Thursday, February 20, 2020

Lesson from a #TeacherMom: Teaching with Travel

I have written in the past about using real-life scenarios to teach math concepts. I have specifically shared about the investment project I have used to teach percents and percent-change in the past. It also teaches students how to budget and "invest" a hypothetical amount of money. They could easily go on to apply these concepts in real life. Other teachers offer their students budgets to make hypothetical purchases and the students have to stay within their budget. Financial planning and financial literacy are extremely important to begin teaching early. One of my best friends from high school is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and hosts a podcast titled Millenial Money. She has made it her career to follow her passion of sharing and teaching financial literacy and related concepts. Please check out Millenial Money on your preferred podcast host (iTunes and Google Podcasts both have it) if you're interested in more about this.

My post today is about teaching financial literacy and important budgeting concepts to my own children in real life, in real time. What we have experienced over the past two years or so could easily be developed into a classroom activity: Develop and Present a Travel Budget.

When at age four, my daughter kept talking about going to Paris, I promised her I would one day take her. The when and the how would have to come together over time, but I knew I would keep that promise to her and I knew it was not something either of us wanted to put off for long. Three years after that, she picked traveling to Paris, France as her tenth birthday trip. (Double-digits are special times.) Two years after that, we began the real planning. And, now a year later, we just returned from an epic adventure.

I am a single mom and a teacher. European vacations are not something that we can just pick up and do. Logistics aside, we also have to carefully plan and budget. I kept my two kids in the loop through the entire process.

First, we chose a time of year to travel that is outside of the peak season. That meant we could save on airfare. We first looked at what airfare may cost in the fall of 2018. But, we spent three months following airfares beginning last April. I had also started saving for this a year earlier. Finally, we followed the age-old suggestion of actually booking our airfare on a Tuesday. (In my experience this idea works. I just did the same thing this week for another upcoming trip and saved a few bucks.) We called the airline we selected and booked through my account with them. There were six of us total traveling together. The customer representative worked with us to get the best possible flights, best possible seats together, and best possible rate. We each would be allowed one FREE checked bag. This was kind of a big deal. No extra fees and such was important. Hint: if you Google it, you will find that February is the least expensive month to fly to France. February was the best time for us to make the trip, so this came together very nicely.

Second, because we would have six of us staying together, we knew to start looking at AirBNB options rather than hotels. Finding a place that would have room for all of us, at a reasonable rate was a priority. We looked at different flats in a few different locations. We started this search in April 2019 and revisited things more seriously in December. We booked our flat in January. We also paid for it in January. By the time the actual travel dates came around, we had already paid for airfare and lodging. This took two items off our plate and now we could focus on activities and other budget concerns.

Third, by having a flat, we knew we could eat some meals in which would save money. We planned to eat breakfast at "home" daily and most of our dinners would be eaten there as well. While in Paris, we also packed picnic lunches two of the days and we kept snacks with us. This allowed us to still eat some traditional foods, try some new things, and save some money.

Fourth, I told the kids well in advance that I would not buy souvenirs. They had to create their own budget. I was so very proud of them. They save for a few months and set money aside specifically for the trip. One week before the trip, I planned to go to the bank to exchange for Euros. They both brought me what they had saved and I took it down to exchange. They both left for the trip with a budget of about 50 Euros.

Each day of the trip, they carefully looked items over and made conscientious decisions. One of the best things I saw was Kiera on our last full day. She and I spotted a great deal in a shop. She could get 12 Eiffel Tower keychains for 5 Euros. She has 19 classmates and wanted to take something back for each of them. So, for 10 Euros, she purchased 24 keychains. She had a souvenir for herself, something for each of her classmates, something for her teacher, and three remaining to do with as she chose.

This is how we travel. The kids have an established budget and have to stick to it. I have done this with them since they were little. I do not supplement as I want them to make the decisions themselves and I need them to understand that decisions need to be made with careful thought and consideration. When Kiera was five, she ran over budget in a store at Disneyland and had to put an item back. I thanked the sales clerk for being kind in guiding Kiera through the process of hearing that she did not have enough money. She looked back at me and thanked me for what I did for Kiera in not bailing her out.

I speak openly with my children about budgets and finances because we have to make choices. They know this, but sometimes need a gentle reminder.

So, how can we take these real life experiences and apply them in the classroom?
Give students a travel budget. Within this budget, they will need to choose a place to travel, price and select airfare, budget for lodging and food, decide on transportation around their destination, and optionally include a souvenir budget. The teacher can decide what, if any, limits to place on this as far as location and what size of budget the students will work with in this project. Have students create a Google Slides presentation to show how they have applied their budget and where they will travel. Additionally, students can create a travel brochure to promote the vacation they have put together. At the end of it, get feedback from the class, perhaps having them vote on the proposed vacations and which one they would take (break it down by seasons for an added twist).

Want to include percent-related concepts in this? Have students outline a breakdown of their budget. What percent of their budget will go toward airfare? Lodging? Food?

Other travel math exercises:
Last year, I put together a travel math assignment including images from the airplane that showed outside temperature, distance to our destination, etc. For each image, I created a different question or goal. Students solved problems, wrote and solved word problems, and applied concepts we had worked on throughout the year leading up to that point in the year. (If it's -83.2 degrees F, what is the temperature in Celsius?)

History Bonus:
Travels can also open the door for great explorations into history. On our recent trip to Paris, the kids prioritized visiting the burial site of Marquis de Lafayette. He was instrumental in the success of the American Revolution before returning to France to do the same there. He is buried nearby a mass grave site for over 1300 French Revolutionaries. It is a little off the beaten path which made it a special adventure for the three of us. We had a great historical conversation and we have now started talking about future trips we would like to take to continue our historical journey.

Sweet morning dew of CUE

Let me frank. I had zero intention of attending Fall CUE this year. I was not scheduled to present and, in fact, I had another (completely unrelated) conference to attend the same weekend. Originally, I planned to attend MathCon put on by the Stanislaus County Office of Education. I committed myself to something completely unrelated, though, in the Sacramento area.

In a shift, Fall CUE would be held in the Sacramento area. I figured being committed to a conference potentially nearby, I could at least connect with fellow educators in my downtime. As the weekend neared, I saw the promos start for the keynote speeches. One of my inspirations for my math instruction was among them, the other was one I needed to reach out to for some guidance in language arts. Heck, she's a go-to for the curriculum we are using. Why wasn't I going this year? Still, I stood in my decision. I had to stay strong. I had to holdfast in my decision.

As the date grew nearer, I started helping to plan our possible affiliate meet-up or meeting. I was making calls, making my hotel reservation, and realizing just how close I would be to Fall CUE. Still, I was feeling strong in my decision. I knew it was right.

And then, it happened. My son who is also one of my math students, was scheduled to present during the Kid Booms at Fall CUE. Suddenly I was thrust into having to balance two conferences, two schedules, and thankful they were just a few short miles from each other. And, at this point, I was now scheduled to attend Fall CUE.

Obviously, I was attending differently than ever before. I was attending as a teacher and a mom for a student presenter. But, I also wanted to do what I could to keep commitments in my affiliate board role. The wonderful thing is the Connor gets excited about engaging other educators and was set to be my sidekick for the weekend. Everything came together just about perfectly.

Connor's Kid Boom was fun to watch as he developed it, but even more fun to see presented on the big stage at Fall CUE. Kid CUE Booms allow students to share their educational experiences and give educators insight into what is working, what needs some work, and what really doesn't work, all from the perspective of a student. Connor and the other Kid Boomers did an outstanding job of sharing this insight with the crowd of educators.

What made this also incredible for me was getting to see the morning keynote presented by Ed Campos. I attend his sessions whenever I can and always take away at least a little nugget of something immediately implementable in the classroom. He transformed my math teaching.

Inspired by Method Man and Mary J:
Like sweet morning dew
I took one seat at CUE
and it was plain to see
e-d-u's my destiny...

Once again I was inspired. Once again I brought home something I could use. Once again, I was refueled and ready for action.