Thursday, August 27, 2020
By Claudia Zequeira
Emily Elrod, professor, mathematics, has a way to bring the real world into her Math for the Liberal Arts (MGF 1107) course through the use of an exercise involving budgeting.
“In the project, the students are given a fake family that is representative of many real-life families,” said Emily. “I have several of these mock families that I rotate from semester to semester, but in each case, what the students come to find out is the family is living beyond their means. It then becomes the student’s task to help the family get out of the financial mess they are in.”
First, the students review a file where the family has provided financial information such as salary, deductions, loan information, bills, credit score, financial goals, and even some extraneous information (as often is the case in real life). They then enter all the relevant values into an Excel file with built-in formulas for a monthly budget, ultimately learning the family is overspending. The students are then asked to create a new budget; one which balances the family’s goals but also keeps them from going further into debt.
“They are required to submit both the original budget, as well as their suggested new budget with a written explanation as to the realistic nature of their adjustments, which often requires a bit of research on the student’s part,” said Emily.
The second part of the project involves a discussion of their realistic adjustments.
“This presents a great peer-to-peer learning opportunity since each student’s suggested budget is different,” said Emily. “Students share one unique recommendation from their suggested budget and then comment on one of their classmates’ posts with a respectful and substantial reply. They can agree or disagree with their classmate but must do so tactfully and include their reasoning.”
In part three, students must submit a reflection where they are asked to discuss both their personal impressions of the mock family’s situation and how this project might impact their own financial future.
“Often students indicate that, in the beginning, they were apprehensive about doing a project in a math class and that creating a budget seemed like a daunting task,” said Emily. “But after completing it, they realized that although it took some time and effort, they learned quite a bit from the experience and were grateful to learn something they felt would benefit them beyond the classroom.”
Emily added many of her students have asked to take the Excel file provided and modified it to their own personal lives.
“Ultimately, my goal in incorporating this project is two-fold: help students to realize that math is ubiquitous and the importance of thoughtful management of personal finances. Based on the majority of the feedback from my students, I believe this project does just that.”
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