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Pros: Realistic challenges and practical applications make it relevant.
Cons: Vocab heavy, and some lessons attempt to cover too much.
Bottom Line: Involving activities, well-designed lessons, and student reflection make this tool a good investment.
Although FutureSmart can work for an individual, a cooperative group approach would be best. The activities are interactive and adapt to student choices; one student may find a gem of information that someone else missed. The financial personality survey would be perfect to create teams -- perhaps with one of each financial personality. Teams of students can share information before attempting quizzes or activities to boost their scores. And teachers can use the activities, especially the more challenging ones, as open-ended questions to discuss strategies as a whole group. Then, individual students can test their strategies. Creating vocabulary books could help them through the longer lessons. Students can pause and record new vocabulary words as they complete the course, and then use as many new terms as they can in the end-of-lesson reflections.
As eighth grade students face high school, they're more likely to have questions about planning and paying for college. For that purpose, FutureSmart offers resources that can jump-start an entire unit for these older students. After completing the career exploration activity, students can use the link to FAFSA and the U.S. Department of Labor's scholarship free search tool to discover all of the scholarships, fellowships, and grant opportunities available to them.
FutureSmart is an interactive course for middle school students. It covers financial values and goal-setting, budgeting, investment options, types of payments, banking and expenses, and planning for the future. Surveys at the beginning and end of the course help students reflect on their relationship with money, while the course itself introduces vocabulary and important concepts about financial health.
Users are cast in the role of town mayor and are asked to help community members with concerns. Each of the six lessons begins with a pre-quiz and then offers a unique challenge. For example, a store owner asks for help with growing her business, and a fellow community member wants to plan for a comfortable retirement. The choices made by the mayor change the path of each lesson, so users get to see the effects of their choices in action. While navigating the problems presented by the community, the mayor gets coaching from a helpful assistant. She presents information along with new ideas and terms, and offers suggestions at just the right time. In the last lesson, students step out of the role as mayor and create a blueprint for their very own future. This includes exploring personal values, taking a career quiz that offers possible career options, and looking through options to pay for college. This blueprint saves to the user's portfolio, and students can edit it if they change their mind.
A review at the end of each lesson summarizes these decisions to help users reflect on their choices before taking the final quiz. The teacher dashboard allows for easy editing of student information as well as the ability to view reflection answers and test scores. However, the activity results aren't recorded and only the last attempted post-test displays.
The core concepts in FutureSmart are beneficial for any young person looking to become a financially responsible adult. The self-paced lessons are ideal for individuals to make sense of the information in their own time, and most activities are challenging without becoming too difficult. Also, the math involved consists of basic whole number calculations.
However, teachers should be aware of some lessons -- particularly Invest in You, Growing Your Business, and Your Financial Future -- that cover quite a bit of dense vocabulary. Sixth graders and perhaps some seventh graders will need assistance to grasp the vocabulary and ideas in these lessons. Also, two surveys present questions that many middle school students will struggle with: Questions ask students to identify gender, ethnicity, and highest level of school their parents completed. Other questions ask which types of banking or savings accounts students may have and if they've had any financial conversations with their parents about saving for the future. Luckily, students can skip these questions without affecting their progress.
Despite a few minor drawbacks, FutureSmart delivers applied learning around a critical life skill that students will likely enjoy, and it allows them to think about their own future financial goals in a focused, practical way.