The way a student counts money in school on a school desk or table (top photo) is the way he or she will attempt count at the register as seen in the 2nd photo in which the student pulled all bills from his wallet then counted, with some bills folded. (Bonus if you can identify the woman in the photo!!!)
In the top photo (below) I had the student pull bills out from his wallet, with the bills unfolded and in order in his wallet (you can see he pulled a $20 bill first). In the next photo you can see that he is counting out the bills from the wallet as he did in practice.
The images shown are excerpts from the latest iteration of a budget project I have used for years. The content addressed in this project can be used as stand alone activities and are relevant real life examples for our students. Even the younger students could benefit, e.g., learning addition by shopping for items online and recording the prices (for older students throw in computing tax). These topics are especially useful for multiplication word problems, rate, single variable equations, and linear functions (slope being rate of change such as car payment per month).
Here is an overview. You graduate from high school and are living on your own. You have a job, but your car is getting old. You need to figure out how to save for a down payment in your budget and for when you must pay a car payment and insurance. (You will have to get your OWN insurance.)
The image below shows the table for all monthly expenses.
The students have imbedded activities such as
estimating monthly food costs by estimating cost for meals for a single day
shopping for disposable household items
shopping for car insurance based on the car they shop for (more on that at the end) NOTE: they do not share personal information other than a school email address (or my email address) to receive the quote
searching for a job with a hourly pay and estimate after tax income
They shop for a car last as the idea is they need to save up for a down payment. The amount they can save is based on how much money is left over after paying all other bills. How much they save will be converted to how much they can spend on a car payment and monthly insurance payment.
As I wrote previously, shopping is dense with math tasks as are grocery stores. Here are some division situations that are sneaky challenging and require a student to know when and why to divide before even reaching for the calculator. I will use these to help illustrate the fact that life skills math is not simply counting money or using a calculator to add up prices. There is a great deal of problem solving and thinking skills that need to be developed.
For example, if a student has $60 to spend on gifts for her 3 teachers the student needs to understand that she can spend up to $20 per teacher (before even talking about taxes).
An entry point for division can involve a dividing situation the students intuitively understand, e.g., sharing food. Start with 2 friends sharing 8 Buffalo wings evenly (below).
This can lead into the 3 teachers sharing the $60 evenly (below). In turn, this can be followed by the online shopping shown above.
This approach can be used to develop an understanding of unit cost (cited in the shopping is dense post). Start with a pack of items to allow the students to see the cost for a single item before getting into unit cost by ounces, for example.
I have had success with teaching these division related concepts using sheer repetition as much of our learning is experiential learning. Using a Google Jamboard as shown in the photos allows for the repetition.
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)
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.
There are numerous hidden tasks that we undertake while at the grocery store. We process them so quickly or subconsciously that we are not aware of these steps.
As a result, we may overlook these steps while educating students on life skills such as grocery shopping. Subsequently, these steps may not be part of the programming or teaching at school and therefore generalization is left for another day. Yet, the purpose of IDEA is, in essence, preparing students for life, including “independent living.”
Step 1 is to administer a baseline pretest during which we start with no prompting to determine if the student performs each task and how well each is performed. As necessary, prompting is provided and respective documentation is entered into the table (to indicate prompting as opposed to independent completion). For example, I worked with a client who understood the meaning of the shopping list but started off for the first item without a basket or cart. I engaged him with a discussion about how he would carry the items. At one point I had him hold 7 grapefruits and it became apparent to him that he needed a cart. (I documented this in the document.)
Other issues that arose were parking the cart in the middle of the aisle, finding the appropriate section of the store but struggling to navigate the section for the item (e.g. at one point I prompted him to read the signs over the freezer doors), and mishandling the money when prompted to pay by the cashier announcing the total amount to pay.
Step 2 is to identify a task or sequence of tasks to practice in isolation based on the results of the pretest. For example, this could involve walking to a section of the store and prompting the student to find an item. Data collection would involve several trials of simply finding the item without addressing any other steps of the task analysis.
Step 3 would be to chain multiple steps together, but not the entire task analysis yet. For example, having the student find the appropriate section and then finding the item in the section.
Eventually, a post-test can be administered to assess the entire sequence to identify progress and areas needing more attention.
Saw the following price tags, shown in the two photos, at an office supply store. $4 for 4 batteries or $9 for 8 batteries. To compare we can double the smaller pack to see that 2 packs would cost $8 for 8 batteries for a better deal.
Another method is to use unit rates. Rates are a measure of one quantity, with units, per 1 unit of another quantity, e.g. you make $10 per hour. To compute
Below is an example of instruction for unit rates to help a student conceptually understand (pretend that gas price shown on this pump is $2 per gallon). Say you pumped 3 gallons and it cost $6. Show the 3 1-gallon gas cans together and the 6 $1 bills together. Separate them to you have equal groups to get $ per 1 gallon. You can use actual gas cans (unused) or cutouts from Google Images.
I have a student with autism who loves comic books, especially DC and Marvel, and is often disinterested in the math I have to offer. In an activity to shop for clothes using a $200 gift card, 40% discount and 6% sales tax I gave this student a print out of comic books for his shopping – see photo below for part of what he was given. He immediately worked through the problem.