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Get Real: Teaching Financial
Literacy Through Internet Sites

Joanne Caniglia and Barbara Leapard

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The Reality Store® is a program that helps to prepare students for career development, interpersonal development, and financial literacy. The program seeks to give students a view of the future they are about to explore, along with timely tips about the pitfalls in and possibilities for developing their personal and professional lives.

Reality Store® bridges the gap between education and real life. Students make decisions regarding educational, career, family, housing, financial, health and fitness, community involvement, and personal goals. Each student is randomly assigned a marital status as well as whether or not they have children. Students must make all essential purchases/payments and end up with a positive cash balance in their checkbook before they can leave the event. This article describes websites that can provide an online version of the Reality Store®.

Get Real: Teaching Financial Literacy Through Internet Sites

“When will we ever use this stuff?” This question is always ever on the minds of students , many who often find mathematics classes abstract and u n ot related to their lives outside of school. One way that may help students see the benefits of learning and mathematics as well as improve their financial literacy is the simulation activity called The Reality Store® (Business and Professional Women's Clubs of Indiana, 2009) is a simulation activity in which students in grades 6-8 The activity is designed for students in grades 6-8 and has three distinct parts.

The activity begins with the students identifying career choices, researching a specific profession, and calculating a monthly income based on current Department of Labor salary statistics. Then students visit the Reality Store® which is a collection of “Stations ” supervised by volunteers where they pay monthly costs. At each booth, students make decisions concerning the standard of living they desire. For example, at the housing booth, students decide if they want to pay for a one-bedroom efficiency apartment or a five-bedroom home. Following the Reality Store® visit, students reflect on how the choices they make as students can impact the decisions they make today on their ability to enter various professions and support the standard of living they would like in the future.

The Business and Professional Women's Clubs of Indiana developed the Reality Store®, and the Departments of Education of Indiana and New York disseminate materials and resources. ( and )

This article will describe the goals, components, and the curricular benefits and adaptations of the Reality Store® for students in real-world and online settings. to simulate in person or online. Although interacting with mentors is beneficial, physical arrangements and/or personnel/volunteers may not be available. Thus, a series of websites can will serve as online “ stations.” Not only do students navigate websites, but also use critical thinking skills in making decisions.

Please also view the Virtual Reality Store® Tour (
) for yet another experience. Using this technology, students are taken on a virtual tour of a Reality Store® without websites but with many choices available. This tour enables students to pause at each location while making and recording their decisions.

The Need for Financial Literacy

In testimony before Congress, Dr. Robert Duvall, Chief Executive Officer of the National Council of Economic Education (2009) expressed that the need for financial education is urgent (2009) . He and proponents of financial education argue that starting at an early age is critical and should begin as early as possible (Beverly & Burkhalter, 2005; Suiter & Meszaros, 2005). Greenspan (2005) promotes the need for educators to focus on: “ providing youth with a foundation for understanding personal financial management” (p. 64). He notes that financial education is particularly important for “ those who populations that have been traditionally underserved by our financial system.” (p 64). The widespread advocacy by individuals in government, business, and education (e.g., Greenspan, 2005; Morton, 2005), organizations (e.g., National Endowment for Financial Education and Jumpstart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy ), and the existence of standards (Wilhelm and & Chao, 2005), have begun to produce positive change, but there is still much to be done (Please see Appendix A for a list of resources and organizations).

Many organizations have surveyed high school and middle school students regarding their financial understanding and skills. Perhaps the most documented are the surveys conducted by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy (2008), a not-for-profit organization that seeks to improve the personal financial literacy of students in kindergarten through college. Every two years, the organization measures students' level of knowledge of personal finance basics in four areas : income, money management, savings and investments, and spending and credit. Results of the most recent survey, (2007-2008) showed a slight improvement of the students receiving a passing grade – 52.4% passed (Jump$tart 2008).

The Reality Store® uses the simulation and reflection techniques to convey information. A simulation provides for control of the learning environment and adaptations to meet the students' needs. Part of the value of simulations is that they attempt to make complex concepts understandable (Kirtz, 2003). Simulations are considered to be most effective when students are asked to choose among alternatives (Oh, 2002). Debriefing or reflection allows participants the opportunity to evaluate the simulation itself as well as the knowledge gained in the process. This step is necessary because “to apply the knowledge acquired during the simulation to the real word” (Oh, 2002). And thus it helps facilitate the transfer of learning from the simulation to real-life situations.

Activity Goals of the Reality Store®

“Wow! I am broke! I only bought things that I needed. Nothing else and I am broke!” - 8th Grade Student, Ypsilanti, MI.

The Reality Store® set of activities helps participants:

  • Learn skills in financial planning, goal setting, decision-making and career planning.

  • Reinforce positive and negative numbers and their operations.

  • Examine their attitudes about their future careers, earnings, and lifestyles.

  • Make informed decisions about the costs and timing of major life events like marriage and having children.

  • If the activity is in person, I interact with pre-service teachers that can offer them unique guidance and insight while informing pre-service teachers of junior high students' thoughts and understanding of money and mathematics skills.

  • Realize the importance of education in accomplishing career goals.

Activity Components to the Reality Store®

“I need a better job. How does my mom do all this?”
- 6th grade student, Ypsilanti, MI.

These goals are accomplished by three interconnected activities. Each part is necessary for a successful experience.

The three parts to the Reality Store® activities include:

1. Preparation (one day): These Activities are designed to help students start to think about their futures and the type of lifestyle they would like to have when they're in their mid-twenties. This usually is one class period with students completing an inventory of career choices, a review of writing checks and balancing a checkbook. Check-writing is reviewed and sometimes it is necessary to explain the importance of completing a check register in a neat and correct manner. This usually takes one class period.

2. Reality Store® Visit: Fifteen Stations (identified by posters/websites either in person or online) allow students thirty students per hour to make decisions regarding “life's realities”. The Stations include: banking, taxes, housing, transportation, insurance (auto and medical), utilities, child care, groceries, legal services, eating out, clothes, charitable contributions, “life's surprises,” and travel/entertainment.

3. Follow-up Reflections (one class period): After students finish their “trip” to the Reality Store®, they complete an evaluation form that asks them to reflect on the activity. Follow-up discussions in their classrooms encourage students to share their thoughts and reactions and compare their experiences in the Reality Store® with how they envisioned their future before and after the Reality Store® experience. This usually takes one class period.



Three class periods before the Reality Store® activity, pre-service teachers or volunteers visit the students. The students in their classrooms are given a list of occupations that they can choose and are posed a question. The question posed to students is, “What would you like to be doing when you are twenty-five years old? ” In addition, students are also instructed to reflect on their life's goals and direction.

To answer this question In preparation, middle school students research the median occupational outcome from the most current Outlook Handbook of Labor Statistics (Department of Labor, 2005) at . Embedded within the job/profession description, is a breakdown of the median and beginning salaries. Because it is assumed that participants of the Reality Store® Due to the assumption that the students are 25 years old, beginning salaries are used. Then, students are then to divide that salary into by 12 months. This number is then recorded and used either at the first table or online station to begin the activity.

If the activity is done in person, volunteers are needed and are assigned to a station. Volunteers can be members of the school community, the community as a whole, or pre-service teachers. They Volunteers are assigned to a station. They must create a poster (2 ft. x 3 ft.) describing three options from their designated booth. In many Reality Store® visits, volunteers from the community staff the stations. Because the Reality Store® gives prospective teachers an idea of how 6-8th grade students think about basic mathematics skills and applications, it is an invaluable experience for these future teachers to staff each station. However, in many Reality Store® visits, volunteers from the community staff the stations.

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Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal
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Volume 12, Issue 2, 2009
ISSN 1097-9778
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