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Mitzi LaPaugh


"I was inspired to create a credit card exercise in Excel for two reasons," Mitzi L. LaPaugh, M.Ed., explained. "One is that I have memories of signing up for my first credit card, thinking I'd be rich after getting my bachelor's degree. The other is that I, like so many of today's students, didn't understand how much making only the minimum payment was hurting my checkbook!"

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In LaPaugh's exercise, her computer science students at Hampton University "borrow" $1,000 with a minimum payment of five percent of the balance or $50 (whichever is greater) and an APR of eighteen percent. She explains how a hypothetical creditor calculates the finance change and minimum payment each month, and students determine the number of months it will take to pay the account in full.

The activity is just one way LaPaugh helps her students prepare for the real world while teaching them the computing skills to help them manage it. In an extension of an activity in the text that has students calculate monthly car loan and mortgage payments, LaPaugh invites students to select a real car and home and use their actual values in an Excel worksheet. The activity doesn't include taxes or closing costs, but it introduces the young people to the very real costs of home and automobile ownership.

"I always get a laugh from my students when we cover the auto and home loan exercises," LaPaugh shared. "Some students have eyes bigger than their pockets; others are extremely frugal." The exercises have been eye-opening for some.

"Last semester, one student found a Web image of a nice brick ranch, something I'd be happy to call home," recalled LaPaugh. "In his eyes, it was the ugliest house he had seen! He did learn, however, the difference between property values here in Virginia and in New Jersey. A discussion broke out about how very expensive real estate is in states that are more densely populated. It was a valuable lesson all around!"

A former high school language arts teacher, LaPaugh says one of the most enjoyable aspects her current position is the freedom she has to express creativity in the curriculum. Some of her most imaginative lessons, activities, and projects have been inspired by a topic of interest; others shes designed to supplement the text when it is lacking. A common thread among them is the focus on practical life skills.

"I use the Internet to gather information, and the activity just grows from there," said LaPaugh. "Whether you need more explanation on a subject or just ideas to get your creative juices flowing, Google the topic and see what's out there. Sometimes, it's quite helpful to see how someone else has done it and then put your own spin on it!"

Article by Cara Bafile
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