Running Bank Balance Activity

The use of cash as a payment method is declining. This has implications for how we teach money, consumer math, and life skills math. This is especially true for students with special needs who need more concrete representations of math. This post presents an activity to practice with a running bank balance.

Cash vs Card Transactions

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco conducted a study on payment choices. The study, using a sample of people, reports that the use of cash as the payment method was most frequent for purchases under $10 and then it was used in less than half of the purchases. Given the increase in online ordering, it seems that cash use will drop further. This has implications for the students we support.

Overview

Previously, I posted about using a gift card activity to as an entry point to the concept of budgeting. Students are asked to compute a running balance. This post provides details about a similar activity, but for a bank balance using a bank register (as opposed to a check register).

Bank Balance Activity

The student plays an online game for counting money (image below). In lieu of counting out money each time, the student uses a bank register (image below) to track balance as if the student is using a debit card for purchases. The game has 3 types of squares: spending, earning or receiving money, and a gift card that would not affect the balance.

This allows for engagement with budgeting and a limit on spending. It can also lead to a discussion about negatives.

Alternative Activity

An alternative activity is to weave the use of the register into daily activities with students, especially in a life skills program. A colleague of mine who ran the life skills program at a high school would have students check in each day on a time clock and they would have a job. They could be paid and maintain a balance (scaffolded as needed). This could be done in a resource setting in general, without an actual job or maybe a different type of job than is often used in transition settings.

Access to Document

Here is a link to the Google Doc. You need to make a copy to use it.

Weekly Food Budget Activity

Budgeting is a challenging topic for many students with special needs. The process has many components, multiple steps, and involves application of money and shopping math topics. This post describes an activity to develop competence in budgeting by shopping for a food for a week with a money limit.

Google Document

The activity is presented on a Google Doc and can be completed with online shopping at a grocery store of choice or at Stop and Shop. A gift card image is used to lead into a discussion or lessons on balance. This is a preview of a full budget activity shared on another post.

Identifying Food Items

The first step is to identify the foods to eat. To keep it simple, only the meals for a single day are identified and will be extrapolated to cover the whole week. This will not take into account snacks to reduce the task demand. This also leads into lessons on nutrition, e.g., identifying macronutrients and what they provide our bodies.

Shopping

The student identifies the food item for each meal and enters the item, cost, and of servings. A discussion or minilesson on number of servings may be conducted first.

After shopping, the student determines if there are enough servings to cover all 7 days. If not, the number packages (bottles, etc.) are determined. This can be done by multiplying by 2, 3, 4 until more than 7 is computed. Then the total cost for the food item is computed.

Then the grand total is computed at the bottom. This leads to a discussion about the budget as the student compares the total with the amount or balance on the gift card(s).

Online Personalized Consumer Math Board Game

The game is played on a Jamboard. There are moveable game pieces on the left (Lego figures chosen to mirror the players – no hair is me), along with movable bills. There is a white rectangle partially covering the cashier’s money. It is a moveable rectangle I use to reveal the money when the cashier pays out money to a player. The money is subsequently covered again. When money is paid, the appropriate number of bills are moved to the cashier’s counter. Change can be computed and given. (technical note: you can click on an object on Jamboard to change its order, e.g., click on the bills to move them back, behind the rectangle.)

The game is a version of the Allowance Game, which is appears to be a version of Monopoly. The goal is to simulate budgeting and real life spending situations in an interactive and gamified way. The spaces can be revised to cater to the interests and reality of the players. The activities are all ones that I have used in isolation with students I help. The game can be played online and with multiple players who need to learn consumer math topics. (When you share the Jamboard with others, you can make them editors which allows them to move pieces.)

Players start with money in a bank account (center of the board) and then roll a virtual die and move accordingly. If a player does not have enough money for a spending activity, the activity cannot be completed. For some experiences, they are limited in what they can spend, e.g., buying a birthday present. (For rent, I will use an IOU until the player makes enough money – obviously a lot to possibly unpack in this scenario.) Spaces have an activity that falls into one of three categories:

  • earn money at a job by rolling dice for the number of hours worked
  • have a static money experience, e.g., get $20 from birthday or spend $12 on tooth brush
  • have a dynamic money experience, e.g., spend money on Amazon or attend a baseball game and the player goes to a related website (for example, a player buys a Red Sox ticket and a YouTube video of highlights of a game is shown – maybe 2 minutes)

A couple notes: I left the START space empty and am thinking I will move the find a job activity to that space. As of this posting I did not have students find a job yet and simply opened a link to a Target store site for employment and showed them a job ad. I think I will start the game with each player finding a job and rolling the die to earn money at the start.

Below are the steps I use to create and revise the game. If you have any suggestions, please post in the comment section.

Here is a link to a master copy of the game on a Google Doc. It can be copied and then revised. I store my game pieces on here as well.

Here is a link to a master copy of a WORD document I use to position the board with a cashier to create the image shown on the Jamboard.

The image created can be uploaded to Jamboard using the Set background function.

Here is a link to the dice rolling site I use. Each player can open it or I will roll for everyone.

Unit Cost and Actual Shopping

I previously shared that grocery shopping has a lot of tasks that are overlooked. One is working with unit costs. There are two math tasks related to unit cost, interpreting what a unit cost is and computing the total cost for buying multiple items.

When I take a student into a grocery store to work on unit costs, where is what I do. I start with a pack of items (photo below) and ask the student to compute the cost for 1 item, in this case, “what is the price for the pack of chew sticks, how many in a pack, how much for 1 chewstick?” Then I prompt the student to compute the total if he buys 3 packs. This allows the student to differentiate between the two tasks.

The cost per items is easier to grasp and then is followed with the same prompts for a jar of sauce (below). I have the student compare unit costs for the large vs the small jars and ask, “do you want to pay $4.99 per ounce or $5.99 per ounce.” This language is more accessible than “which is a better deal?” You can work towards that language eventually.

These tasks can be previewed at school with a mock grocery store. The price labels can be created on the computer.

“They Will Never Need This Math”

As a parent of a child with a disability and as a math educator, I am repeatedly struck by the fact that a group of adults (educators and professionals) convene to discuss and plan how to help a child. A great deal of time, resources, and money is concentrated on that child. Awesome! Unfortunately, in math education I frequently encounter situations in which this collective energy is concentrated on math that is more about boxes to check than engaging the student in math that he or she will need in post-secondary life.

IDEA enumerates the purpose of special education, with the transition goals aligned with employment, living skills, and future education that are desired for each individual student. This is explicit and aligns with the goal most teachers likely have, to make a difference in the lives of their students.

Despite this, when I am called in to help with math programming for a student I often find the math being presented to the student is not aligned with the post-secondary goals and often appear to the result of following the general ed curriculum, by default. Here are some examples.

  • I co-taught an algebra 1 class with a student impacted by autism to the point that he needed a paraprofessional guiding him through the daily work. He worked in isolation with the para and struggled with the basic elements of the course. It was not until his junior year that he was moved to a consumer math class. 
  • A senior was in a consumer math course I taught. The course was for students who could not access the general curriculum, yet her transition goal for education was to attend a community college. This setting likely require a math course (that did not have consumer math topics) and a placement test.
  • I was called in by a district to help a 10th grader who was not grasping the basic math or pre-algebra that was presented for months. He was showing significant task avoidance. The postsecondary education goal was for him to attend a community college. I started algebra work with him immediately and he was grasping it.
  • Over 25 years of teaching math I have periodically heard educators minimize the struggles of students with math with the rationalization “they will never need this math.” My response is to ask why “then we are presenting this math to them?!”

So what math do they need? Here is a list of blog posts that address this question. In short, here is what I share with IEP teams, educators, parents, and special ed teacher candidates I teach.

  • If the goal is a career that involves a 4 year degree, then boxes must be checked. The student will have to have the math courses needed to get into the college and to prepare for the math in his or her major. This is the “mathy math” that will be on a college placement test as well.
  • For a 2 year degree at a school with open admissions, the focus of the high school math can be narrowed to the math course required (if any) and on the placement test. Typically, this would involve a focus on algebra. For the aforementioned 10th grader, we did not cover geometry and prioritized the algebra topics to cover. 
  • For a vocation, cover the math needed for that vocation. For example, I worked out a long range plan for 7th grader whose mother shared that may work in an auto repair setting. The math needed for that vocation is measurement so the plan focused on measurement and life skills/consumer math. 
  • For another middle school student whose goal was to have a job and to be as independent as possible. He loved sports and his mother said he would love to work in a sports related store. For him I recommended data and statistics (not the mathy type but meaningful and applied stats and data) to help him make sense of and discuss sports stats. This was complemented by a recommendation for consumer math.

Students should be presented the math they NEED.

Shopping is Dense with Math Tasks

I recently worked with a student on an online grocery shopping activity – finding ingredients for mac and cheese. We had the ingredients listed in a column on a Google Doc (allows both of us to edit the doc simultaneously) and then he cropped and pasted a photo of each ingredient (see photo below). The goal was for him to identify the total he need and the total cost in planning for actual shopping or to continue with the online shopping. Note: he wasn’t actually buying anything at this point but this was a step in preparing him to do so.

This activity is dense with math tasks and shopping related tasks. The math tasks include the following:

  • Identify the price (vs quantity of the item or unit price).
  • Interpret the quantity for the ingredient.
  • Identify the units (oz and cups)
  • Convert units
  • Compare amount in box with amount needed.
  • Determine how much more is needed, if any.
  • Compare choices before selecting the item, (Barilla Pasta vs another brand).

To convert units, the “mathy” approach can be used or the student may simply use an app. For this student we chose an online unit converter (see below). This is more complicated that it appears. The student must choose the units and the order (in this case convert cups to ounces or vise versa), distinguish between imperial and US cups, understand that you enter the quantity (the search results in 1 US ounce appearing by default), and then interpret the decimal (keep in mind the ingredient quantities are in fractions).

Life skills math is more complex and challenging that parents and educators may realize. As a result, the planning for developing these skills should begin much sooner rather than later – not to mention the actual logistical tasks of shopping, e.g. finding an item in the grocery store.

Real Life Math VS “Mathy” Math

In working with students, parents and IEP teams, I find that there is an assumption that math at some point, possibly beyond arithmetic, is simply a science fiction movie that is minimally related to real life. I hear from students as well as adults, statements like, “algebra, when are we ever going to use it?” My response is, ALL THE TIME!

The math we often present in school is a “mathy” version of the math we encounter in life. For example, the top photo below shows a pizza menu and a situation that is realistic. The calculator screen shot below the menu shows how we likely would solve the problem using a calculator on our phone.

Below is the same type of problem, but solved using “mathy” math. How many of us (besides me) are doing this at the pizzeria?

The point is, we engage in algebra but maybe do not use all the symbols and vocabulary of algebra, e.g. when we typed in 2.25 repeatedly in our calculator, we were working with the math term “slope.”

This has implications for secondary students whose post-secondary plans do not include college. If the math class is teaching “mathy” math but you want your student to learn math as it is used in real life, then an alternative math course is needed. This could be addressed through the IEP.

 

 

Counting Money as a Game

The Allowance Game is retail game tailored to students who are learning to count money.

 

I revised it to make it more authentic and more functional.

  • I changed some money amounts to necessitate the use of pennies (see below)
  • I use real dollars and cents to provide more opportunities to handle real money
  • I differentiate by creating different task demands. For example
    • I was using the modified version with 2 clients
    • One was learning to count out dimes and pennies only, but could manage ONES simultaneously
    • This student would also be provided a coin chart I use to teach students how to count with coins
    • The other was practicing with ONES, and all coins up to a quarter
    • I collected data on a data sheet – 1 per student

The students loved playing the game, it was engaging so they practiced the counting out money, I was able to collect data, and I was able to differentiate. When I co-taught a Consumer Math course, I would assign a para (instructional assistant) to facilitate the game with a couple students and to collect data.

Money in Authentic Settings

Working independently and effectively with money is a crucial component to independent living. When I started working on math for students receiving special education I was taken aback by the number of high school students who could not work with money effectively, including counting out the total value for a given set of coins.

One of the first situations I encountered involved an upperclassman who, as reported by the parent, was learning to count money by completing handouts at school. This is NOT the way to learn to handle money. Worksheets can be used to target a specific individual skill but to learn to handle money the student has to actually handle real money.

This can take the form of baby steps – learn to crawl before walking. If a student has limited money skills here is one way to get started.

  • Have the student simply hand money or a card to a clerk (see photo below). This can be done while you are shopping and the student only hands over money and receives the money.

Luisa at counter at BN

  • Pick a single item that costs a couple of dollars (and some change). Hand the student an appropriate number of bills (no change yet). Have the student count out the bills for a total and hand it over to the cashier. If necessary, have the student count out the money at a table or empty aisle in the grocery store then take the money over to pay. Then the student receives the coins and hands them back to you.

  • Same scenario but this time provide the student the bills and count out the pennies needed to pay. Choose an item that costs just a few cents, e.g. $2. 08. The student practices counting out bills and pennies.

  • Continue this with just dimes then dimes and pennies etc.

  • At some point you will want to address the concept of change returned by the cashier. To do this have the student pay with a higher bill (5 or 10 dollar bill), receive the change then count out the change at the table. Compare to what is on the receipt (see photo below).

Luisa at table with money

For many of our kiddos this process can take a long time because the simple steps like counting out dollar bills takes practice. For example, students often count out money by laying the bills side by side and this takes time. This is not an effective approach to use while standing at the aisle facing the cashier.

Data Collection for IEP Objectives

Here is an example of what data collection can look like. (The IEP objective should have been indicated on here as well.) It shows the data, any prompting from the teacher (P with a circle around it), notes and at the bottom is 3/9 for 33% correct.

Also note that I was working on finding the value of a set of nickels and pennies only before moving onto other combinations of coins and more coins.

data collecton for counting nps

%d bloggers like this: