“We sort of want the class to mimic life,” Gurule said. “A lot of our kids that were taking this class were kids that were going right from high school into the workforce or trade schools … we wanted them to have these sort of skills right when they got out into the real world.”
In the class, Gurule said students learn algebra by way of lessons on buying a home, paying student loans and other bills, and buying a car. They learn about making budgets, doing taxes, using credit cards, and planning for retirement. Gurule teaches them how the stock market works and how that factors into things like retirement accounts and savings.
Applying principles of Algebra 2 to such things isn’t difficult—loans accrue interest through exponential growth functions, and piecewise functions can be used to predict how much data you might use on your phone bill.
“They are not seeing just numbers,” said the math department chair Laura Costa. “It all has context to it.”
And students aren’t missing much by way of curriculum. The class doesn’t cover some lessons on circles, hyperbolas, and ellipses, but those topics are more relevant to precalculus, Gurule said. He focuses less on solving logarithmic functions and analyzing certain graphs, but his students still learn enough about those topics to meet state standards.
Gurule said he certainly has students who go on to college, but others go on to become veterinary technicians, hair stylists, and welders. They find his class challenging, he said, but they also appreciate that what they’re learning has a direct influence on their lives. And Gurule said he can teach it convincingly because he has struggled with finances in his own life.
“I was one of those people that made a lot of these financial mistakes,” he said. “A lot of this comes from real life. I think that every kid should be required to take something like this.”
The class also has also sparked a positive reaction from parents, Costa said. Students will go home and talk about what they’ve learned, and parents then reach back out to Gurule asking where this kind of class was when they were in high school.
But like many teachers, Gurule said his biggest struggle is getting students to be engaged who are not motivated in school. For the most part, Gurule said, students are engaged and enjoy his class.
“Some kids just don’t want to do anything, and that part is hard, especially in a class like this where you know that they need it,” Gurule said. “I know not every kid in there needs to know how to solve a quadratic equation, but I know every kid in there needs to know how a credit card works.”
Scull, a junior this year, said she struggled with math in years past. She was placed in the financial Algebra 2 class this year, which she likes because she can immediately see its relevance. When she graduates, she hopes to become a chef.
“I feel like I can understand it more and apply it to life more than, say, geometry or regular algebra,” Scull said. “I think it’d be cool if other schools offered this because that way, when young people get out of high school, they’ll hopefully know what to do. Would you rather live paycheck to paycheck, or would you rather budget and save and know what you’re doing?”
This post appears courtesy of Chalkbeat.