In 2002, the Washington, D.C.
based Jump-Start Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy conducted
its third study of 12th graders’
understanding of money, income, saving, spending, and credit. The
results, based on 4,024 students in 183 schools, are not encouraging. On average, students
answered about 50 percent of the questions correctly. This is down
slightly from the second study conducted by the same organization in
2000 and down drastically from the first study conducted by them in
1997. The numbers were somewhat higher for students who had
participated in certain academic activities such as a stock market
game. These students scored two percentage points higher than other
students overall (Black, 2006).
During four years in teaching financial literacy, I have observed in my
own classroom first-hand evidence of the study mentioned above. This
observation has stimulated me
to explore how to effectively teach financial literacy to
high school students. In the past, the traditional methods of using
lectures and written assignments have been ineffective in educating
students about being financially literate.
They are ineffective because students are not motivated to
learn by these methods and, as result, do
poorly on assessments. Students often have difficulty seeing the
relevance of the subject matter to their lives and even find it boring. It
is vital that students become financially literate, as it will impact
their lives for years to come. Investment
strategies must not only be discussed in class, but also be actually
applied to real-life scenarios to make strategies meaningful and
relevant to the students. This need for relevancy in the
instruction has caused me to look for other methods of teaching
financial literacy. I wish to teach the subject matter in such a way
that not only excites students about learning, but also ensures that
they are getting the skills and knowledge they will need.
Project-based instruction is
an authentic instructional model or strategy in which students plan,
implement, and evaluate projects that have real-world applications
beyond the classroom. Such learning activities that are
interdisciplinary, long term, and student-centered are emphasized,
rather than short, isolated lessons. Project-based instructional
strategies have their roots in the constructivist approach developed
from the work of psychologists and educators such as Vygotsky, Bruner, Piaget and
Dewey (Blank, 1997; Challenge 2000; Multimedia Project, 1999).
The purpose of my study is to
examine the effectiveness of using project-based instruction to teach
financial literacy to high school students. Research
participants involved in this study are students of two high school
Banking and Finance classes. The classes are each made up of 25 mixed
ability students of varying grade levels from 9 through 12. Students were given a
specific amount of money that they had to invest in the stock market.
They used several pieces of software including Excel, PowerPoint, Word,
and Internet Explorer to research, track, and report on selected
Many teachers, administrators,
parents, and students agree that project-based,
hands-on learning engages all students, from special education to
gifted, in a way that the traditional
lecture/worksheet/textbook/written test cannot. When students are given
the freedom to pursue topics that interest them by doing what real
scientists, special-interest groups, or business people do to solve
problems, they go far beyond the minimum effort. They make connections
among math, social studies, literature, and science to find answers to
open-ended questions. They also retain what they have learned, are able
to apply their learning to real-world problems, are absent less often,
and have fewer discipline problems. In short, students are motivated to
learn with a project approach (Thomas, 2000). Tesdale
and Southard (2005) investigated the benefits of project-based
instruction. Their research involved a five-year study of a
technology-enhanced educational reform initiative that was conducted
from 1999 to 2003 at a university in eastern China. In the study, a faculty
team developed several project-based courses and incorporated
technology into traditional lecture courses. These courses were then
examined using participant observation, interviews, surveys, and text
analysis. The project-based instruction improved learning processes and
outcomes by increasing authentic interaction, allowing learners greater
autonomy, and providing content more relevant to students’
of using a constructivist approach in classrooms root in both cognitive
psychology research and social psychology research. The basic premise
is that an individual learner must actively "build" knowledge and
skills (Bruner, 1990) and that information exists within these built
constructs rather than in the external environment. However, all
advocates of constructivism agree that it is the individual's
processing of stimuli from the environment and the resulting cognitive
structures that produce adaptive behavior rather than the stimuli
1982). John Dewey (1933/1998) is often cited as the philosophical
founder of this approach; Ausubel
(1968), Bruner (1990), and Piaget (1972) are considered the chief
theorists among the cognitive constructionists, while Vygotsky (1978) is the major
theorist among the social constructionists. Activity theory and
situated learning are two examples of modern work based on the work of Vygotsky and some of his
followers. Constructivism views learning as the result of mental
construction; that is, students learn by constructing new ideas or
concepts based on their current and previous knowledge (Karlin & Vianni, 2001).
There are a wide
range of project types in project-based instruction. Some examples of
project types include service learning projects and work-based
projects. Both of these types are considered authentic projects and
thusly consist of several defining features (Dickinson et al., 1998).
Authentic projects are student centered and student directed which
allows for the most accurate assessment of student learning and ensures
that students are involved in the process. There should also be a
definite beginning, middle, and end to the process, which helps both
the teacher and the student stay focused on the end goal. This also
adds to the timeliness of the project and provides structure. Projects
should cover content that is meaningful to students. Some examples of
projects of this type are ones that tackle real-world problems or that
require firsthand investigation. Teachers should have sensitivity to
local culture when assigning projects. They should be knowledgeable
about their students’ families to ensure that projects are
culturally appropriate. The goals of the project should be specifically
related to curriculum and school, district, and state standards. The
end product of the project should be a tangible one that can be shared
with the intended audience. Finally,
projects should forge connections among academic, life, and work skills
(Katz, 1994; Martin & Baker, 2000; Thomas, 1998).
project-based instruction benefit students?
This approach motivates students to learn by
allowing them to select topics that are interesting and relevant to
their lives (Katz, 1994). Also,
twenty years of research indicate that engagement and motivation lead
to high achievement (Brewster & Fager,
2000). Research on
the long-term effects of early childhood curriculum supports the
rationale for incorporating project-based learning into early childhood
education and secondary education (Katz, 1994).
More and more teachers are
working with students who have a wide range of abilities, come from a
variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and are English as second
language learners. Schools
are seeking ways to meet the needs of these students.
Project-based instruction provides one way
to introduce a wider range of learning opportunities into the classroom. It can engage students
from diverse cultural backgrounds because they can choose topics that
are related to their own experiences, as well as allow them to use
cultural or individual learning styles.
Incorporating projects into
the curriculum is not a new idea in education. Open education in the
1960s and early 1970s strongly emphasized active engagement in
projects, firsthand learning experiences, and learning by doing (Katz,
1994). There are
many specific benefits of project-based instruction. One benefit is
that project-based instruction prepares students for the workplace.
Students are exposed to a wide range of skills and competencies such as
collaboration, project planning, decision-making, and time management
(Blank, 1997; Dickinson et al., 1998). Secondly, project-based
instruction increases student motivation. Teachers often note
improvement in attendance, more class participation, and greater
willingness to do homework (Bottoms & Webb, 1998; Moursund, Bielefeldt, & Underwood,
1997). Next, the
use of project-based instruction helps connect learning at school with
reality. Students retain more knowledge and skills when they are
engaged in stimulating projects. With
projects, students use higher order thinking skills rather than
memorizing facts in an isolated contest without a connection to how and
where they are used in the real world (Blank, 1997; Bottoms &
Webb, 1998; Reyes, 1998). Projects also provide collaborative
opportunities to construct knowledge.
Collaborative learning allows students to
bounce ideas of each other, voice their own opinions, and negotiate
solutions, all skills that will be necessary in the workplace (Bryson,
1994; Reyes, 1998). Using project-based instruction helps increase
social, communication, and problem-solving skills. Another benefit of
project-based instruction is that it can easily be cross-curricular,
which enables students to make and see connections between disciplines.
Projects can also help students increase self-esteem because students
take pride in accomplishing something that has value outside the
classroom (Moursund, Bielefeldt, & Underwood,
Stewart Foster, a teacher who
has used project-based instruction in math and science classes reported
that students who often struggled in most academic settings found
meaning and justification for learning by working on projects (Nadelson, 2000).
Foster also noted that by facilitating
learning of content knowledge as well as reasoning and problem-solving
abilities, project-based instruction could help students prepare for
state assessments and meet state standards.
A study conducted by the
Consumer Federation of America in 1991 about the financial knowledge of
teens indicates that they are transitioning into the adult financial
world ill prepared to function efficiently. The Consumer Federation of
America and the American Express Company tested high school seniors
nationally and found that teens answered correctly only 42% of 52
questions about banking, auto insurance, housing, cars, credit and food
(Consumer Federation of America, 1991). This means that to thoroughly
prepare students for sound financial futures, schools must take on the
task of educating students in the areas listed above. Although no
literature exists that illustrates the effects of project-based
instruction on the teaching of financial literacy, PBL seems to be an
effective way to accomplish this task because it has many attractive
features for both students and teachers. Project-based instruction
helps students find relevancy in the subject matter and apply real-life
skills. These two factors are essential in helping students become
financially literate. My study was designed to investigate the effects
of project-based instruction on the achievement of students in a
financial literacy unit.
This quantitative study took
place at high school in the southeastern United States. It examined the results of
project-based instruction versus lecture-based instruction in two
sections of a Banking and Finance class. The data in this study
consisted of a comparison of the scores from pre- and post-tests given
to both sections. The first section received traditional, lecture-based
instruction over a financial literacy unit. The second section received
project-based instruction over the same unit. The participants in the
study were students in two sections of a Banking and Finance course
with both class sizes numbering 25 for a total of 50. The students in
the two sections ranged in grade level from 9 through 12. The sections
included both male and female students of mixed ability levels. The
sections also included students of diverse ethnic and socio-economic
backgrounds. I saw these students twice a week for 90 minutes each
time. This study took place in my classroom and was meant to examine
the level of student learning of financial literacy based on posttest
scores after students have received either lecture-based or
The first section of the class
or control group, which received the lecture-based instruction, was
taught using the textbook and in-class discussions that included
multimedia presentations created by me. At the end of the unit, the
students in this class had a culminating assignment. The culminating
assignment was a three to five page paper written over the process of
investing in the stock market.
The second section of the
class or experimental group, which received the project-based
instruction, was taught using a brief section of the textbook and a
multimedia presentation on the different types of investing along with
an introduction to the stock market created by me. They were given a
small amount of lecture-based instruction so that they could get the
basic terms and concepts of investing but received far less of this
type of instruction than the other section. Instead, they were given a
four-week project that involved a stock investment simulation. In the
project, the students were asked to research stocks and choose three to
invest in. They were told that they could invest up to $25,000 dollars.
They tracked their chosen stocks for a period of four weeks using an
online portfolio. Their culminating assignment was a portfolio that
detailed the project. This portfolio had several components, including:
printouts of Quicken financial statements (this is the online portfolio
used to track stocks), word processed descriptions of stocks and
summaries of performance, Excel spreadsheets and charts of stock
performance and a Web page with links to the companies for each stock. The first section,
although exposed to these components through lecture, was not required
to create portfolios.
Both sections were taught in a
computer lab classroom with 28 desktop computers. The computers all had
Internet access and included the following programs: Microsoft Word,
MS Access, MS Excel, MS
PowerPoint, and Macromedia Dreamweaver.
Both sections had time in class to work on their culminating
At the end of this research
study, I gathered data measuring content mastery through the comparison
of the pretest scores with the posttest
scores to determine
which class had the most significant improvement. The question this study
answered was: How does PBL affect the learning of financial
Specifically, using pre- and
post-test measures over the course of the study, to what degree do
students master financial terms and concepts?
Do students who receive PBL
achieve higher assessment scores than students who receive
Before the research began, a
permission form was sent to all participants as a measure to protect
the individual rights. I informed students that I was conducting
research over different types of instruction with them. A content-based
pretest was given to the students before the instruction took place.
This gave me a diagnostic look at students’ prior knowledge
of financial literacy. A
posttest was also given to both sections following the completion of
the unit, which allowed me to measure student mastery in relation to
the teaching method used.
During the first week of the
four week experiment, both groups received 90 minutes of large group
instruction. This instruction covered the basic concepts of investing
as well as vocabulary associated with the stock market.
The lecture-based or control
group was then taught about investing in the stock market using
lecture-based instruction, in class discussions, and multimedia
presentations created by me. The
project-based or experimental group did not receive further instruction
but was instead given a simulated stock project to complete.
The control and experimental
groups were both given an Investing in the Stock Market exam as a
pretest and a posttest. The pretest was given before the unit was begun
about six weeks into the semester and the posttest was given at the end
of the four week experiment after the culminating activities for both
groups had been completed. The tests were hand scored and the score for
every student for each test is expressed in terms of raw score. Then
the pretest score is compared to the posttest score to determine if
those who completed the stock portfolio differ on a performance
variable compared to those who did not complete the stock portfolio.
Pretest and Posttest
The pretest was a 20 question
multiple-choice and matching test created by me. It covered the
concepts of the stock market, stock terminology, and the process of
buying and selling stocks. After four weeks the same test was
administered again as a posttest. The items contained in the pre and
post test are equivalent.
scores from the post-tests were correlated with the specific teaching
method used, either lecture-based or project-based instruction. The
data revealed how student achievement was affected by project-based
learning in comparison to the control group. The intent of analyzing
the data was to determine if PBL had a positive effect on student
achievement when teaching financial literacy. SPSS was used to compute
descriptive values and to conduct the t test.
Results and Discussion
The purpose of this study was
to investigate the effects of different types of instruction,
project-based and lecture-based. In
this study, a sample of 50 high school students was assigned to two
groups, each group containing 25 students.
They were required to take both a pre-test
and a post-test. Figure 1 presents the means and standard deviations of
pre-test and post-test for both groups. The average score improvement
of the experimental group is 26.6, which is 4.2 points higher than that
of the control group, 22.
Table 1: Mean scores and standard deviation for each group.
T test on
improvements from pretest to posttest
To detect the group difference
between the experimental group and the control group, the t-test was
used to analyze and compare both groups’ gain in achievement
between pre to posttest. The T test for group differences between the
experimental group and control group is t (49),
p=.043, which is significant at .05 level,
therefore, we can conclude that there is significant evidence to reject
null hypothesis. That is, the students in the project-based learning
group outperform their peers who had traditional instruction. The use of project-based instruction in teaching
financial literacy leads to higher student achievement.
It is imperative that all
students become financially literate, as it will impact their lives for
years to come. The ideas and concepts
associated with financial literacy must be applied by students to allow
them to find relevance in the subject matter. The result
from the quantitative study has shown that the students who were given
the project-based instruction achieved higher scores than the students
who were given lecture-based instruction. The results indicate that
using project-based instruction to teach financial literacy improves
student achievement. This approach works in my classroom because of the
relevancy that it provides. The skills taught in business education are
the same ones that students will use in their daily lives after high
school. Because of that fact, it is vital that all lessons are
simulations of what students will face in the real world. Project-based
instruction gives students the chance to apply what they’ve
learned and to practice these life skills in an authentic context. It
has been my observation that motivation is improved when students are
engaged in activities that allow them to simulate real-world events.
Two limitations have to be acknowledged here. First,
students’ prior financial knowledge might affect the accuracy
of the treatment. My quantitative study involved students from a
Banking and Finance class who had some prior knowledge of financial
matters due to their attendance in the class from the beginning of the
term up to the point that the study took place. Because the students
already had prior knowledge, the findings could generalize only to
students participating in the two classes. Second, as both the
instructor for this class and the researcher for this study, I was
potentially biased. I had a strong belief in project-based instruction
and found it to be very useful in teaching business type skills. I also
knew what the students in the study had achieved in the past in my
class and that may have caused me to expect certain results from them.
To both ensure accuracy in my research and to decrease the potential
bias, all instruments completed by students were anonymous (students
were given an identification number that they used so that pre- and
post-test scores could be evaluated).
Ausubel, D. (1968). Educational
psychology: A cognitive view. New York:
Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Black, S. (2006). Show them
the money. American School Board Journal, 193(6),
Blank, W. (1997). Authentic
instruction. In W.E. Blank & S.
Harwell (Eds.), Promising
practices for connecting high school to the real world (pp.
15-21). Tampa, FL:
University of South Florida.
Bottoms, G., & Webb,
L.D. (1998). Connecting the curriculum to
“real life.” Breaking Ranks: Making it happen. Reston, VA: National Association of
Secondary School Principals. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.
Brewster, C., & Fager, J. (2000). Increasing
student engagement and motivation:
From time-on-task to homework. Portland,
Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Retrieved March 1, 2006,
J. (1990). Acts of Meaning. Cambridge,
Bryson, E. (1994). Will a project approach to learning provide
children opportunities to do purposeful reading and writing, as well as
provide opportunities for authentic learning in other curriculum areas?
Unpublished manuscript. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.
Challenge 2000 Multimedia
Project. (1999). Why do project-based
learning? San Mateo,
CA: San Mateo County Office of
Education. Retrieved March 1, 2006, from http://pblmm.k12.ca.us/PBLGuide/WhyPBL.html.
Consumer Federation of
America/American Express. (1991).
Report of findings: High school
competency test. Washington,
Consumer Federation of America.
Dewey, J. (1933/1998) How
we think (Rev. ed.).
Houghton Mifflin Company.
Dickinson, K.P., Soukamneuth, S., Yu, H.C.,
Kimball, M., D’Amico, R., Harnard, S. (1982) Neoconstructivism:
A unifying theme for the cognitive sciences. In T. Simon & R. Scholes
(Eds.), Language, mind and brain (1 - 11). Hillsdale
Karlin, M., & Vianni N. (2001). Project-based
Educational Service District.
Retrieved March 1, 2006, from
Katz, L.G. (1994). The project approach [ERIC digest]. Urbana,
IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction
Service No. ED368509).
Martin, N., & Baker,
A. (2000). Linking work and learning toolkit.
Worksystems, Inc., & Portland,
OR: Northwest Regional
Moursund, D., Bielefeldt,
T., & Underwood, S. (1997). Foundations
for The Road
Project-based learning and information
technologies. Washington, D.C.: National
Foundation of the Improvement
of Education. Retrieved March 1, 2006,
Nadelson, L. (2000). Discourse: Integrating problem
solving and project-based learning in high school mathematics. Northwest Teacher, 1(1), 2000.
Perry, R., et al. (1998). Providing educational services in the Summer Youth
Employment and Training Program[Technical
assistance guide]. Washington,
Department of Labor, Office of Policy & Research. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED420756).
Piaget, J. (1972). The
psychology of the child. New York:
Reyes, R. (1998). Native perspective on the school reform movement: A hot topics paper.
OR: Northwest Regional
Educational Laboratory, Comprehensive Center
Region X. Retrieved March 1, 2006, from
Tesdale, L. & Southard, S.
(2005). Technology and curricular reform in China:
A case study.
Communication, 52(1), 104-105.
Thomas, J.W. (1998). Project-based learning overview. Novato,
CA: Buck Institute
for Education. Retrieved March 1,
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in
each definition in the left column with the key term in the right
column. Write the
letter of the term in the space provided.
_____1. The annual dividend paid by an
investment and divided by the investment’s current market
value expressed as a percentage.
_____2. A network of dealers who buy and
sell the stocks of corporations that are not listed on a securities
_____3. Sells its shares openly in stock
markets where anyone can buy them
_____4. Pays higher-than-average
dividends compared to other stock issues
_____5. A request to buy or sell the
stock at current market value
_____6. A market in which an investors to
purchases securities form a corporation through an investment bank or
some other representative of the corporation
_____7. Its shares are owned by a
relatively small group of people and are not traded openly in stock
_____8. Remains stable during periods of
decline in the economy
_____9. The total amount of stocks and
bonds issued by a corporation
____10. A calculation that includes the
annual dividend as well as any increase or decrease in the original
purchase price of the investment
In the space at the left, write the letter of the choice that best
completes the statement or answers the question.
legal form that asks stockholders to transfer their voting rights is
c. preemptive strike
d. stock split
Preferred stock offers investors all the following advantages EXCEPT
dividends before common stockholders receive any
a higher yield than common stock
more potential growth than common stock
less risk than common stock
_____3. A participation
feature provides preferred stockholders with
and the possibility of greater returns
share in the earnings that remain after required and stated dividends are paid
dividends at a later payment
before common stockholders receive any
professionals consider shares in AT&T
a. blue-chip stocks
c. cyclical stocks
b. growth stocks
d. defensive stock
_____5. Stock that has
steady earnings and continues paying dividends even during economic
declines is known as
a. cyclical stock
c. small cap stock
b. growth stock
d. defensive stock
_____6. An example of a
financial magazine the provides information about specific companies is
_____7. What is the
formula for calculating total return on a stock?
a. annual dividend / current
b. current return + capital gain
c. dividend x
number of shares x years held
d. net earnings / common stock
over-the-counter stock is traded through
b. the NYSE
_____9. A stop order
requests that a stockbroker
a. buy a stock at the best
c. buy or sell a stock at its current value
b. decide when to sell a stock
d. sell a stock for a specific amount
_____10. An example of
a short-term investment strategy is
a. the buy-and-hold technique
c. dollar cost averaging
b. buying stock on margin
d. a dividend reinvestment plan