some sort of financial literacy education back prior to graduating. I found through interviews, surveys and discussions with teachers, administrators, and students that there was truth to this belief for a need of a financial literacy curriculum, especially for graduating seniors. Looking for more concrete data, I analyzed 2009 graduates’ post-high school paths through a previously administered survey (see Graph 1). Analyzing this survey shows a small percentage of the 2009 graduates proceed to college, thus I determined we are not serving the majority of our students with courses designed to prepare students for college. We have a need to prepare students for working either in or out of their respective trades. Further analysis revealed that over half this year’s seniors (class of 2010) are not enrolled in any math course, with only a small percentage taking the Math Applications course (see Graph 2). The data gathered on graduates and current seniors, together with the qualitatively gathered beliefs I defined the problem as: The continuum of math courses in our system does not provide students wanting to pursue their trade or students who do not have a goal to attend college with an alternative course. There is need for additional units of study.

Fulfilling this need with the current budget crisis caused the possible solution to be very limited. Ideally, a new financial literacy course would best serve the needs of a majority of our seniors. Yet the lack of funding for planning and starting a new course is not feasible. Therefore, modifying an existing course to include these needed financial literacy skills was the only practical solution.

I went about creating a learning unit, and in the process modifying the Math Applications curriculum to accept this unit. To accomplish this I added additional goals to the Math Applications curriculum to include two units: one on personal financial literacy and one on business financial literacy. Each unit should cover about one cycle.


The following documents have been created to start a personal financial literacy unit in the Math Application course:

  • New curriculum map
  • Curriculum updated to the district standard format
  • Complete Goal V: Personal Financial Literacy
  • Implementation Guide for Goal 5

The new curriculum map reflects the adjustments needed to allow two cycles for financial literacy, one on personal finance and one on business finance. The costs for the units are minimal, as most materials are freely available online or free through federal and state governmental agencies.

The personal financial literacy goal (Goal V) is structured as an exploration similar to the rest of the Math Applications course, with the students participating in a simulation of life post-graduation. Students will simulate living on their own (financially) through the course of the two units. Students will participate daily in creating a budget, attempting to adhere to that budget by facing unexpected financial costs and rewards randomly assigned to each student. It is geared to prepare students for real-world financial success. Students must keep a record of all money spent in the simulation, write checks, and keep a check register. Technology will be used throughout the goal to prepare students for post-graduation life. Primary technology use will be for researching financial skills, preparing reports, and using spreadsheets to budget and track expenses. Online financial tools, such as financial calculators, and loan amortizations, will also be used.

As previously mentioned, the additional goals will be minimal in cost because most of the materials are freely available. However, the following list of resources will be needed to proceed with the unit:

  • Need to have access to a computer connected to the internet (preferably daily, but not necessary with proper planning).
  • Checking materials (checkbook and register) – Available free from many financial institutions.
  • Random way of assigning financial costs and rewards to students – Teacher developed
  • List of possible rewards and costs faced by graduates (examples include unexpected doctor bills, car repairs, bonuses from work, gambling winnings and debts, layoffs, child raising expenses, house/apt. repairs) – Teacher developed and shared among district.

I believe some of these resources should be created by teachers, while others should be generated or purchased at the district level. I recommend creating a repository of materials for all schools to share their work, thereby benefiting from the size of the district. For example, a network drive or online repository could be set up to share created resources.

This personal financial literacy unit is a beginning step in solving the need to prepare the majority of our students for life post-graduation. The unit is a good start, but more collaboration and work is needed to fine-tune daily lessons. In addition, the unit is powered according to Reeve’s Power Standards model of curriculum design. However, this model is not something that should be done in isolation, and I found it difficult to identify the power standards and follow the process alone. I did the work with full understanding that if the unit is adopted by the district, it will go under many revisions and powering cycles. The powered items are related only to my personal beliefs, and have not followed the process of revision by large groups and small groups previously used in other curriculums within the district (or as discussed in the course readings).

Curriculum, instruction, and assessment cannot be separated. The solution lacking financial literacy instruction started with modifying curriculum. I believe additional work is needed to support teachers giving this instruction, by identifying model lessons, strategies for success, and materials. Proceeding with this new unit will require additional professional development for staff. This development can be minimal in cost by using experts within the district. Finally, assessment cannot be forgotten. This unit is a problem-based inquiry, therefore, looking at a traditional math test of skills and knowledge is inappropriate for mastery. A portfolio of work coupled with written reflections should document and assess how well-prepared students become in relation to financial literacy.

Chart 1

Chart 2