Share the Wealth: Teaching economics and personal finance concepts to middle school students

Teachers at the middle school level often face the challenge of following curriculum standards that cover economic and personal finance concepts as components of their overall class objectives. Or, perhaps they want to take their teaching to the next level by sharing important life skills information with their students. Two southeastern educators share their ideas for ways to integrate economics and personal finance into the curriculum.

Randy Stevens, seventh grade social studies teacher at Freedom Middle School in Franklin, Tennessee, recently attended the Evening with the Fed program at the Atlanta Fed's Nashville Branch. Although some of the economic data covered during the event is more complex than the middle school classroom requires, he finds the information valuable for enhancing his understanding of the economic-related concepts that are part of the Tennessee social studies middle school curriculum . Stevens plans to use the recession lesson plan  and presentation graphs that were distributed during the event when he is teaching about the economic concepts of inflation, recession, depression, and emerging markets.

Stevens and his colleagues also use volunteers in their classrooms to cover personal finance concepts. Junior Achievement business volunteers help students develop a better understanding of personal finance, education, careers, economic benefits of staying in school, and more. This program allows students to hear from community members and provides yet another resource for teachers to use in their classrooms.

Carol Downs, a fourth to eighth grade gifted education teacher at Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts and Nolan Elementary School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will be using the Federal Reserve's comic books (available online only) to teach about the Federal Reserve  as well as money and banking . With her fifth grade gifted math students, she has them use Microsoft Excel to calculate percentages and create graphs for the performance of the stocks they have bought as part of their lesson on the stock market. "They love this," said Downs, "and it is one way to teach diversification."

An innovative problem-based project that Downs's students undertook was a real-world feasibility study to see if their community could support a new business, a coffee shop. There is a vacant building in their community that was formerly a Mexican-themed fast food restaurant. The class contacted the realtor and obtained the leasing terms, developed a staffing strategy, and identified the costs associated with running a coffee shop. One student even took the initiative to visit a local coffee shop and interview the manager. After their analysis, the class decided that they would have to sell too many cups of coffee to make a profit.

Another year, Downs's class wrote the CEO of a major restaurant franchise after they bought the company's stock as part of the Stock Market Game. The students made marketing and menu suggestions and were thrilled when the company's public relations department sent the class a piggy bank of their mascot.

The Federal Reserve provides a variety or resources for teaching economics and personal finance at the middle school level, which include:

Resources on Other Sites

By Jackie Morgan, senior economic and financial education specialist, Nashville Branch
October 11, 2011