Monday, October 16, 2017

Gamifying financial literacy education with Star Banks Adventure

In the past, I have had the occasion to write blog posts about various aspects of financial literacy. There are many well-done Web sites created by experts in the field of personal finance that can be helpful to ensure students master the financial literacy skillset.


There is now a no-cost, engaging and informational online game from T. Rowe Price titled Star Banks Adventure available for teachers and students to instruct and learn about financial concepts within a gamified environment. Star Banks Adventure is also available as an iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire app. Just go to the Star Banks Adventure game site for links to them all.

The Star Banks Adventure game targets students in grades 5-8 and it includes puzzles and quick quizzes dealing with financial and personal finance concepts and is set in a sci-fi environment. I am not an experienced gamer, but the Star Banks Adventure game provides live demos right within the game, so I was able to catch on quickly how to maneuver and move through the levels. Each level builds upon the concepts in the previous level, so students get a deep-dive into each concept.


The Star Banks Adventure game was intended to help teachers introduce real world money concepts to students in middle school. There is a great curriculum matrix included within the teacher section of the Classroom Edition. The concepts taught in the game are mapped to national standards in personal finance, national standards in economics, and the Common Core State Standards. Below is a section of the curriculum matrix for levels one and two of the Star Banks Adventure game.

T. Rowe Price offers many additional financial resources for educators on their Money Confident Kids site. This site provides background information on financial concepts and includes downloadable magazines for students, print resources, videos, activators, and more. I suggest starting at the Teaching Tools and Activities page of the site, which includes PDF guides for both middle school and high school teachers. The Money Confident Kids site also includes a parent section to help parents reinforce some of these personal finance concepts at home.


The Classroom Edition of the Star Banks Adventure game includes an administrative dashboard for the teacher. Teachers create their own account on this page. In addition to including how-to tutorials for the Dashboard itself, the Dashboard allows the teacher to create online classroom groups, manage these  groups, monitor their students' progress, and compare their students' data with other classrooms in the United States. In the Teacher Dashboard area there are also tutorials introducing each of the six financial concepts included in the game -- setting a financial goal, prioritizing spending, rate of return, asset allocation, inflation and time horizon, and diversification.

Teachers can create as many classrooms as they need in the Dashboard and also view each student's progress and well as the aggregated classroom progress. Students have both a Classroom ID and User ID, neither of which include the real name of the student. Fun pseudonyms for the student names are generated as the teacher creates the User IDs.

Starting at the beginning of the game and moving through the levels helps reinforce the skills as they are learned. However teachers can have students work on a specific subject if they wish and jump to a specific topic.


I tried out the online version of the game on both Mac and Windows laptops and and on iOS, Android, and Google Fire devices. It worked flawlessly on all of these. It does not seem to run on the Chromebook nor with the Google Play Store install on my Asus Flip Chromebook. 

The Star Banks Adventure game provides a fun, engaging, educational, and informative way for students to learn about personal finance and becoming financially literate. Give it a try with your students!

This is a sponsored post on behalf of We Are Teachers and T. Rowe Price.
I received compensation for this post, however all opinions stated are my own.
STAR BANKS ADVENTURE and MONEY CONFIDENT KIDS are registered trademarks of T. Rowe Price Group, Inc.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The importance of financial literacy

Financial and economic literacy is about understanding the importance of making appropriate economic choices on a personal level, as well as understanding the connection that personal, business, and governmental decisions have on individuals, society, and the economy.  

I have blogged about programs that help students develop their financial literacy skills. However, it is important teachers are also knowledgeable about the various aspects of financial literacy, as well as the best way to help students attain the knowledge they need to succeed.


There is a comprehensive program that can help educators learn about the aspects of personal finance and allows them to earn micro-credentials upon completion of modules and, in some states, credits or points to use for recertification.

Digital Promise, in partnership with the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University, has developed twenty financial literacy micro-credentials, appropriate for teachers grades 7-12, that provide open access to professional development resources for use across the content areas. These micro-credentials support educators development of their students’ personal finance skills. (If you want to learn more about the process of micro-credentialing, Digital Promise has published a great overview!)

These twenty, competency-based, micro-credentials cover the following.
  • Discussing risk and return
  • Credit cards
  • Buying or leasing
  • Saving for retirement
  • Learning investing
  • Understanding credit scores
  • Financial decision making
  • Building credit
  • Saving strategies
  • Student loan borrowing
  • Tax basics for teens
  • Protecting identity online
  • Comparing banking options
  • Exploring career options
  • Financial management 
  • Comparison shopping
  • Compound interest 
  • Automobile insurance
The modules in the Digital Promise Financial Literacy program include many different modes of learning to help middle and high school students attain the knowledge they need. These include digital game-based learning, online discussions, graphic organizers, learning-by-doing, simulation based learning, problem based learning, applied learning, and performance based learning.

The modules also target the higher order thinking skills as students reactivate their prior knowledge, compare and contrast, analyze, make decisions, and reflect.


The content of the personal finance program is separated into manageable chunks as modules. I explored all the modules, and wanted to share one that targets content I am passionate about - identity protection. I signed up for my free account at Digital Promise which brought me to their micro-credentialing platform, BloomBoard.

The introduction to the module included an overview of the method of instruction and links to supporting research for the instructional method for this module which is game-based learning. The introduction also included a suggested implementation of the lesson as well as links to a choice of digital games to use for the lesson.

This was followed by a list of the submission requirements for evaluation and earning of the micro-credential. These are shown below and also included a downloadable document which included the scoring guide rubric.

Once I had read the background material and investigated the included online financial games, I felt confident to teach the lesson about identify theft to the students. I would allow them to complete one of the games and then to collaborate in pairs, and with the class, about their experiences and gained knowledge.

To attain the micro-credential, I needed to go back to the questions above and complete the sections discussing how I introduced the topic, upload two artifacts, and (the most important part) reflect on game-based learning and its impact on student acquisition of content. There was also an optional survey to provide the resource creators with additional information.

I was very impressed with both the content and the platform of the module. The choices included allowed me, as an educator, to determine what was best for my students. The included research information and additional resources made me feel comfortable I had attained enough knowledge to teach the topic in an way to help students learn. The assessments to earn my micro-credential were meaningful and prompted me to think and reflect on both the method of delivery and student learning.

The Digital Promise/GFLEC financial literacy program can be used across the curriculum, and, in addition to helping students attain the financial literacy skills, it provides educators with the time to reflect on methods of instructional delivery, which can help frame practice in any content area!
This is a sponsored post on behalf of We Are Teachers and Digital Promise
I received compensation for this post, however all opinions stated are my own.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Promoting inventiveness in the classroom

This article originally appeared in the Discovery Education blog "Kathy Schrock's Katch of the Month" in June 2017 and is re-posted here with permission.


We are all familiar with invention—the process of creating something new and useful. But what about the creativity factors that play a large role in this process? The form of creativity leading to invention is called inventiveness. How can you lead your teachers or colleagues to promote inventiveness in the classroom?

The Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Iowa includes a great overview of inventiveness in their “Invent Iowa Curriculum Guide”. Invent Iowa, started in 1987, was created to help teachers promote the invention process in their classrooms as well as allow students to showcase their inventions at state and local conventions. The Invent Iowa guide states inventiveness includes four components.
  1. Fluency– the ability to brainstorm
  2. Flexibility– the ability to think in new and different ways
  3. Elaboration– the ability to add details or missing parts
  4. Originality– the ability to create things that are new
In this program, the grade 3-8 students are encouraged to use a series of problem-solving steps when during the invention process.
  • They begin by identifying or finding a problem that might be solved or lessened with an invention.
  • They then gather information about related inventions.
  • Before an inventor begins creating, he/she explores the idea in-depth.
  • Finally, the student inventor imagines their invention idea and begins creating it.
As the student inventor explores their idea in depth, he/she needs to answer the common thinking questions to prompt them to think of all the aspects – who, what, where, when, and why. There is an additional question the inventor needs to think about, and that is “how” – “How can I make the invention?” “How can I get investors?” “How can I market the invention?”
The Invent Iowa Curriculum Guide includes a rubric which can help the classroom teacher develop the timelines and task goals with the students. It includes the problem, the solution, the explanation, the uniqueness, the benefits, the inventor’s log, and the invention itself. The higher order thinking skills of evaluating, analyzing, and creating, as well as the importance of reflection, comprise a large part of this process.

The curriculum guide also provides some tips for teachers for instilling a climate for inventiveness in the classroom.
  • Create challenge and motivation
    • Stimulate student questioning
    • Asking questions calling for creative thought
    • Discuss the “unknowns”
  • Encourage students to challenge their assumptions
  • Provide freedom for exploration
    • Establish trust and openness
    • Defer judgment whenever possible
  • Use affirmative judgment
  • Permit liveliness and dynamism
    • Encourage student involvement and ownership
  • Encourage playfulness and humor
  • Allow for examining differing ideas and viewpoints
  • Minimize conflicts
  • Encourage risk-taking, rather than “safe” responses and conformity
  • Provide time for thought and action
However, to spur the creativity and have students adopt the inventiveness mindset, there some interesting ways for the classroom teacher to foster creativity in the classroom. Kristin Hicks, in an Edudemic blog post, provides five ways to bring this about. Her thoughts and ideas deal with student choice, and include:
  1. Allow students choice in the format of their assessments. Even have them mix and match formats, for example, a video with a recorded podcast review.
  2. Try to set aside some time each day for students to follow their passions. Create a “genius hour”.
  3. Use technology to broaden your idea of assignments. For instance, use Google Maps along with a novel, have students interview experts on Skype and follow experts on Twitter or in a Reddit group to gather their information for a research paper, etc.
  4. Make sure your tech toolbox includes some unconventional tech tools. Have students create a TED talk about a chapter in the science book, have them draw an XKCD-like comic strip, or create a Fakebook page for an explorer. (I have tons of categorized online tools on this page for you to investigate!)
  5. Encourage discussion among students, using the Socratic seminar method, so students are not afraid to take a risk, learn how to formulate good questions, and how to respect the opinions of others. (Take a look at a recent Kathy’s Katch blog post I penned, Civil Discourse in the Classroom, to investigate more about helping students learn to value someone else’s point of view.)
I also am a fan of Stacey Goodman’s methods of encouraging divergent thinking in his classroom. His expected results would lead to a climate of inventiveness, too.
  • Problem-based learning: Instead of giving the students the problem to solve, have them create the problem questions based on their own knowledge and passions.
  • Setting norms: Develop activities that encourage students to defer judgement. If students know they will not be immediately judged, they are more likely to offer divergent ideas.
  • Inquiry and observation: Have students spend time observing, hold back on expressing their likes and dislikes, and follow-up with statements or questions such as “I noticed…”, “Why…?”, and “How…?”.
  • Encouraging play and managing failure: Develop activities that encourage students to play and experiment, followed by reflection and iteration until they are satisfied with the result. Help them learn not to be afraid to make mistakes.
  • Use art strategies: Goodman is an art teacher, and he presents some art activities in the article that would easily work across the content areas to promote inventiveness.
Another succinct overview of the components that can help lead to creativity and inventiveness has been developed by Tanner Christensen.

Discovery Education has material to support creative thinking in your classroom.
  • The Spotlight on Strategies (SOS) “Take a walk” activity is based on a Stanford University study which found that creative thinking improves as you walk and for a short time after.
  • The video “Above & Beyond“, created by Fablevision, showcases how a collaborative project can lead to some creative results!
  • The “Teaching to inspire creativity” video segment is a short professional development video for educators.
After looking at both the Hicks and Goodman criteria and the Discovery Education resources, I don’t believe inventiveness is tied just to the invention process. I think it is a natural part of the creative and divergent thinking processes, too. For some fascinating reading, the Creative Something blog, written by Tanner Christensen, explores the science of how creative thinking works to help his audience “use it every day to create, empower, and motivate”. Isn’t that what we want for students?

Allowing students to pursue their passions, in a way meaningful to them, is a process that can be mentored and practiced in the classroom. By giving students both time and practice in questioning, collaborating, researching, designing, iterating, re-designing, and reflecting, we will be empowering and motivating them to apply the process of inventiveness both in and out of the classroom!