And thus ends an incredible semester at Wilson Elementary School. Looking back on the past eight weeks, I realize that my view on teaching financial literacy has changed immensely from the first lesson to the last. I have learned a lot about the students, the West Philadelphia community, and myself.
The last lesson was definitely my favorite. I created a Jeopardy game for the students to review all the material we had taught throughout the semester. It was a fun way to end the semester and stir up some friendly competition among the students. It was also great to see how far the students had come and just how much they had learned. The lesson was bittersweet as well as I sad to see the students go. Many of them asked if we’d be returning next semester, and I realize that for a lot of the kids, we genuinely made their day brighter, as they did for us. I can only hope that our efforts have a positive effect on them that extends even beyond the classroom, for good teachers truly impact a student’s life.
I am excited to return to FLCP next semester. I am thinking about teaching high school students instead next semester because the classroom environment is so different, but I’m reluctant to leave the kids at Wilson. Regardless, I know my involvement in FLCP will continue to further my understanding of the West Philadelphia community and the dire need for financial literacy in classrooms. I am so grateful to the students, the FLCP leaders, and my teaching team for a truly memorable semester.
Today, I ran into a student from University City High School that I taught last semester. I remembered him in particular because he talked a lot about how much he wanted to attend NYU and asked me for advice. After a quick chat, I met up with my parents downtown for dinner. I caught them up on school and, eventually, FLCP came up in discussion. Both events reminded me that I had one last blog to complete!
I explained to my parents how incredibly important it was for students to have a foundation in financial literacy. I was lucky enough to have mentors who gave me these essential life skills, but for many students in Philadelphia, this simply was not the case. My mother, who grew up in the Philippines, was a bit shocked to hear that basic personal finance topics such as credit, debit, and interest were bypassed in most elementary school curriculums in Philadelphia. I described my time with University City and Wilson students, from lesson planning to classroom dynamics to the characters of students that I met throughout the year. Interestingly, we ended our discussion on how she can teach my 7th grade brother everything I taught (he wasn’t too pleased).
To wrap it up, I’m incredibly grateful for my FLCP experience. It allowed me to feel a lot more connected to my city, meet some talented peers and students, and take on a challenging but rewarding task. ‘Til next year!
For our final lesson at Wilson, our team decided to play a game of Jeopardy. It was a laid-back class: the students were divided into two teams (girls versus boys) and they enjoyed pizza and soda while answering questions from topics throughout the semester. It was exciting to see how energetic the students were to answer the questions. We can proudly say that, for the most part, the students knew the answers. From savings to interest to price comparison, I was happy to see the kids remember what we taught them. When it was time to go, Janelle told the kids that although most of us will be back, she would be graduating. The kids immediately ran to hug her goodbye.
I’ve missed our Tuesday/Thursday walk through Baltimore, almost getting hit every time at some awkward cross-section, being greeted at Wilson, and our time with the students. We had ups and downs throughout the semester: struggling through interest math, conflicts for class space, but also solidifying percentage-decimal foundations and emphasizing the importance saving. Each student had his or her own personality, and they’ve all made individual impressions on the entire team. I hope we did the same.
I decided to write my final blog post a bit after when it was assigned since it was at the same time as my final reflection paper and I thought from the rear view mirror, a week after my last class, I could be able to view my experience in a new light. And now, I really can. There are various ideas with regards to education and life, in general, that my experience with FLCP has made me think about. My interactions with the students, my experience teaching in front of a classroom and the results I saw from our lessons as a team, lead me to come to one very simple yet powerful realization. It’s all about the human touch. It really is. From the classroom of life to the playground of life, when one approaches people, challenges and dreams in a human way, better results will surely come.
This lesson came in very simple events and words that didn’t necessarily shock me to begin with, but did sum up to impact me in a holistic manner. The main idea was the fact that students are much more willing to listen and to open up and participate in the classroom, when the teacher in command has gone out and touched them. What do I mean by “touch”? It really can be anything. A kind greeting, a bright smile, a caring pat in the back, encouraging words amongst many. The truth is, a classroom isn’t a unit of 14 students, but rather, the sum of each students’ individuality. When I write that it’s all about the human touch, I mean that we must reach out and personalize lessons, personalize advice, personalize relationships, and really personalize life. When as a teacher I was able to draw a subtle and simple connection with each student, that’s when my lessons were effective. When I was able to reach out, in one way or another, and touch each individual student, then they became engaged and open to my advice. This human touch was the key to FLCP, and is the key to anything in life.
For my final lesson at Wilson, and I was lucky enough to be given price comparisons as my topic. I knew I could really get creative with my lesson and engage the students after two weeks of interest and heavy math. I thought it would be good idea to teach the importance of comparison shopping between generic and name brand products. I began my lesson by putting up pictures of two goods, one name brand one generic, and giving the students the prices of the name brand product. I then asked the students to guess the prices of the generic goods, and whoever guessed the closest won.
It was interesting to see the students’ reactions to the price difference. Some couldn’t believe how much cheaper the generic goods were. When we figured out how much money could be saved monthly or yearly from switching to buying a basket of name-brand goods to a basket of generic goods, the students showed excitement at how much money they could put into their savings accounts. I then allowed the students to choose between the products within the same basket. I asked each student to say how much money they spent on a monthly basis; some decided to buy mostly generic products, while others bought more name-brand goods. Some students explained that it didn’t make sense to buy name-brand adhesives, while others said generic cereal just didn’t taste the same.
I ended my lesson with the classic trail mix example; I explained to the students that another great way to save money is to buy individual ingredients to make your own food. Instead of buying a sandwich at Wawa or trail mix, they can just make their own. Overall, I think the students enjoyed the interactive lesson.
Recently, one of the topics we covered in class was the difference between generic products and brand-name ones. Although it may seem rather intuitive that generic products are cheaper, when it actually came to the day of the lesson, I realized how difficult it is to explain this topic. Think about it: without going into the nitty-gritty of marketing, how are we supposed to explain why Giant brands are cheaper than Colgate, for example? However, I was pleasantly surprised to see our students grasp the concept relatively quickly. Although they may not fully understand why, the Wilson kids realize that generic products are cheaper than branded ones. And of course, they absolutely loved making trail-mix at the end to apply the lesson!
The success of this lesson, and many others like it, helped me tailor my teaching style to the elementary school level. Over the recent lessons, I have realized that having all the students understand everything, while optimal, is certainly not practical. Students are at different points in their education, and some of the kids do not have as strong a basis as others. As a result, when we hit topics like interest, the students knew what to do, but did not know why they were doing it. I would often get disappointed that we were not cementing this understanding, and that reflected in my work with the kids. My explanations could be a little convoluted and tended to go over their heads. After a couple of times, I started to realize that this was not a successful way of teaching; no matter how hard I tried, sometimes it was not feasible to focus on understanding. This came partly from the elementary level of education, but also the time limit placed on FLCP. We only get two hours with the kids for about 8 weeks. The chance of all the kids understanding each financial literacy concept thoroughly is very low. But, by giving students easy rules of thumb, or things to remember, the topics will remain in their mind until they can further develop them later on. Consequently, I’ve tried to focus my teaching on getting students to know the basics, and apply simple math to structured problems. Though they may not know everything they need to about finance, they still retain certain important things, like putting money in savings accounts. Further down the road, I hope that they will be able to extract these lessons from their memories and apply them to real-world situations.
As the weather gets warmer, the students at Wilson grow more restless. Now that they have the option of playing outside on the basketball court or in the playground, FLCP seems a little less appealing. This of course is only a challenge to make our lesson plans more interesting and more engaging. Darryle, one of the members of my teaching team, taught a great lesson last week on price comparisons that the students loved. He printed out pictures of everyday items the students recognized and compared brand names to generic brands, such as Cheerios versus store brand cereal. I realized how important it is to make lessons relatable to the students, as they’re much more interested in talking about which kind of cereal they prefer than something like which type of cold medicine their parents give them. Taking the time think about what the students would prefer makes a clear difference in the effectiveness of a lesson, which then determines how much the students actually learn from it.
Simply put, the students at Wilson Elementary are All Stars. These students are very easy going and bring great energy to each FLCP lesson. There has not been one lesson so far that I have felt has gone to waste. On top of having great attitudes, these students are also really smart. The lessons that we have created always involve some math since we are into the interest stage of the program. Yet, the majority of the students are able to grasp the concepts being taught and do the math that comes along with it. When I first looked at the syllabus and saw what needed to be taught, I regrettably did not think we would be able to successfully teach compound interest or other complex concepts since they are challenging theoretically and mathematically. Yet, the classroom environment and the brilliance of our students have allowed us to fly through our curriculum.
The success we are having does also stem from the teaching team as well. Besides Janelle and Darryl, this is the first time the rest of the team is doing FLCP. We are the “rookies”, but I don’t think that has been a problem at all. Janelle has been a great leading teacher and has given us all advice and tips along the way. Our weekly meetings that she runs have been very effective in team building and educating us on how we should structure our upcoming lesson plan or approach certain students. There has been an emphasis on creativity this year and I believe that we are all taking this to heart. Team Wilson is great and at the end of the day, I am very sad that the end is near. : (
When I joined FLCP last semester, I was incredibly eager to teach high school students. I felt that because I attended a Philadelphia public high school, I would really connect with students. I was a member of the UCity team and together we taught personal finance skills to students on their way to higher education and beyond. It was challenging, but my experience with our group of students turned out to be a rewarding one. During the break, I decided that teaching elementary school students would be a an exciting new experience. I remember my friends who are involved with WPTP and CSSP telling me that I would have a much easier experience with elementary school students. Yes and no.
When I look back on these past few weeks teaching at Wilson, the only conclusion that comes to mind is that teaching elementary schools students is simply different. In some ways, younger students are easier: it can be easier to take control of the classroom and lesson plan materials are not as complex. However, there are challenges that come along with a younger student group: we cannot relate to them as much as high school students because of a wider age gap, lesson plans have to be really engaging and hands-on, and arithmetic foundations are not as implanted as with older students. Moreover, elementary school students have a different classroom and social dynamic, which I learned is central to successful learning in a younger group. Reflecting on my time with UCity, I can say that learning for the students was a lot more individualized and while our success was influenced by the classroom cohesion, the students really grasped the material once they were in an intimate one-on-one or small group setting. For the younger students, I find that classroom dynamics plays a much larger role in their learning environment.
While my experience with Wilson came with new challenges, it has been equally rewarding. The Wilson students have their own personalities that our team has come to appreciate, and they seem to surprise us week after week. I look forward to making an impact on these young individuals.
It’s been three weeks now at Wilson Elementary. I can confidently say that it is challenging in ways I never expected, rewarding in ways I never imagined, and eye opening in ways I never even considered. Walking in the first day was intimidating, to say the least. I never thought a group of 4th to 6th graders could make me nervous, but power in numbers must be a real thing because seeing their expectant faces watch my every move was quite daunting. While the class was relatively small, about 8 to 12 students for 6 teachers, it took our combined attention and efforts to keep the students interested and focused. We made an effort to learn all the students’ names on the very first day, to show that we were invested in them and cared for them individually. I think this definitely made a difference in the later weeks because it’s much more effective to call a student by his or her name than say something like “you in the blue shirt.” Students respond better when you need them to quiet down, and they also understand that we are showing them respect, and in turn, we hope that we can earn their respect, too.
In these three weeks, it’s been greatly rewarding to see the students grow and develop. Each teacher has made an effort to connect with a few students and understand the areas they struggle in so that they can be provided with the help they need. In the same sense, the teachers have moved around after a few lessons so that they can get to know all the students in the class and work with each one. I’ve also noticed the students improve on classroom behavior. They are learning to raise their hands before speaking, do their work more efficiently, and respect the teachers as well as each other. One interesting aspect about being at Wilson is that we have two returning students who took the class already, and it’s exciting to seem them remember the lessons taught last semester and answer questions correctly. Though it’s not really seeing my own work in action, knowing the impact the Financial Literacy Community Project has on the students is incredibly rewarding. It only makes me more excited for how my efforts will change these students in the upcoming weeks.