After six years of teaching personal finance at Patrick Henry High School, Thomas Larimer discovered a more innovative and effective way to teach financial literacy by bringing real world applications into his classroom.
Initially, Thomas ran an auction with his students with mock money to teach them about the economic concept of opportunity cost. When Thomas realized that his students responded positively to this lesson, he decided to design his classroom and lesson plans around this incentive program. From this inspiration, Thomas created a classroom economy with a mock currency he calls “Larimer bucks” that include the Patrick Henry High School faculty’s faces on each bill.
Students earned Larimer bucks by completing assignments and receiving bonuses for exemplary work. After earning Larimer bucks, students use them to pay bills, such as rent for their classroom desk space, WiFi and utilities. Then with their remaining money they have the choice to save it or spend it at the class ‘general store’ where they could buy snacks or prizes. Thomas states that this strategy allows for students to gain a sense of what it will be like in the real world when they graduate. It also allows them to make mistakes and see the results before they have to make these decisions outside of high school with real repercussions.
Thomas showcases his ‘Larimer Bucks’ and the ‘General Store’ items he uses to build his classroom economy.
In addition to bringing financial concepts to life in his classroom, Thomas incorporates innovative online resources such as Kahoot and Quizlet to help his students review concepts they learned. These tools also bring competition into the classroom, with students competing against each other to earn a spot in the top five and earn more Larimer bucks. Thomas takes full advantage of his classroom being in a computer lab by using Google Classroom to help his students manage and organize their work and notes. In addition to these tools, Thomas has students play an online stock market game where students build a simulated stock portfolio and buy and sell stocks.
Throughout his lessons, there is a strong emphasis on three key concepts: credit, budgeting and saving for retirement. He teaches his students how to create a budget, the importance of building credit and to start saving for retirement early.
In Virginia, completing a Personal Finance course is a requirement for graduation. Since taking up this new teaching style, the number of students struggling with the W!se Financial Literacy Test has dropped, proving the success of his program. The W!SE Financial Literacy Certification program is used by high schools in 48 states. Teachers in participating schools receive instructional resources to teach personal finance and measure students’ financial literacy. Students who pass the financial literacy test earn a nationally recognized financial literacy certification.
Thomas still continues to think of ways to tweak his new lesson strategy to better portray the real world. “If we can get it so our kids were actually going through the motions of financial transactions and doing them, and succeeding or making mistakes in a controlled environment, they will have those experiences to reference in real life,” said Thomas.
He believes that a change in teaching style and lesson format will significantly improve the financial literacy of youth across the country. As an example, Thomas references a time when one of his students struggled with how check registers and bank statements work. Once Thomas put it into terms of his Larimer bucks system and had the student go through the process of making deposits, tracking his expenses and evaluating the bank statement, the student could see it in context and understood how it worked.
"You can sit and talk about finance all day,” he said, “but until you actually do it, it’s completely different.” He emphasizes that students should be able to practice financial concepts in order to succeed in the real world.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Thomas Larimer on his ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy at Patrick Henry High School.