Creating budgets, maintaining classroom bank accounts, and other activities that help students understand the concept of financial management are often found in classrooms from 2nd grade up to seniors in high school. I’ve taught enough students how to balance checking accounts, plan out spending sprees, and create budgets that I’ve taken to having them create spreadsheets to keep better track of all the transactions, while saving lots of time and paper in looking over work.
I particularly enjoyed a project I did with a 4th grade class a couple of years ago in which they were responsible for purchasing items to help a family fill up their new beach house given a limited budget. They were each assigned a family member and created a list of items based on what their individual family member’s tastes, hobbies, and interests were. Once they had a good idea of what they wanted to buy I unleashed them on the internet to visit major retailer sites like Walmart.com, Amazon.com, and others. We used spreadsheets to record, itemize, and tabulate how much we had spent, and then used a simple subtraction formula to figure out how much was left to spend.
While we could have done the entire project on paper, the object wasn’t necessarily to practice the math skills, but to show how useful office software could be beyond the “type a report” and “make a slideshow” which I see dominating computer-use time in many schools. It was nice to see the students start to understand how they could use productivity programs in their real lives, not just their academic lives, while still learning some vital budgeting and finance skills.
If you’d like to try a project like this on your own there’s an excellent project that can be found here that explores using spreadsheets to help plan a shopping spree. It includes an imaginary $1,000 check that you can print out and give to each student as well as an example of the order form students can create using Excel or another spreadsheet tool. Don’t have any spreadsheet software? There’s even an online interactive spreadsheet that learners can use in place of software. Thanks to Christopher Wright over at What in Tarnation?!?!? for sharing this resource.