Building and strengthening the community is central to the mission of the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood (the Y), New York. Helping young people learn skills and deepen knowledge in areas that will prepare them for the future is an essential piece of that work. FiCycle has partnered with the organization to bring financial literacy information to middle and high school students that are part of several Y programs.

The YM&YWHA works with approximately 1,000 14-24-year-olds in their summer programs and hundreds of other students throughout the school year.

We spoke with Martin Yafe, Chief Program Officer at the Y, and with Monalisa Tolbert, their Managing Director of External Youth Programs, to find out more about the Y and the impact that FiCycle’s involvement had on their students.

Question: Tell us a little about the YM&YWHA, the community it supports, and the programs it develops and facilitates? 

Monalisa:   The Y has worked in this community since 1917 – it’s a real resource and pillar. I oversee all our external programs, such as our youth employment programs for which we partner with the City both during the summer and the school year. The summer program (Summer Youth Employment Program) places over 800 14-24-year-olds in paid internships with wraparound instruction on workplace skills. We also partner with the City to run after school programs at nearby middle and high schools, including a middle school where 100 percent of students are recent immigrants from Central and South America. An important piece of our afterschool programs is bringing in professionals to talk about their careers and life experiences. We call these “Pride Talks,” and this is where FiCycle joined us to introduce students to the idea of wealth, savings, and how small choices can have a big impact.

Martin:  The work we do with students afterschool is part of the Y’s whole mindset where we believe that in order to build community, we need to be a community. We want to ensure that every young person we engage with develops skills and learns of the range of resources and opportunities available to them. Bringing FiCycle in was an excellent example of how we try to expand students’ worldview and enhance their career toolkits.

Question: Why was financial literacy vital for you to build into your programs? 

Martin:  One of the Y’s central goals is to prepare young people for the future. Because many of the students we work with come from families who are new to the United States, they don’t necessarily know the different ways they can save money or when and how they should invest their money in themselves, so having these types of direct conversations is very empowering. Then the students are encouraged to give back to their community by sharing information with their families and beyond.

Q: How did the students react to the FiCycle presentations?

 Monalisa: Since a focus on financial literacy is new to them, the middle school and high school kids were very curious about it. The FiCycle presentations were super-engaging, with lots of time for questions. Students loved that they could consider what they are going to do with their money. When they started to think about it in terms of real-life situations, that’s when it really clicked. For example, students could really relate to the discussion of debit cards and their fees. Before the lesson, they didn’t realize that services charges vary and that all those $1.25 charges can really add up! Now they are more mindful of where they’re taking their money out. And they also realized that just because they have a debit card doesn’t mean they should use it everywhere because of overdrafts and how much they cost.

Q: Since the community is a focus of your programs, do you think the students brought this information into their communities somehow?

Monalisa:  In speaking with them after the FiCycle presentations, it was clear they understood the concept of “living from paycheck to paycheck.” You may want those $300 sneakers, but there are other things you need to consider. Many of our students are particularly mindful of their money because they help their parents out. So, as we are assisting students in learning financial literacy, they are taking it home and talking about it with their parents. Many of these parents come from different countries, so they don’t know about things like balancing a checkbook or determining which is a better bank for your money. Our students feel better equipped to help their parents with these issues.

Q: Do you see the FiCycle program continuing and evolving at the YM&YWHA?

Martin: Yes. We want to continue the program and see how this partnership can evolve. New students will be introduced to these concepts, and returning students can build on their knowledge. We’d also like to see the program grow into something that can help adults, especially parents who have recently moved to the United States and adults transitioning to new opportunities in the workforce. Financial literacy is central to building a secure life. We want to help community members understand how money can work for them and really flourish, and we know the partnership with FiCycle can help us do that.

To learn more about the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood, New York, visit: https://ywhi.org/ or follow on Twitter: @YWashHts

 

We were honored to welcome some amazing educators to our recent informational webinar. For those who were unable to attend, we wanted to share a brief synopsis of some key data at the heart of our organization. 

Dr. Phillip Dituri, Director of Education at FiCycle, began his presentation by asking three simple questions to gauge financial literacy. These three questions are not the end all be all of financial literacy, but they give a decent understanding of where a student, teacher, administrator, or everyday person is on their journey towards personal finance competence. These are simple multiple-choice questions that gauge understanding of Interest, Inflation, and Risk Diversification. However, the data around this question is what educators should be interested in. In a representative sample of three questions, only 27% of American youth got all three questions correct. What does that mean?

Logic Behind The Numbers

First, the data shows that the youth statistics are comparable to overall financial literacy across adults in the US. Prepandemic data across the country indicates that retirement readiness and financial emergency preparedness are down. One way to raise that is to get students prepared for their future while we can educate them in school rather than in a continuing education class later in life. 

Second, students are highly interested in personal finance due to the lack of knowledge presented in the data above. We saw that students believed finance knowledge was essential and extremely important. This is interesting because when students feel that something is necessary, it will increase their overall engagement in class. 

After exploring our curriculum’s solutions to these issues and the theory research behind us, Phil gives great advice for educators. He says, “Many tools of algebra were developed to meet the needs of finance, so the conceptual understanding is mutually reinforced.”

As we celebrate Financial Literacy Month this April, we are revisiting one of the teachers from our Q&A interview series last year who continues to experience success with the FiCycle curriculum. We checked in with Erik Scott, a math teacher at Cache High School in Oklahoma. Erik teaches Statistics and Pre-Calculus to 11th and 12th graders and FiCycle Math which is considered Algebra 3 in the school’s math curriculum. Our conversation focused on how this school year has been impacted due to the pandemic. And in the spirit of Financial Literacy Month, we dove into how students view the importance of planning for a secure financial future – given some of the outcomes of the pandemic, like inflation and the cost of everyday items sky-rocketing.  

We also wanted to get an update on how Erik is evolving and expanding the use of the FiCycle curriculum. So let’s start there. 

Question: Are there any ways you have evolved the way you have used FiCycle this school year?  

Erik: This year, we incorporated our Precalculus textbook into our FiCycle work. The book gave me a repository, if you will, of some additional problems. The FiCycle Curriculum already has a fair number of examples coupled with the properties involving logs and natural logs. I then take that information and couple it with a video presentation that I enjoy about the description of logarithms. Then I’ll move it into some additional problems from my Precalculus book. Our counselors also encourage students to take the FiCycle / Algebra 3 class. I’ll have students in my Algebra 3 class because it is an elective. They are a pool of students that have completed their required math courses to get their high school diploma. But our counselor always encourages that if these students are going into a technical school, whether it’s a technology education curriculum in their town, located in another part of the state, or going on to college, they should take another math class. And the nice thing about FiCycle is it is that other math class! It fits the requirement that the kids need to achieve their financial education, but it also keeps them fluent in the math that they’ve learned and can apply new math skills.  

Q: Remind me how your school came about using the FiCycle curriculum? I believe your community drove it. 

Erik: Yes, in fact, it was a local business person that manages a bank that actually introduced our principal, Mrs. Christie Taylor, to FiCycle. And that local business person has reached out to me, and we’re looking to have some people, possibly from FiCycle, for our next student council state symposium that we are hosting next year. So, we’re looking forward to that. 

Q: Can you share some examples of how FiCycle has made an impact on individual students and how they view their future?

ErikYes. With the FiCycle curriculum, a part that I enjoy is having the avenue to introduce students to the real-world FiCycle life cycle that we go through. One example is a student who would not necessarily have taken additional math classes; however, after being in my FiCycle class for a couple of months, she said, “You know, I really enjoy dealing with finances. I’m actually interested in maybe becoming an accountant.” The FiCycle curriculum is unique in that there’s a presentation of the math part, formulas, and how these formulas are derived. And then, there are three to four case studies with people, maybe new business owners or college students. So, the case study can put a student in the shoes of an accountant. Seeing this student’s interest in accounting, I searched the internet and found out what accounting career options are available locally and in the state of Oklahoma. I then researched what it would entail for her to pursue earning a degree in accounting and becoming a certified public accountant (CPA). I shared this information with her and more, even letting her know about an accounting degree at our local university in Lawton.  

Another exciting story is about a student I had two years ago in a geometry class. He’s really into the arts, and he’s in the band. He was not too revved up about the geometry curriculum. Now that I’ve got him in FiCycle as a senior, I noticed that he does well on our check for understanding modules at the end of each of the topics – even though it seems like he’s not even paying attention. As we got into the future value present value formulas to where we’re dealing with letting interest do its work on our money and growing our wealth without even doing anything to it, he started asking questions and really getting interested in finances. He was curious as we talked about careers and the ability to earn income, the importance of maintaining good credit and that earning potential is essential as lending institutions want to see proof that you can make monthly payments. 

Q: Is there anything uniquely exciting in how students react to the FiCycle curriculum versus other classes?  

Erik: Well, interestingly enough, they approach it as real thinkers. And maybe if they’re not initially when we get into the curriculum and we go through these case studies, it engages them in a way that they’re starting to think about, “well, that could actually be me!” As we were working on some case studies with our future value formulas, I had a student diverge from the workbook, and he started to work in his notebook with his own variables in his own life and what he wants to pursue in the next step after high school. This is the type of behavior that happens in this class. 

As the fourth quarter approaches, all teachers know the difficulty of keeping students’ attention after spring break. Testing out personal finance math before full use next year can address this issue. As teachers look towards curriculum planning during the summer and students’ attention wanes, right now might be the perfect time to try out one of our free lessons. 

Making it to June

First, students need exciting content during this time of the year to get them to June. It can be a stressful time for students with AP exams, big school activities, spring sports, and more. The excitement for summer combined with these stressful milestones can often lead to students just ‘trying to get through’ with the last couple of weeks before school ends. How do we combat this? By making math a class that excites them and encourages them to use the mathematics they’ve been learning all year in an engaging and challenging way.

“It’s one of the few math classes that address real-world situations and problems,” said Seckoumar, a student in the course who is on the AP math track who used the FiCyle curriculum at New York City Museum School. “It makes you more aware of financial decisions you’ll have to make in the future and which ones can be helpful and harmful to your credit and your finances as you move forward.” Students enjoy FiCycle because it challenges them, and the novelty of a new approach will give students something to look forward to in the classroom. 

Preparing for next year’s instruction

Second, buying FiCycle now will give your teachers some time to feel comfortable with the curriculum. If you have been thinking of adding FiCycle to your math department, now is the perfect time for teachers to engage in professional development using our curriculum. One worry we have faced in implementing FiCycle is that teachers feel they have to become personal finance gurus to teach it to their students. However, the way we shape our curriculum, hanging personal finance on the math, means that teachers can easily plug and play our curriculum into their lesson plans with relative ease. For those worried about putting stress on their teachers to learn a curriculum, now is the perfect time to establish your relationship with us. We have your back. 

“I went to a professional development session right before our semester started. I got the workbook, and I sat around a table with Phil Dituri, FiCycle’s Director of Education, and a couple other teachers. We did problems and we talked about it. It was definitely a ‘hit the ground running’ kind of a semester, but it was a very successful pilot, based on the user-friendliness of the materials, as well as how interested the students were,” said high school math teacher Eva Hachikian concerning the transition of bringing in FiCycle. We are different from other curriculum writers because when you invest in us, we invest in you. Your teachers’ and students’ success is our paramount interest, and we will provide you with all the resources at our disposal to ensure that FiCycle changes your math education for the better. 

Free Lessons Make Learning FiCycle Risk-Free

Why is now a perfect time to try out the FiCycle math curriculum? Because it can have a massive impact on your students at this crucial time in their education, and any school or classroom can start today with the full course and associated resources for free. Learn how we can revolutionize your post-spring break plans and next year’s math curriculum today. Contact Us.

With financial education courses becoming more commonplace across the country, schools and teachers see the need for a financial math class in their school curriculum. However, educators are now finding that what they once used for financial literacy in their schools no longer fits their needs. On our trip to New Orleans for the NCTM 2022 conference, we enjoyed speaking to several educators aiming to tie personal finance to math education. Many of these educators are looking for a new approach to financial mathematics because their first attempts have not proven successful. For this blog, we wanted to codify some of the conversations and explore how they tie into our current approach to financial mathematics education. 

A Balanced Approach

One theme we noticed at NCTM was the need for a curriculum that balanced mathematics and personal finance. For some educators, their school tried a financial literacy curriculum, but it didn’t have enough math. Personal finance-focused curricula serve the need to educate students on financial literacy, but put unwarranted pressure on math educators to become solely personal finance instructors. Or, these curricula completely leave the mathematics of finance out of the equation, living in different departments in a school such as social studies or technology. 

On the contrary, some educators had instituted a heavily math-focused curriculum, but limited their ability to teach the essentials of personal finance. What we found in both cases was a need for educators to use their professional skills in math education and provide financial life skills that students will feel comfortable using when it appears in their lives. We aim in everything we do to strike at the middle ground, laying all of the groundwork for math educators to hang instruction on math, with finance to enrich the value to students. 

Student Engagement

Another topic we found presenting itself was student engagement. In the virtual or physical classroom, teachers are having difficulty keeping their students’ attention while providing mathematically rigorous instruction. Looking to find a balance between engagement and rigor, we shared how our project-based learning initiatives give students something to be excited about while learning their required math subjects. 

An interesting case for balancing math education and engagement was an educator who expressed an issue many schools face: If students only have to take three years of math, how do we engage seniors to take an additional math class? We expressed the ability to prepare seniors for real-life financial situations using our curriculum. Using the building blocks they formed over the first three years of high school, FiCycle can reinforce their early education and provide a new financial literacy element young adults will shortly face in the form of loans, budgets, investment, and more. 

Current Events

Finally, a discussion of current events in financial math came from NCTM attendees we spoke to. Possibly the most functional aspect of our curriculum, educators were interested in combining their education with the financial zeitgeist. One educator’s students asked about the Gamestop stock situation when it was in the news. The teacher didn’t know what to tell the class from a mathematical perspective as it isn’t regularly taught.

So, how do we give teachers the ability to make a multi-functional lesson any day of the week? We make a curriculum with a professional development opportunity. Our math curriculum provides educators the ability to explain current events not only in the classes that teach our content, but also to explore the world around them in all their classes in a new and exciting way.  

After years of working primarily remote, it was a breath of fresh air to gather with math educators at NCTM earlier this month. Hearing from the folks on the ground, in the classrooms, doing the hard work of supporting our students is how we can, in turn, best support educators. For more information about our curriculum, click here.

If you’ve visited our website prior to 2022, you’ve likely noticed a change in our logo and colors. We’re thrilled to share more information about this shift in our identity, where we have come from and how we got to where we are today.

Since our conception, the main themes of our work have never changed. We are here to support your students in their understanding of the financial life cycle in making decisions about spending, borrowing and investing. We also believe in the importance of mathematics and mathematical thinking for good financial decision making. As such, FiCycle is the nickname for The Financial Life Cycle Education Corp. 

The original FiCycle logo was a stylized bicycle with the wheels labeled mathematics and finance. This logo captured the similarity between bicycle and FiCycle, and encapsulated the idea that the rider of the bicycle could control their financial direction, powered by an understanding of both math and finance. The simple geometry of the logo also recalled mathematical shapes and concepts. 

The new logo contains much the same meaning as the first, but with a different abstraction. In the new logo, the financial life cycle shows how, over the course of your life, your wealth changes as you borrower against future earnings, save for retirement and then spend your retirement savings. The mirroring of the cycles reflects the complementary nature of financial transactions.

And, of course, we should address our color change. We added green as the central color reflects wealth. The blues show that the cycle can be approach in a calmly through the use of planning and mathematics.

Our look may have changed, but our approach has not. We are still here to provide you with resources to teach the algebra of personal finance and to help your students succeed not just in their math classes, but in life.

In our Q&A interview series, we have the opportunity to hear from high school math teachers across the U.S. whose students are experiencing success with the FiCycle curriculum. You’ll hear real success stories and classroom-level insights on the ways in which integrated mathematics and personal finance opens students’ minds to new ways of thinking, and enhances their engagement and achievement. 

For the first interview in this series, we spoke with Courtney Epps, a math teacher at People’s Prep Charter School in Newark, NJ. Currently, Courtney is teaching FiCycle with 12th graders while also teaching 9th grade Algebra 1.

The interview is edited and condensed for clarity, after being recorded as part of the FiCycle Podcast

Question: As a teacher, what is your number one motivator―your true professional passion?

Courtney: What motivates me is my own love for learning and the ability to make a difference in people’s lives, whether it’s a student or a parent. It motivates me as a teacher altogether. Also, my love for mathematics plays a big part in looking at things very differently and abstractly. All of that combined motivates me to be a teacher for the rest of my life.

Q: What is your experience with the FiCycle course? Are there changes you’ve observed in your students since you began teaching it?

Courtney: I’ve been teaching the FiCycle course for the last two years, and it’s answered the question many of our students ask in math: “Why am I doing this, and when am I going to use it?”

I’ve noticed that FiCycle brings together all the mathematical concepts we’ve taught from freshman to junior year, and it puts some real life into them. I’m noticing that students aren’t just looking at those exponential functions, linear functions as just a graph anymore. They’re actually looking at it and putting context to it and saying, “How can I apply this?” I love the fact that it’s changing how my kids are looking at mathematics.

Q: Speaking of your students, are there any particular students who stand out as especially successful with the course, or as very engaged with the curriculum?

Courtney: Yes, definitely. There is a set of students that I think worked out very well. It was my IEP students or the students typically labeled as lower-performing. I noticed their outlook on mathematics completely changed, and I believe it was because we started talking about money—having this relevant discussion kind of bridges that gap from not understanding to becoming engaged. When solving a simple one-step, two-step equation, I noticed that students struggled with that. When I introduced it using finance, it was kind of like, “Oh, okay, this makes sense now. I got it.” So it’s one of those things that allows me to bridge that gap that students tend to have.

Q: Now that your students have this new perspective, is there anything as a teacher you’ve found surprising about teaching math and finance together since you started?

Courtney: It has helped me develop a better Algebra I curriculum. It has shown me different ways to include mathematics in a more conceptual way versus a procedural manner. I’m finding that, for example, when my freshman students were doing linear functions, I could relay that this was the concept of simple interest. Using that concept and applying it made my own teaching more meaningful.

It’s helping me expand on the inquiry cycle and all that good stuff. It helps me look at math completely differently. It lets me look at math in building a structure. I didn’t have any finance background, and the most I knew about my finances was my bank account. But in learning this course and the material involved, I’m responding with, “Wow, okay, this is where this math gets applied. Wow, this is where my students can apply it.” It’s helped me just expand my math vocabulary and mathematical understanding as a whole.

It also helped our English Language Learners (ELLs) because money and the concepts are universal. They were able to build their vocabulary through this, and they didn’t feel lost; they felt more involved in the class. It’s good for all students and better for teachers as well.

Q: What would be your message to other educators who haven’t yet tried this approach to teaching?

Courtney: My message to them would be to try this FiCycle program out. It’s a hands-on approach that makes math more realistic for students. It gets rid of the procedural part of mathematics. It can be used across all grade levels, whether you want to implement it on the freshman or senior level. 

It’s all transferable. It’s new and different and helps kids learn to manage their money better. You know, most of our kids are graduating high school without the knowledge of the basics. I can sit here and say at least do Unit One and see how you feel. It lays the foundation for any student, any adult.

Do this FiCycle program. I recommend it. If I could teach it on all grade levels, I would. It’s a great program.

Listen to the full interview at https://ficycle.org/podcast or get started today by downloading free lessons for your classroom. You can also contact the FiCycle team to learn more about the full curriculum.

 

In our Q&A interview series, we have the opportunity to hear from high school math teachers across the U.S. whose students are experiencing success with the FiCycle curriculum. You’ll hear real success stories and classroom-level insights on the ways in which integrated mathematics and personal finance opens students’ minds to new ways of thinking, and enhances their engagement and achievement. 

For the third interview in this series, we spoke with Erik Scott, a math teacher at Cache High School in Oklahoma. Erik teaches Statistics and Pre-Calculus to 11th and 12th graders as well as FiCycle Math. Erik shares his unique perspective on entering the teaching profession while providing specific takeaways from his experience with FiCycle.

The interview is edited and condensed for clarity, after being recorded as part of the FiCycle Podcast

Question: Erik, you have an interesting and unique perspective as a teacher coming to the profession as your second career. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what motivates you as a teacher?

Erik: I finished a career with the Navy as a submariner for 21 years. It was a unique community that ingrained in us that we’re on a continuous learning journey, and we always approached our occupation with a questioning attitude. It emphasized that we’re really on this staircase of continual improvement. I had a great opportunity to work with young people in the Navy, and it provided a culture centered on the fabric of learning and asking questions.

I also worked for 12 years in the commercial industry and utilities. When I finished that career, I looked forward to getting into teaching, where I could again work with young people. It’s important to me to take the lessons learned from my careers to engage with students to prepare them for the next step in their lives.

Q: You’ve had a good amount of experience with young people teaching the FiCycle course as well as other sections of mathematics. What are some of the changes you’ve observed in your students since you’ve been teaching the FiCycle course?

Erik: One thing I’ve noticed with my students is that when we get into the workbooks and curriculum of FiCycle, it establishes a foundation for them to learn about growing wealth and what that means. Right away, this curriculum places the hook for students to say, “Hey, what’s in this for me?” We have a chance to talk about real-life scenarios presented in the workbook and the curriculum, and as we progress through the year, students learn about the math that contributes to our ability to grow wealth.

The students become very proficient at understanding the math behind what contributes to wealth growth and wealth loss. So they’re able to utilize their case scenarios or case studies presented in the curriculum. They work the problems, approaching them with whether it’s a good decision or a poor decision.

With the kids working in an independent portion of the class, I put them in consensus groups to share what they’ve learned and worked out. They discuss with one another their experiences or what they would do if presented with a similar situation.

Q: When you think about your students who’ve gone through the course, is there any particular student that stands out that was especially successful or engaged with FiCycle?

Erik: From the feedback I’ve received, I think all the students have been able to go on a journey with the FiCycle curriculum. When we started with the growth of wealth in creating budgets and making decisions as trade-offs to meet a goal or objective three months into the future – one student did stand out. He really enjoyed the scenario-based lessons and always wanted to go deeper. He indicated that he wished we could go back and talk through even more case studies that explore wealth management. 

I told the student, “Hey, don’t worry, we’ve got another topic coming up, and we’re going to talk about mortgages, investing for the future or annuities, and see about those vehicles of investment.” This student happens to be helping his dad with renovating houses and flipping houses, so he’s able to see what his dad is experiencing in real life with that endeavor and learn all that goes into that experience in a formal classroom setting. He’s looking forward to working with his brother to join their dad in the further pursuit of the business.

It was interesting to me how he shared that experience and what his future will look like. He was able to utilize the FiCycle curriculum to learn a bit more about the specifics in math (for instance, the Rule of 72 and how it applies to wealth growth and the math involved). He represents one particular student whose engagement really stood out.

Q: Yes, the real-world relevance and how students can see the relation to their lives without necessarily needing to be told. It’s a natural part of what is happening in a student’s life, and they can see that connection and exactly how to use the knowledge of the course.

That’s really the essential foundation and something that helps make this a unique course by teaching mathematics and personal finance in a different way from your typical math or personal finance course.

Since the onset of teaching the FiCycle courses, is there anything you find most surprising that you didn’t necessarily expect when you started with this approach? Is there something you’ve learned as you’ve progressed?

Erik: I have noticed just how willing students are to share their personal experiences and ask questions regarding what’s happening to them in real life. In fact, I had one student who holds down a part-time job at a restaurant. Shortly into the course, he brought in his pay statement and came to me and said, “Hey, can you help me explain what these different boxes are?” We were able to talk right away about gross, net, taxes withheld, and things of that nature.

The relevance of the FiCycle course to what the students are actually living is one of the neat things that I personally enjoy. The age group I teach is on the cusp of going from living at home to stepping into the real world. That journey and the FiCycle curriculum provide me gratification. What we’re teaching here at Cache High School and presenting to the student is relevant to what they will experience in their next step in life.

Q: What would be your message to other educators who haven’t yet tried the FiCycle approach?

Erik: I would encourage math teachers to give the FiCycle curriculum a try if they have an opportunity. They will really enjoy the engagement with their students. It affords the teacher a neat opportunity to take their experiences from early on when they were students and carry it through to where they’re currently at in their lives. It gives them the ability to take what they’ve learned for the subject area in their teaching and apply it to very real-life experiences.

Teachers will find alertness and engagement as the students anticipate what’s around the bend with the next subjects presented in FiCycle. The curriculum covers a wide array of what the students will be experiencing in the very near future.

Listen to the full interview at https://ficycle.org/podcast or get started today by downloading free lessons for your classroom. You can also contact the FiCycle team to learn more about the full curriculum.

 

In our Q&A interview series, we have the opportunity to hear from high school math teachers across the U.S. whose students are experiencing success with the FiCycle curriculum. You’ll hear real success stories and classroom-level insights on the ways in which integrated mathematics and personal finance opens students’ minds to new ways of thinking, and enhances their engagement and achievement. 

For the second interview in this series, we spoke with Eva Hachikian, a Mathematics Teacher at the NYC Museum School in Downtown Manhattan. Eva teaches FiCycle with 12th graders as well as AP Calculus. 

The interview is edited and condensed for clarity, after being recorded as part of the FiCycle Podcast

Question: What motivates you as a teacher? What is your passion as a professional?

Eva: Oh, the kids! I don’t know who wouldn’t answer that way. I always tell them that, without them, I’m just the lady talking about numbers. The young people are so inspiring. They’re so creative, critical, sassy, and I’m so lucky to teach 12th graders for the past few years. They’re adults in many ways, but also still kids, and we are in a safe space to have meaningful conversations. Especially with FiCycle we have some conversations on the ‘what ifs’ of finance, and their engagement makes me want to engage with them more. The fact that we can do it with my second passion of math is the best thing in the world.

Q: You teach a diverse array of students in different courses, even within the various sections of the FiCycle course. So, tell us a bit about your students. What changes have you observed in them since you began using the FiCycle course?

Eva: I have students with three years of high school math before they’ve come to me, but in different forms. For some, it was Algebra I, twice, and then Geometry. For others, it was Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, AP Calculus, and they’re taking FiCycle as a math elective. Other students aren’t taking the elective but have Regents exams in New York State or an alternative assessment. There are all kinds of learners, none of them are more or less successful than the others.

I don’t see the kind of leveling out that you sometimes get in a traditional math course where there are students who aren’t used to being good at math or aren’t making the grade of the lesson. Financial math and money are interesting to everyone. Every student knows enough about it to enter the course, but none of them know everything. None of them know the whole story, but they’ve heard of a credit card. They know about an accountant. They’ve heard of the stock market, and they’re really interested in it.

Students know that net worth and wealth accumulation are important, but they don’t know how to do it. Everyone is interested, and I find that any skill prerequisite or skill gap is easy to handle once that happens because the students care about getting the answer.

Q: Is there any particular student who has been especially successful with the course? Or who has really responded in a positive way?

Eva: I can talk about each of them forever. I have a few students who have an individualized education program (IEP). Their IEP makes it sound like they will need a ton of support. Zoom and blended learning were new ideas. I was worried about supporting a student who has occupational needs and working with their hands on a computer spreadsheet. I questioned, ‘How will I help a student who never made it to Algebra II and hasn’t seen Base e and continuous compound interest, or something like I might expect from a different group of kids?’ It turned out to be no problem, because doing the math through the FiCycle materials, there’s a workbook, digital materials, customizable projects, Google Docs, spreadsheets … it’s new, interesting, and engaging. Students will give it a try.

I think of James a lot because he missed his yearly goals in the past, and he is currently repeating 11th grade but sitting in this 12th grade FiCycle class. Nobody knows, nobody cares, and he’s doing great with the spreadsheets. It’s helping him master digital learning better because it’s now an assignment. It’s removing what might be problematic in terms of data entry in a calculator or computational errors.

A lot of the spreadsheet materials from FiCycle are almost better than how I used to teach Algebra in the past. I’ve been trying to get my colleagues to start thinking about, ‘Hey, you know you could teach that concept in a spreadsheet. It’s not just for finance.’ I remember James’s success in the spreadsheet and try to do those often.

There’s another student who has a mild form of Autism Spectrum Disorder. He’s not the stereotypical kid in that diagnosis – he talks in every class. He has something to say because FiCycle brings in the conceptual side of things. We’re not just talking about an exponential growth equation or in and out balance. And we’re not making calculations to reach some budget goals. We’re talking about how that affects us personally. It’s the financial life cycle and what it means for me in the future. Or what does this mean for a family member that I know is going through a similar thing? What it means for my friends or other people in the building and the world. 

We sometimes even talk about what implications you can make for New York City, New York State, the United States, or the world. Those kinds of things might have only ever happened in a civics course, government, or social studies situation. To have it happen in math, I think, is a relief for a student like Xavier because he excels at reading and writing. In the past, he didn’t like to speak and hated numbers (he would tell you that). But not this year. He will unmute (on Zoom) without being prompted and share something. I know this is coming from confidence in the materials. I think about him a lot, too, and teachers who start to use this curriculum will understand what I mean. 

There’s math procedure, and then there’s this real-world concept where we apply it, and when do I stop teaching math and start teaching the concept or the other way around. You do both. 

Q: Many students must find it eye-opening and perhaps even surprising to finally have that “a-ha” moment; understanding the “why” of math and when to use it. What have you found most surprising about teaching math and finance together? 

Eva: Yes, two things. First, that my math-only approaches to math instruction (pre-FiCycle) were without context and not as effective as I thought they could be. Of course, there are fans of every flavor out there, but it’s not as successful as I thought in terms of the masses.

Second, I realized I don’t know as much about finance as I thought I did with my background in engineering and math. I’ve just completed my second year teaching FiCycle, and going into it, I was a little sassy, saying to myself, ‘Oh sure, I know about the interest percent tax. I got this.’ Now, after teaching it for two years, there’s so much more I don’t know. I’ve learned so much, but now the seal has been broken, and I’m really interested in some things.

If you talk to some of the curriculum support that FiCycle offers, you realize you could make a whole extra course out of some of these ideas. It’s so interesting, and many adults don’t know this. My family members don’t know some of these things. My friends don’t know some of the ideas that are brought up in the workbook. Then to link it back to instruction is great.

As I said, I’ve taught Algebra I, Algebra II. We’ve done the unit on exponential functions. I haven’t shown them; I taught them. I said to my students, ‘We haven’t looked at it in a spreadsheet where the numbers just continue going. Why?’ Because it was probably a pain to do the calculations. Often I had something else to do before the test happened in June, or something else in the unit was more difficult and required more time. But we have a protected space to look at how this looks in finance. I think the students are getting it in a way they wouldn’t have if I were sticking to that normal rhythm of “teach and move on.”

Q: To close it out, what message would you share with those educators who are considering getting involved with FiCycle? What should they know about using this approach to mathematics and personal finance, if they haven’t tried before?

Eva: I would say go to the FiCycle website and click around and go “window shopping.” Then try to browse and even use some of the materials on your own. I used those workbooks, cover-to-cover, my first year. It was only a year ago but listen to my confidence. My first year teaching FiCycle was more rote because I wasn’t as familiar with the materials, but the kids still loved it. The workbook lets some kids move at different paces. Some kids were moving ahead because they were ready. That doesn’t happen when you’re doing textbook teaching.

I would suggest jumping into the materials, find a sample lesson on the website that you really like, and do it like you’re the student. Feel it. Sometimes that first year is looking at the material initially trying to understand, but then you do the problem, get the feel of the questions, and move to the next section. You can appreciate the overall vision of this course.

After doing the roadway my first year, this year, I’m so excited and motivated (even now in June) to push it. We do the workbook for a little bit, and then we jump out and look for what we just learned outside the teaching. Today we were on a couple of websites, the kind of place where you can search for a good credit card or savings account. We learn about savings and interest rates. We learn about retirement and credit, and then we pretend to have our own.

It’s a great way to end a unit or to push a thinker. Teachers can do it, too. You understand credit cards because you have them, but do the credit card activities. Do the tax activities. Do the discounting and the present and future value. Make yourself a student again. You’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s fun and maybe sometimes too fun; my AP kids will finish and turn in their FiCycle homework before they turn in their Calculus. These are good problems to have.

Listen to the full interview at https://ficycle.org/podcast or get started today by downloading free lessons for your classroom. You can also contact the FiCycle team to learn more about the full curriculum.

 

Our central belief at FiCycle is that teaching personal finance and mathematics together improves student learning of both. That’s why we created “Financial Life Cycle Mathematics” – a high school algebra course that covers the fundamentals of personal finance.

This belief is based on our research, which provides compelling evidence to justify our approach. Below are three charts that summarize some of our key findings.

Students find personal finance to be an interesting application of mathematics

  • We know students learn math better when they are engaged with the material – when they find it interesting and important.
  • When high school students are asked to rate how interesting they find common applications of math, they consistently give personal finance the top rating.

Students’ math and finance learning is interconnected

  • When students take our combined math and finance course, we measure their learning gains in both math and financial knowledge.
  • Not only do students make significant improvements in both areas: the level of math learning is closely connected to their level of financial learning.
  • This tells us that learning math and learning finance are mutually reinforcing.

Math knowledge is required to avoid the pitfalls of high financial engagement

  • Many traditional financial education programs that don’t include mathematics come with significant risks.
  • Enrollees go on to engage with more financial products of all types – this includes negative products like payday loans as well as positive products like savings accounts.
  • Combining financial education with high mathematics confidence leads to increased positive behavior but reduced negative behavior, which is what is required for financial wellness.

To find out more about the research and data behind these charts check out the ‘FiCycle Research Overview’ and the other papers on our research page.