Making Cents of Privilege

I work with upper-middle-class students, and it is sometimes difficult for them to understand that not all children have access to the same opportunities they have regarding dining out, participating in extracurricular activities, vacations or receiving allowances. Consequently, I wanted to create a lesson on the value of money.
Grade Level

I provided my 3rd-graders with menus from local restaurants and advertisements from various local stores. I facilitated a discussion around the following questions:

  • Who pays the check when your family eats dinner at a restaurant?
  • Do you ever think about whether your parents or guardians have enough money to pay for what is ordered?

Using the menus I have provided, students choose what they would like to order and total the items. Then I give each student a Ziploc bag containing play money amounting to $5.15. I introduce the concept of minimum wage and inform them that the minimum wage in our area is $5.15 per hour of work.

Now students look at the meal they have selected from their menu and see if they have enough to purchase it. I have them review the menu to determine what items they could purchase for $5.15.

After they determine this, I ask the question, "How many hours must a person making $5.15 per hour work to afford their meal?" This generally intrigues them and leads to deeper discussions of other purchases, activities and vacations enjoyed by their families. We continue our unit by looking at other advertisements and articles.

There are stark differences in economic wealth between families. Teaching students about the value of money is important in helping them to understand that although their families might be financially comfortable, many other families are struggling. This is a way for even the youngest of children to see how privileged they are.

Tamara J. Candis
Parsons Elementary School
Suwanee, Ga.

For more ideas on using mathematics to teach social justice see the new release by Rethinking Schools titled Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers ($16.95).