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money in america: activity ideas

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  1. Understanding Job Opportunities

    Grade Level: 3-5
    Subject: Math; Social Studies

    Elementary students may or may not have experience with "help wanted" ads and job descriptions, but they should certainly understand the relationship between their achievement and effort in school and their ability to work in a job that meets their interests and financial desires as an adult.

    Students can begin to develop an understanding of job skills and required education and experiences by simply interviewing their parents about their jobs and their career choices. Teachers and other school employees also offer students a wide assortment of material for study. By reviewing the job descriptions of several positions within the school (usually available via the district web site), students can begin to see the relationship between level of education and expected pay.

    What does it mean to do one's job versus to excel at one's job? How do communication and leadership skills influence career options? Students can participate in career interest inventories and learn more about what is necessary to obtain a job within that career and then to do well in that job.

    Using the job description and salary information available on their school division web site, students can develop a simple chart like the one below and can develop an understanding of the value of a college degree. Students can determine a reasonable sample. In the example below the sample size is six and the sample was chosen to provide two jobs requiring a high school diploma, two jobs requiring an associate's degree and two jobs requiring a bachelor's degree. Students can predict the average salary of a job requiring a master's degree and can check their predictions against the actual job data that is available. In addition, students can look at current job openings in order to get a feel for what the local market is requiring in terms of education.

    Jobs and Education
    Job Education Required Hourly Pay Annual Salary
    Asst. Transportation
    High School Diploma $10.28 $21,382 (2080 hrs/year)
    Correctional officers High School Diploma --- $25,630
    Teachers Bachelor's Degree --- $32,200
    Family and Children
    Bachelor's Degree --- $28,322
    Senior Planner Master's Degree --- $40,267
    Nurse Practioneer Master's Degree --- $46,353

    Online Resources

    NewsHour Extra: The Road Taken:

    In the Mix: Focus on Your Future:

    Teaching Economics to Elementary Students:

    Northwest Regional Educational Library:

    Princeton Review: Career Quiz:

    Print Resources

    Getting Real: Helping Teens Find Their Future by Kenneth Gray

    More Recommended Resources

  2. Bank Cards and Bubble Gum

    Grade Level: 3-5
    Subject: Math; Social Studies

    More and more students are receiving pre-paid bank cards or have on-line spending accounts. How do these work and what should kids and parents know about them?

    Brainstorm ways in which students and their parents can pay for goods and services. Are there costs associated with any of these methods of payment? Why? What is one paying for when one pays for the use of a credit card or pre-paid bank card?

    Students can compare and contrast cash, check, vendor tokens, check card, travelers check, pre-paid bank card, credit card and other methods of payment. Some things to consider are how easy it is to transfer from one person to another, any costs associated with the method, ability to recover funds if an item is lost and how widely accepted the method is.

    Here's an example of a chart comparing the costs of a Bank of America VISA gift card and the costs of a MasterCard gift card.

    Denomination Vendor Fee (Online) Total Cost Cost per $1
    $25 Bank of America $5.95 $30.95 $1.24
    $100 Bank of America $5.95 $105.95 $1.06
    $300 Bank of America $5.95 $305.95 $1.02
    $301 Bank of America $7.95 $308.95 $1.03
    $25 Mastercard $6.00 $31.00 $1.24
    $100 Mastercard $6.00 $106.00 $1.06
    $300 Mastercard $6.00 $306.00 $1.02
    $301 Mastercard $6.00 $307.00 $1.02

    Which cards are the most expensive and why? How do the prices of the two card vendors compare? How is the pricing structured? How does this affect the cost per $1?

    Students may be interested in hearing stories about life before certain methods of payment were possible. Remember your excitement when drink machines were first outfitted with dollar changers? What were the costs associated with that change to the drink companies? What were the benefits to the consumer? Are there any draw backs? What improvements could be made?

    Online Resources

    PBSKids: Don't Buy It:

    Electric Money: What Are Credit Cards?:

    NewsHour Extra: Debt Nation:


    Federal Citizen Information Center: Electronic Banking:

    Center for Media Literacy: How Children Became a Consumer Market:

    Department of the Treasury: For Kids:

    Print Resources

    What Every Credit Card User Needs to Know: How to Protect Yourself and Your Money by Howard Strong
    Point of Purchase: How Shopping Changed American Culture by Sharon Zukin

    More Recommended Resources

  3. Take Us Out to the Ballgame

    Grade Levels: 3-5
    Subjects: Math, History/Social Science

    With the Major League Baseball Season right around the corner, many students are dreaming of summer and vacations as well as going to the ball park. Focusing on just the price of the tickets to get in to the gate, what would it cost for each household in the classroom to attend a ball game at the closest major league ball park?

    Remember the MasterCard "priceless" commercials that are baseball themed? What does "priceless" mean? Is anything really "priceless"? What is the cost of going to a ball game, just if we looked at the tickets alone?

    Have students view a map featuring the locations of major league baseball stadiums and select the stadium (and team) closest to your location. (Note: the map is not clickable, but the states are clearly outlined and the teams are listed on the same web page.)

    Students should, in groups of two or three, each having access to a computer, visit the official web site of Major League Baseball in order to access the official team site for the team they will research.

    Directions for navigating the mlb.com web site:

    • The links to the major league baseball teams can be found in the upper left hand corner under the MLB.com logo at the drop down menu Team Sites.
    • Scroll down the menu and click on the team of interest.
    • Click on the link to the ballpark. For example, from the Baltimore Orioles web site, click on Oriole Park.
    • Click on the Seating and Pricing link.

    Next, ask students to select the seats they would like to share as a small group. The number of seats needed equals the number of people in each household represented in the student group. There are tradeoffs regarding where one might choose to sit. For example, behind homeplate provides the best view of the game but will not yield a foul ball or homerun ball. Also, there are very few seats behind homeplate and many, many more in the outfield. To what extent is the price for seats behind home plate influenced by supply and demand?

    What would it cost to "take us out to the ball park"? Most baseball teams do not post their concession prices on the team web site, but you can find out a lot on the Internet! However, visit Teammarketing.com and you will find the Team Marketing Report for 2003! All of the Major League Baseball teams are listed here. This is a great opportunity to study a variety of economic issues. Is there a correlation between the prices a team charges for concessions and tickets and how well the team did the previous season? Do teams in warmer climates charge more or less for drinks?

    Here's a sample data table for what it would cost to take a family of four to a baseball game at Camden Yards in Baltimore (home of the Baltimore Orioles). The footnote on the Team Marketing chart reveals that these are actually 2002 prices!

    A Day At the Ballpark
    Item Cost Per Quantity Total Cost
    Ticket $25 4 $100.00
    Parking $7.00 1 $7.00
    Program $5 1 $5
    Souvenir Hat $12 2 $24.00
    Hotdog $2.50 4 $10.00
    Soda $2.00 8 $16.00
    Total $162.00

    Online Resources

    The Official Site for Major League Baseball:

    Map of Major League Baseball:

    Print Resources

    Baseball and Billions: A Probing Look Inside the Big Business of Our National Pastime by Andrew Zimbalist

    More Recommended Resources

  4. Unhappy Meals

    Grade Level: 3-5
    Subjects: Math; Social Studies

    Fast food companies throughout the country are developing healthier lines of food as more and more research on the fattening of America is published. Most fast food restaurants have a line of meals designed specifically for children. These children's meals usually come with a treat (free dessert, toy, book, etc.) and are sometimes portioned smaller than the adult meals. In the effort to help America become thinner, will companies also create healthier children's meals? How do the prices of healthy meals compare to the prices of the meals of yore?

    In this activity, students visit the corporate web sites of various fast food companies and collect a variety of data available on the web site. Example data available on most sites includes pictures of food, locations of restaurants, menus, nutritional value, and specials. The teacher may want to create a student recording sheet in order to provide a specific focus for the data to be collected.

    Have students visit several web sites from fast food restaurants and collect various data that will allow them to meet specific educational objectives. The data collection can be guided by leading questions or by a teacher created student recording sheet. Below is an example of data that might be collected from several company web sites. (Note: The web sites listed here are just examples and listing them here does not imply an endorsement.)

    Fast Food Inventory
    Company Kids Meal? Online club
    or games?
    Price of Kids Meal Treat? Estimated Cost
    of meal in a store
    Burger King Yes Yes N/A Yes XXXXX
    Sonic Drive-In Yes Yes N/A Yes XXXXX
    Hardees Yes Yes N/A Yes XXXXX
    McDonald's Yes No N/A Yes XXXXX

    Once students have recorded data as suggested by the teacher and reviewed the various web sites, students should discuss open-ended questions and further research challenges in a small group situation before a whole class discussion takes place. What are some of the reasons prices for the kids meals aren't on the Internet? How could we find out what the prices are? What choices are provided children and how do these compare with the choices provided adults? Which fast food meal would you like to order for lunch today and why? Are you driven by the choice of toys or the quality of the food?

    How much would it cost to buy the raw materials needed to create a meal similar to the kids meal available at each of the restaurants? Using the McDonald's Happy Meal as the example, visit the McDonald's web site (see Online Resources below) and select USA as your country. Click on Food & Nutrition. Select Bag a McMeal. Drag a hamburger, small fries and milk in to the bag and click Get the Facts.

    Online Resources

    NewsHour Extra: Fast Food Nation:

    Frontline: "Fat":

    NewsHour Online: Food For Thought:


    Burger King:



    Sonic Drive-In:

    Print Resources

    The Race Against Junk Food by Anthony Buono, Roy Nemerson, Brian Silberman (Editor), Roy Memerson
    Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

    More Recommended Resources

  5. Interesting Interest Rates

    Grade Level: 6-8; 9-12
    Subjects: Math; Social Studies

    First discuss what the class knows and thinks about credit cards. Discuss what makes a credit card appealing (getting what you want and then only paying a little bit each month). Many credit card companies have reduced minimum payments to as low as a two percent payment. But as experts have pointed out, if you only pay the minimum, you'll pay more interest over a longer period of time.

    But what does this really mean?

    Let's say you charge $1500 on a credit card with an annual rate of 11% and each month you pay the minimum payment of 2%. Let's see how the situation changes over time: Initially you charged a balance of $1500. Each month you are paying off 2%. So is the balance reduced by a constant amount each month? No, but it does go down by a constant rate, which makes it an exponential relationship.

    The general form for an exponential equation is y = abt where t = the amount of time and y = the amount of money, a = the initial amount and b = the growth factor. b = 1 + r where r is the rate of increase or decrease. Example # 1: If the initial amount is 1500, and the rate of increase is 11% (+ .11), then the growth factor b = 1 + .11, or 1.11 and the equation is y = 1500(1.11)t Example #2: If the initial amount is 1500 and the rate of decrease is 2%(-.02), then b = 1 + (-.02), or b= .98 and the equation is y = 1500(.98)t

    Create a table and have your students figure out how much money gets paid in interest over several years on a credit card with an annual rate of 11% interest when you pay only the 2% minimum each month.

    Online Resources

    Electric Money: What Are Credit Cards?:

    NewsHour Extra: Debt Nation:


    CNN: Credit Cards -- 8 Dirty Secrets:

    CNN: Why Are Credit Card Rates So High?:

    50 Years of Fortune 500: Just One Word: Plastic:

    Print Resources

    What Every Credit Card User Needs to Know: How to Protect Yourself and Your Money by Howard Strong
    Point of Purchase: How Shopping Changed American Culture by Sharon Zukin

    More Recommended Resources

  6. Salaries and Satisfaction

    Grade Level: 6-8; 9-12
    Subjects: Math; Reading & Language Arts; Social Studies

    Start the lesson by asking students to guess at what professional sports players each baseball season. Using Internet sources (see Online Resources below), look at median salaries for teams. Ask students to brainstorm all the players that they know from the local or nearest team. Then look up the individual players' salaries. Record the data, and once all of the team members are accounted for, see how far from the median each of their salaries is. Then calculate the mean, mode, and range of the salaries. Have students describe orally and in words what they different statistics show us about the team.

    Next compare the salaries of other careers to professional sports players. Calculate the difference and the percent one salary is of another, and how many times greater one salary is than the other.

    Then discuss the fact that very few of us can play sports professionally, and that salary isn't the only thing to consider when looking at a career. Discuss with your students what other factors are important in career choice. Brainstorm about all the types of careers, then expand that list by researching online and surveying people on what jobs they know of, and what kind of job they want to have and why. Gather the results of the surveys and calculate mean, median, and mode on the type of job people want to have, and then represent it graphically.

    Have students interview 2 people who work in careers that interest them. Then present their findings to the class. Lastly, have students write about what careers they think would be a good fit for themselves and why.

    Online Resources

    USA Today Baseball Salaries Database:

    USA Today Basketball Salaries Database:

    USA Today Football Salaries Database:

    USA Today Hockey Salaries Database:

    Business Week Online: Salary Wizard:

    The Career Planning Process: Taking it Step by Step:

    Career Choices:

    Print Resources

    Baseball and Billions: A Probing Look Inside the Big Business of Our National Pastime by Andrew Zimbalist
    The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse by Gregg Easterbrook

    More Recommended Resources

  7. The Cost of a Presidential Campaign

    Grade Level: 9-12
    Subjects: Social Studies; Math; Reading & Language Arts

    For all the talk of ideals and policies, no successful presidential campaign can operate without money. A large part of campaigning has to do with gathering and spending money. Have students visit the CNN: America Votes Web site. Instruct them to view the charts, "Total Raised," "Total Spent," "Debts and Loans," and "Cash on Hand." (This can be done in numerous ways: make enlarged overhead transparencies of the charts, pass out copies of the charts to students, have students work in small groups and use the internet to view sources). Have students create a table or list comparing the amounts of money each candidate raised, spent, and borrowed and how much cash they have on hand. Have students calculate statistics such as the mean, median, mode, and range of money raised, money spent, money borrowed, and cash on hand of the candidates.

    Students should then research the career patrons and donors that each candidate has (see online resources). Compile a list of donors and discuss possible interests of the donors and ways that those interests can affect the candidates. Students should also look into the candidates and their political interests. Assign roles to students for a role-play wherein the patrons and the candidates will negotiate with each other. The candidates will be trying to get funding and the patrons will be looking for reasons to fund the candidates. (One way to make this a good learning experience is to have one group at a time act as the candidate and another as the patron while the rest of the class watches and takes notes, or even judges the negotiation using a rubric that outlines what a good negotiation would look like, which can be created by the teacher, with the help of the class.)

    After the role play is done and notes have been taken, the class should discuss the results and then divide into groups again to create either a political commercial in support of one candidate, or a public service commercial about campaign financing. These can be videotaped and shown to the class, or can be acted out in front of the class as a "skit."

    Online Resources

    CNN: America Votes:

    The Center for Public Integrity: Investigative Journalism in the Public Interest:

    The Buying of the President:

    The Buying of the Presidency: Who Bankrolls Bush and His Democratic Rivals?:

    The Buying of the President: Candidate Fundraising:

    The Buying of the President: Who Gives the Most Money?:

    The Buying of the President: Senator John Kerry's Career Patrons:

    The Buying of the President: Senator John Kerry's Personal Finances:

    The Buying of the President: Senator John Kerry's Document Warehouse:

    The Buying of the President: President George Bush's Career Patrons:

    The Buying of the President: President George Bush's Personal Finances:

    The Buying of the President: President George Bush's Document Warehouse:

    The Federal Election Commission: 2004 Presidential Campaign Matching Funds Submissions

    The Federal Election Commission: Campaign Finance Reports and Data:

    Print Resources

    A User's Guide to Campaign Finance Reform by Gerald C. Lubenow

    More Recommended Resources

  8. The Cost of Exploring Mars

    Grade Level: 9-12
    Subjects: Math; Science & Technology; Social Studies

    As a class, analyze the Mars Exploration Budget available online at NASA. To get a better perspective on the actual amount of money, write out the number 500 billion with all of its zeroes. Then write out 500.4 billion. (500,000,000,000 and 500,400,000,000 -- the second figure is calculated by seeing how many decimal places to the right we went to go from 500 to 500 billion, and we moved it 9 places).

    Have students calculate the percent increase of funding for each of the 4 components (development, operations, research, and technology) of the budget from Fiscal Year (FY) 2003 to 2004, from 2004 to 2005, and from 2003 to 2005.

    • From FY 2003 to 2004: 595.1 billion-500.4 billion = 94.7 billion
      94.7 bill/500.4 billion = .189 = 18.9% increase
    • From FY 2004 to 2005: change = 95.8 billion
      95.8 billion/ 595.1 = .161 = 16.1%

    Next, have students calculate the percent of the total budget that each component represents for each fiscal year. Use the percent of total budget to create a circle graph. Use proportions to calculate the number of degrees in each section of the circle.

    • Total amount of budget for 2003: 500.4 billion
    • Amount of budget spent on development in 2003: 303.5 billion
      303.5billion/500.4 billion = .607= 60.7%
      .607 x 360 degrees = 218.34 degrees

    Use a protractor to measure the degrees of the circle to make an accurate circle graph.

    You may also want students to research Mars exploration using the sites listed below. Have them create a case for cutting funding back for the Mars programs, keeping the funding at its current amount, or increasing it. They should support their positions with evidence about the costs of exploring Mars, the effectiveness of the programs, and the usefulness of the missions to our country.

    Online Resources

    NewsHour Online: Mars Exploration Rovers:

    NewsHour Online: Space Initiative:

    NOVA: "MARS Dead or Alive":

    NASA: Mars Pathfinder:

    NASA Budgets:

    Print Resources

    The Case For Mars by Robert Zubrin

    More Recommended Resources

Published: April 2004