Ending on a high note

In a recent post, I shared that I opted to end the year with my Honors Precalculus students making some short videos to share out their research on a few personal finance topics.  We spent a total of 3 class days on this work – 2 days to work with partners and create spreadsheets and/or Google Slide presentations, and 1 day to record the videos.  Tonight, for the last night’s homework assignment, I asked everyone to watch each other’s videos and add to a discussion thread about what they saw.  A few excerpts are below:

“I had heard a lot of the terms you discussed in your video before, but I wasn’t sure exactly what they meant.  It was helpful to see all the different loan types organized in one place because it made them easier to compare.  I also really liked the case study because that is something that is really applicable to a lot of students.  I was very surprised by the table in the Perkins loan tab that showed how much total money you pay based on the length of the loan; I did not realize the total amount of money increases that much as you extend the length of your loan.”

“I thought your video was really cool.  Student loans are a very applicable topic to our age group, and it was nice to get to learn more about them.  With this presidential election, I know there’s been a decent bit of talk about student loans among the various candidates, but I don’t know a ton of details.  It would be interesting to consider the various presidential candidates and their positions on student loans, and then take another look at the numbers like you guys did.”

“I really like how you not only explained what a Roth IRA and a 401k are, but you also explained the math behind part of the Roth IRA. I liked the slide where you talk about the math behind doubling your money every 7 years and found the spreadsheet very informative. I also really liked how you created a hypothetical situation, because it allowed me to understand the whole process even better. It was really helpful when you explained how you created the spreadsheet for the hypothetical person (i.e. talking through each cell)”

“I never thought that there could be a such thing as good credit, so that was interesting.  In my project, there was a little talk about credit, but I didn’t know what that really meant until now so this was very helpful.”

“I learned a lot about how retirement planning works for different people in different financial positions. I learned what Roth IRA and 401k were and how they are used to saving money for later use. It’s cool that your Roth IRA money doubles every 7 years, and it seems to be easier to withdraw money from this account setup. The change in time of when people start saving is crazy to how much money they can lose from starting just a couple years later. The huge spreadsheet you guys made really helped me understand how retirement savings work per year and per individual. If can get an extra 240k by saving 10 years earlier, it makes me want to start saving now!”

This was such a great way to end the year – hearing student voices share what they learned.  I had hesitated to assign homework for the last day of school, but I did like ending with this project.   I think the students learned a lot from their own research, and learned from each other.  It makes me feel much better about sending these students off to future math studies, having taken the time to do this important work.

One of the last points that struck me were the variety of learning opportunities in this mini-project, which I added not expecting to use many of the math skills we worked on this year.  I decided I felt okay about that. Nevertheless, there were a variety of useful ways that students were using and improving upon their skills in the math classroom (and beyond), including:

  • practice working a project with a partner
  • first time use of Screencastify to make short videos
  • another opportunity for students to share their work with a larger audience than just me
  • virtual discussions happening outside of class time, which will make tomorrow’s class even better
  • homework assignment which will take a finite amount of time (the total length of all videos plus about 15 minutes total for discussion posts)
  • more savvy use of well-labeled spreadsheets with absolute cell references and formulae, to allow the user to consider a variety of scenarios
  • looking at patterns in data and trying to explain what might be happening and why (in real life) – one group was looking at consecutive differences to understand growth rates
  • explaining math catch phrases, such as the claim that “Roth IRAs double in 7 years.” Seeing the (basic) math behind that makes it crystal clear.

I’m sure there is more to add to this list that I’ve forgotten.  Overall, I feel like I made a step in the right direction, for the first time in a very long time, where the students were considering questions to which they wanted to know the answer.

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