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Showcasing Karen Fleming and "Get a Life"

"While teaching a math/life skills class at an alternative school for at-risk teens, I decided I'd like the students to have a hands-on project that would teach them how to budget and what it's like to be an adult with responsibilities," Karen Fleming told Education World. " While paying my bills on a Saturday afternoon, it hit me that that would be a great way to teach real life."

Fleming is a teacher at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig, a Native American school in Bena, Minnesota. Her "Get a Life" unit began with students drawing from a can "lives," such as "single mom, two kids, store clerk, pays daycare." The students also drew four "unexpected items" -- good and not so good events -- and searched the newspaper for an apartment. Fleming distributed paychecks and collected monthly bills.

"The kids loved the activity, especially when it was time to draw the four unexpected items," said Fleming. "It was their favorite day of the week. I was surprised by how basic I had to get for them to understand how to keep their checkbook balanced. They had a difficult time with the check reconciliation."

Fleming arranged a trip to the local bank where her students were shown how checking and savings accounts work. Then each student opened a savings account for his "Christmas fund." The bank allowed the students to open their accounts without the usual required minimum balance, and the class visited weekly to make deposits.

"The first time I did this unit, I started the students out with too much money in their accounts ($800.00 each)," Fleming recalled. "Part of the reality I wanted them to understand was having to budget and make hard choices. I also wanted them to understand how important it is to have an education that would allow them to have a better life. When they weren't feeling the budget pinch, I brought in a tornado to wipe out their accounts. It was getting to the end of the unit, so I needed a quick way to drain their accounts a little!"

The most rewarding aspect of the unit for Fleming was watching her students reach some conclusions about "real life" on their own. "Many of them decided they didn't want to be single parents; it was just too hard to make ends meet," she explained. "Some decided they no longer could afford their cars and sold them in favor of public transportation. I felt that the point of the lesson had been learned. Hopefully, they won't forget it a few years down the road."

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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