Friday, April 13, 2012

Financial Literacy, Taxes, and Economics Lessons

This evening I opened an email from Edutopia that contained a nice, simple infographic about the importance of financial literacy. The infographic has some basic statistics about the debt load carried by young people and how personal finance education can change those statistics. The infographic is really just a promotion for Edutopia's other materials about financial literacy. It also reminded me of some other resources for teaching students about personal finance and taxes. As the income tax filing deadline is just a few days away in the United States, I thought it would be good to highlight some resources for teaching about taxes too.

The IRS website, Understanding Taxes, is a good source of lesson plans and individual learning materials about taxes and budgets. In the teacher section of the site you will find lesson plans like this one (opens as pdf) designed to teach students about services for which tax revenue is used.

PBS Kids has a great lesson plan for introducing young students to the concepts of budgets and taxes. The lesson starts with a focus on the students' personal budget before moving onto the basic concepts of government budget.

At Where Did My Tax Dollars Go? you can enter your gross income for the year and your filing status to see a break down of where your dollars went. The break down includes an interactive pie chart that you can click on to find a further break down of each category on the chart. For example if you click on the National Defense section of the pie chart you will see how many of your dollars went to the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

Just where does of all the collected tax revenue go? What We Pay For has some answers to that question. What We Pay For uses publicly available tax data to show you how your tax money is appropriated. On the left side of the screen you will see the total revenue and appropriations for the entire United States. On the right side of the screen you can enter your filing status and pre-tax earnings for the year to see the approximate amount you will pay toward US budget items. You can enter your pre-tax earnings as an annual figure, monthly figure, weekly, daily, or hourly wage.

Visual Economics is a provider of articles and infographics about various economics-related topics. One of their better infographics is titled How Wealthy Countries Tax Their Citizens. The infographic depicts how the world's 29 wealthiest countries tax their citizens and how that money is spent.

For high school students, college students, and adults CNN's Explain It To Me video about the "Buffett Rule" explains why sometimes the super rich don't pay as high a percentage of their income in taxes as the rest of us.

And here you can find eleven economics infographics that I've highlighted in the past.

Using the Swabr Microblogging Platform in Schools

Back in January I wrote a short review of a new microblogging platform called Swabr. Swabr allows you to create your own private microblogging system that only people you authorize can join. Think of it like Twitter except closed off to everyone except those people you really want to interact with.

Back in January I suggested some ways that Swabr could be used in schools. This morning I learned through a Swabr blog post that there are schools now using Swabr as, in Swabr's words, bulletin board 2.0.

Applications for Education
Beyond using Swabr as bulletin board 2.0, it could be used by instructors to create discussion groups and study groups.

Alpha Maps - Wolfram Alpha Entries on a Map

One of the aspects of Wolfram Alpha that I like is the "fact sheets" that are available for most topics. For example, if I search for something like Ted Williams I will receive a list of key details about his life. Then if I want to I can print or download that fact sheet.

Alpha Maps is a mash-up of Wolfram Alpha's fact sheets and Google Maps. On Alpha Maps you can enter the name of place and see it on the map with all of Wolfram Alpha's associated fact sheets for that place.

Applications for Education
Alpha Maps could be good tool for students to do some quick, basic research about places that they're studying in a geography lesson. Unlike an atlas or almanac that might have just a map or just a list of facts on one page, on Alpha Maps students see the information about a place layered on top of the places they're learning about.

H/T to Google Maps Mania.

Initial Impressions of Qwiki Creator

Last month I learned that Qwiki was launching a creation tool that allows users to create their own multimedia Qwikis. A Qwiki is a short narrated story that includes images, videos, and text. This morning I received my invitation to try out the new Qwiki Creator, these are my initial impressions.

Creating the basics of a Qwiki is very easy. There are three steps to the process; uploading content (or linking to hosted content like a Flickr image), recording narration, and captioning content. One of the things that I learned in my first attempt at creating a Qwiki is that the order in which you upload content is the order in which it will appear in your Qwiki. Perhaps I overlooked it, but I couldn't find a way to reorder my uploads. Voice recordings are limited to 20 seconds. You can also record with your webcam and have a video of yourself appear in your Qwiki. Captioning your content is very straight forward. After uploading content and making your recordings you're presented with a grid of all of your content to caption. Just fill in the blanks in the caption fields. The caption screen is where you can   insert links.

The Qwiki Creator browser bookmarklet, titled Qwik It!, is a handy little product that will help some students clip and organize content for their Qwiki projects. With Qwik It! installed students can clip sections of webpages and send them directly to their Qwiki Creator accounts. From there they can use the clipped content to build a Qwiki.

Applications for Education
I was hoping for a bit more from the Qwiki Creator, but despite some of its editing limitations it could be a good tool for students to use to create short multimedia stories. Students could create personal narratives using Qwiki Creator. Or you might have students create short introductory narratives about topics that they're studying in your classes.

If you want to see my first attempt at creating a Qwiki, you can watch it below.

Want to create your own Qwiki? Do it »

Burning Money - A Science Lesson

I dropped by The Spangler Effect this week to see what kind fun science experiments Steve is showing off. This week's show demonstrates how water and alcohol can influence how something does or does not burn. Steve demonstrates this with rubbing alcohol, water, and paper money. The illusion is that when he holds a flame to a dollar bill you think he's going to burn money, but he doesn't. Watch the video below to see how he does it.

Applications for Education
The Spangler Effect is a nice series of videos in which you can find some science experiment demonstrations to use in your classroom. A complete run-down of all of the materials and steps in the experiments is available for each video. Here's the list for the money burning demonstration.