Involvement in a high school club turned into a lifelong passion for financial literacy that has led Nathan Keel to his current position teaching personal finance, accounting, entrepreneurship, marketing and technology at Bryan High School in Ohio.
Though Nathan credits his participation in his high school's Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) team with helping him discover a passion for marketing, this translated to an interest in math education. During his time pursuing his degree at Bowling Green State University, he realized that he was interested in math, but even more interested in seeing how it could be applied to everyday life.
Nathan’s students finished in the top 5 in the nation in the H&R Block Budget Challenge, a personal finance simulation.
"I realized I was better suited to being a business teacher," says Nathan. "Personal finance is a skill everyone will use no matter what, no matter who you are you're going to need financial literacy skills."
Nathan takes advantage of the necessity of personal finance as he works to make his classroom activities more relevant to his students. "I think the best way to make lessons more engaging for students is a project-based learning method – it's having the students actually do it," explains Nathan. "Unless the students do it and see how it applies and how they might use it, they're not going to see the advantages and disadvantages of the different choices they might make."
Using educational games in the classroom increases student engagement. His class participates in what he calls the Game of Life. Over the course of a week, students make decisions about what career they want, where they want to live and where they will go to school. They then have to go out and see what the costs of those choices will be.
"I think if you can make it fun to kids and you can make it enjoyable and exciting, students are more likely to engage in learning," Nathan explains.
To add more depth to the game, Nathan provides students with various life events each day. These events can be anything from receiving a bonus at work or being in a car crash and having to pay for the damages.
His students also compete in the nationwide H&R Block Budget Challenge to expand upon their understanding of budgeting and living expenses. It is a 12-week program where the students participate in a real world simulation where they get paid every two weeks and have bills to pay.
Business students participating in a Junior Achievement event at the University of Toledo.
"They have to schedule all of their expenses through a bill pay system along with a weekly quiz on a topic that week," Nathan says. "Using this method, I had a team finish in the top 5 nationwide in 2016 and was awarded a $5,000 grant."
Nathan also serves as a faculty ambassador for Bowling Green State University for the College of Business. This gives him the opportunity to have students attend events and functions that most classroom teachers would have to pay for.
In 2017, he attended the Sebo Series on Entrepreneurship conference with his students, where they got to meet and talk to famous TED Talk star, Sir Ken Robinson. "He focuses on innovation and creativity in business and was talking to students about how to set yourself up for the future and how to look for the big picture," says Nathan. "We applied that in personal finance through investing, through insurance and through risk management."
In an effort to network with educators outside of his region, Nathan attended the Knowledge@Wharton Personal and Financial Responsibility Conference in San Francisco, California presented by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business in 2016.
"Through the guest speakers from Wharton and the other teachers I met that had a passion for personal finance, I gathered resources and teaching strategies that have helped me reach students, both high achieving and low achieving," Nathan explained.
To help students further Nathan frequently brings in guest speakers that are either from Junior Achievement, a volunteer program focused on work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy, or local community members who work in finance at credit unions and banks.
Nathan originally began to bring in these speakers because he found out the majority of his students didn't have bank accounts. By bringing in these speakers, Nathan helps the students reach a point where they feel comfortable with opening a bank account and reaching out to financial institutions as they develop better habits and learn the advantages and disadvantages of the choices they make. Developing that comfort level is important to Nathan, because their understanding of personal finance will affect them for the rest of their lives.
Though Nathan is responsible for teaching a number of different classes, his personal finance course is by far the most popular with students. Personal finance education was recently made mandatory in the state of Ohio, but to fulfill this requirement, personal finance is only taught briefly in government classes.
"They only have a few weeks to learn personal finance in government," says Nathan. "They end up taking personal finance courses a lot of the time because they see that it applies to their lives or because their parents will call the school and inquire about the availability."
In addition to his push to expand the financial literacy of his own students, Nathan's hope is that there will be more work to expand these efforts for youth across the country.
"We should make personal finance a requirement for all students in high school," Nathan explains. "That's the exact reason I got into it, because I think it's a life skill."
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Nathan Keel on his ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at Bryan High School.