Financial Literacy in the Classroom


It’s amazing that’s it been almost five months since my last blog post but life was busy as I was adjusting to my new role as an instructional coach, working on writing chapters 4 and 5 of my dissertation, and instructing Additional Qualification courses in mathematics.

Now that I am back, I want to start off the year talking about financial literacy. While it is true that we have seen our scores in mathematics decline and therefore, are now focusing our attention on ensuring students having a deeper understanding of this discipline by exploring strategies to develop skills such as spatial reasoning, proportional reasoning, number sense, number fluency, and relationships and connections between concepts and skills, I feel that we also need to examine ways in which to teach our students about finanical literacy.

Financial literacy is about understanding how money works and how to manage and invest that money. More importantly financial literacy is about making wise choices and informed decisions about money. Because of advances in technology, which allows service providers to reach their consumers in more ways than ever, we need students to be aware of the manner in which these providers can entice and convince them to make poor choices. The popularity of online shopping, different payment options, and credit cards, have given the illusion that money isn’t “real”. In a time when unemployment rates are high and debts are increasing at the same time that cost of living is increasing, children of all ages need to be taught skills related to financial literacy in order that they are effectively equipped to grasp concepts related to personal finance. Stats Canada (2016) states that students who have completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree owe $26,000 while those who earned a doctorate degree owe approximately $41,000 (Statistics Canada, 2016)(and it’s only going to get worse as the cost of higher education increases). Combine these factors with an uncertain global financial market, and it should be obvious that teaching financial literacy skills to our students is imperative. We not only need to teach our kids how to handle personal finances but we also need to teach them the principles of economics in order to assist them to be well informed citizens who understand the important financial issues facing our nation and the world.

It needs to start at a young age when children first begin to receive an allowance. It needs to start with something as simple as the difference between a “need” and a “want”, which can lead to rich discussions about the value of saving. I always started my financial literacy unit with this concept and then each student randomly selected a job (e.g., hairdresser, plumber, interior designer, engineer, teacher, fire fighter, etc). The look on their faces when they were doing their monthly expenses always made me laugh because they were shocked at how much money was deducted from their paychecks in the form of tax (each of my students selected a job/profession from an envelope and then conducted research on that job); thereby teaching them the difference between gross pay and net pay. They were also visibly surprised when they realized the interest rate on their credit cards – yes folks, credit cards doesn’t mean free money 🙂

I started to teach financial literacy about 6 years ago after a couple of real life experieneces:

1) Those of you who know me, know I love my shoes! Aldo was having a sale and I was looking at a pair of beautiful stilettos, I happened to overhear the conversation occuring beside me between two high school girls. They were looking at a pair of boots and they were 30% off. One girl said to the other, “I have no idea what 30% off means for these boots?” to which her friend replied, “What makes you think I know?” I cringed and decided to intervene. I approached them and told them the answer and they looked at me as if I had two heads. “How did you figure that out so quickly?” one of them asked. I then proceeded to give them a 10 minute lesson on percents right there in the store. As I was helping them understand the concept of percentages and the relationship between percents and decimals, I could see the lightbulbs going off in their heads – what a grand moment! They were so happy that they finally got it and they couldn’t thank me enough. I left the store without buying any shoes but with a sense of accomplishment that I had done a good deed. 🙂

2) I went to purchase some blinds to cover the windows of the door that led out to our balcony from our kitchen. I had someone come in to install them for us and as he was putting them up, I heard him mutter under his breath, “Well, I’ll be damned, it’s right.” I asked him what he meant and he turned to me and said with a straight face, “This is the first set of blinds that I’ve installed where the measurements are correct.” He went on to tell me how all the other window coverings he had attempted to install weren’t possible because the owners hadn’t taken accurate measurements. I, needless to say, was floored. I thought he was joking but he clearly told me that it was no joke.

3) I’ve had many experiences where a high school student and/or a university student couldn’t give me exact change when their cash register wasn’t working. Almost every single time, I would have to tell them how much they owed me in return. One example was when I gave the cashier $20 on a purchase of $16.45 and he gave me $4 back. Now, some people might just take the $4 and go on their merry way but me being a math geek gave it back and told him he actually owed me $3.55. He was a bit embarassed but like the Aldo incident I took it upon myself to give him a quick lesson on mental math strategies and thankfully he was thankful 🙂

These three incidents combined caused me to reflect on what I can do differently in my math classroom. I, therefore, took it upon myself to start developing my own financial literacy unit. As I mentioned above, it started with a discussion around weekly allowances, needs vs. wants, and then assigning them a job. From there, they were given weekly assignments and tasks that gave them a better and deeper understanding of money and financial literacy. I even gave them opportunities to research and discuss topics such as the stock market, financial portfolios, pension and retirement plans (this was in my Grade 8 classroom).

This topic can and should be linked to our Ontario curriculum. We looked at proportional and spatial reasoning by exploring and examining such things as floor plans, shopping, redecorating, and the stock market. We looked at expenses and cost of living through number talks and we made connections between financial concepts and our seven mathematical processes. In other words, teaching financial literacy should not be an add-on but viewed as a natural integration based on the overall and specific expectations in the curriculum. 

Many adults make poor choices with their money and it’s because they were not taught effective ways to manage their money or make informed decisions. They need to have these important discussions with their children; parents shouldn’t be afraid to share their experienecs, good and bad, with their children because in essence they are sharing their knowledge and their persepctives about money matters. I am one of the lucky ones as my dad started a finanial portfolio for me when I was in elementary school and he was the one who taught me the value of saving and investing, which is another reason I want to pass on the knoweldge I received from my dad to my students. These conversations need to be supplemented in the classroom where teachers guide students through a variety of topics and concepts that have direct links to our curriculum expectations, the four levels on the achievement chart, and the seven mathematical processes.

If financial literacy programs are implemented in education and we have a continuum of concepts from K-12, then perhaps the next generations will not only learn to start saving and investing in high school but also graduate with less debt in order that they can have the same benefits as their parents when it comes to retirement.


Statistics Canada (2016). Graduating in Canada: Profile, labour market outcomes and student debt of the class of 2009/2010, 2013Consumers making wise choices. Retrieved from


3 thoughts on “Financial Literacy in the Classroom

  1. Good on you for teaching what parents should be teaching their children (like your father did with you). I know homework is a four letter word these days, but wouldn’t it be a great assignment to have parents allow their kids to create a family spreadsheet of income+expenditures for the month? We’ll talk to our kids about so many things, but the household income is taboo.

    Great lessons for all here.

    1. Thanks Anna! I agree with you; parents do need to talk about household finances and expenses with their children. Perhaps if they do, then students won’t be so shocked when they do financial literacy tasks in the classroom.

      I was very lucky that my dad taught me how to save and invest my money wisely. My goal is to fully develop my financial literacy unit for other teachers.

      Thanks for reading 🙂

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