Financial Literacy Curriculum Design and Educational Approach

April is National Financial Literacy Month and there’s no better time to shine a light on the importance of financial education for youth. Pathway to Financial Success in Schools is a standards-aligned suite of materials created to provide students, educators, and their families with the tools they need to make sound financial decisions and achieve their personal goals.

To give you more insight into the development of the program, we interviewed Discovery Education Curriculum Developers, Robin Porter, and Hilary Hunt.

In general, how do you determine the best and most effective ways to design these types of programs? What about the Pathway to Financial Success in Schools program, specifically?

When designing education programs, we always start with our two most important stakeholders — educators and students. We create high-quality digital content based on sound pedagogy, educational standards, the desire to advance student achievement, and relevancy and engagement for students. We also try to make all of our content flexible and easy-to-use for educators.

For the partnership with Discover Financial Services, we designed a program that could meet financial literacy standards, be easy-to-implement and flexible for educators, leverage and connect to existing exemplary content, present new content in a fresh way, and connect to those at home.

The Pathway to Financial Success in Schools classroom activities provide engaging ways for students to learn about specific topics, and family connections offer parents and caregivers a way to continue the conversation and extend learning at home. Self-paced interactive modules are in development that will leverage the power of digital to help students to engage with the content. And, we have identified high-quality, existing materials that complement the program and link teachers to those sources.

How does your approach differ when developing financial literacy curriculum for middle school-aged children vs. high school vs. college?

Financial literacy curriculum varies in several ways at different age levels:

  • Experiences with Money: The younger the students, the fewer prior experiences we expect them to have with making financial decisions. Thus, we might use more scenarios or stories with younger students; whereas, older students can find connections to their own lives or those of people they know.
  • Content Expectations: In developing curriculum, we start with the relevant education standards. In this case, we have aligned to the Council for Economic Education’s National Standards for Financial Literacy which are benchmarked at grades 4, 8, and 12.
  • Building Block Competencies: As we develop curriculum, we consider the building blocks and the developmental milestones of the target audience. Research commissioned by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau informs this work. It identifies when during childhood and adolescence people acquire the foundations of financial capability and organizes it into three primary building blocks: executive function, financial habits and norms, and financial knowledge and decision-making skills.

How have financial literacy curriculum development procedures changed over the past 5 years?

Technology has been the major driving force in how financial literacy curriculum has been developed over the past five years.

First, more students are using mobile devices. This means that programs that once would have built to be delivered on a computer must now be responsive and work well on a wide variety of mobile devices – everything from iPads and tablets to a phone with different screen sizes. This fundamentally changes how information is conveyed because you have less “real estate” on the screen. We have to chunk information into more bite-size amounts and be very deliberate in how we provide instruction.

From the financial side, we are also very aware that the way people interact with their money is different than it was five years ago – everything from depositing checks through an app to cryptocurrency. Lessons must keep up with these and other changes in the financial landscape.

Are there best practices about how students learn best that you applied to this specific curriculum?

Yes, we followed best practices for instruction in a 21st-century classroom, for the integration of digital, and for financial literacy instruction.

Did you use any data about where students lack financial knowledge to drive the areas of focus for the curriculum?

Unfortunately, the data on teen’s understanding of financial topics shows a pretty uniform lack of knowledge across topic areas. However, we do take into consideration other data. For example, the results from the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for Financial Literacy indicate that students in the United States who hold a bank account score 22 points higher in financial literacy than students who do not, after accounting for socio-economic status. Knowing this, we dedicated an entire unit to Using Financial Services with topics ranging from “Deciding Where and How to Bank” to “Using Mobile Banking.”

No matter what day or month, it is critical to prepare our students for their financial futures. Get started today with resources and tools from Pathway to Financial Success in Schools. With our turn-key suite of resources, your students will gain the skills and habits they need to be financially successful after they leave the classroom.


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