Ever wonder what it is like to live on a professional tennis player’s salary? Do you know how much money you can save a month making minimum wage? Sixth graders investigated these questions and more by running the numbers in math class playing “The Game of Life” with teachers Sarah Fleischer and Josh Silver. The lesson synthesizes students’ work with fractions, decimals, and percentages as they are challenged to chart out their financial futures.
Sixth graders began by choosing a life scenario complete with a profession and salary calculated for people living in the DC metro area. “They take it very seriously,” said Sarah. When 6th graders computed and calculated percentages, compared tax rates, and divided their yearly salary and taxes into monthly costs, the reality of how expensive it is to live in DC took hold.
Taxes became a hot button issue for the students when they saw how much state and federal governments collect. The more money they made, the more money they gave, and for students on minimum wage, every dollar counted. Even though Sarah and Josh explained that taxes build roads, schools, and other infrastructure, students who were living on minimum wage moved to Virginia to take advantage of lower tax rates and get more out of their paychecks. Finding “fun money” and building savings was also challenging and forced 6th graders to redefine their wants and needs and cut their spending accordingly.
Once 6th graders were finished building their budgets for one scenario, they had the choice to explore the pros and cons of credit cards. Even with a low 2% interest rate, students discovered how much more they were paying for an item when using a credit card despite making monthly payments above the minimum. In the end, 6th graders applied their knowledge to two real-life scenarios—in one scenario they lived vicariously on multi-million-dollar salaries and in the other faced financial hardships on a more modest income. Having obtained this perspective, 6th graders might think more critically about choices that can affect their financial futures.