Social Education 57(3), 1993, pp. 138
1993 National Council for the Social Studies

A Simple Economics Project that
Students Enjoy

Adrienne K. Plavin
The Bronx High School of Science
Bronx, New York
When students in Sheila Jacob's economics class asked her to give them the project Mrs. Plavin's classes were doing, I realized that I was onto something. My classes were always excited by the "Getting Rich?" project and appeared to enjoy working on it. When I was part of the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow Project, I was able to share this project and see it used successfully by a senior economics class in Columbus West High School in Ohio. But it took Sheila's students' reaction to make me think that the project was somehow special.
Economics is a required subject in New York State and students enroll in the course as juniors or seniors. My junior classes were typical of classes at Bronx Science-extremely diverse. Although The Bronx High School of Science is a specialized and selective school (students take an examination for admission), our student body represents all of the racial, religious, and ethnic groups that constitute the "beautiful mosaic" that is New York City. Many of our students are immigrants or the children of newly arrived immigrants to the United States.

In the project, which embodies the Horatio Alger dream of becoming rich, pairs of students create an identity and life-style for an individual or couple, select and research an occupation, prepare a budget for their life-style, estimate taxes, and make investment decisions. The fun begins when, after selecting someone to work with, students pick occupations from a brown paper bag. Carpenters, physical therapists, schoolteachers, librarians, firefighters, and police detectives are among the choices, along with occupations supposedly more prestigious such as doctors, lawyers, and architects. This year I added bank examiners as well, in light of current difficulties in the savings and loan industry. The paper bag method can challenge sex role stereotypes-girls become police detectives, and boys nurses. After picking their occupations, students who are not satisfied often decide to "get married," hoping to increase their income. Rather than allowing a firefighter to marry a doctor, I "counsequot; students toward more typical couples, e.g., a firefighter and a nurse, or a teacher and a social worker.

Next, students begin to create people (or couples), describing typical workdays, hobbies, and other family or charitable obligations. Students also research the salary ranges for the various occupations, assuming that the individual is about twenty-eight years old and has been working from five to eight years at the same occupation. This completes the first section of the project. Students submit each section for comment and are encouraged to make revisions. The final product, the result of several submissions and revisions, is submitted along with earlier drafts. This method emphasizes that writing is a process; it enables students to use my comments and questions to add, refocus, or refine information.

Creating a twelve-month personal budget is the next step. A monthly budget might be preferable, but students need to calculate their taxes as well, and it is easier to do that on an annual basis. Students begin by estimating their basic costs-housing, food, utilities, and clothing costs. Newspaper advertisements and conversations with their parents help students design a realistic budget. Leisure activities such as skiing, tennis, and health club memberships must show up in the budget. Here is where students begin to revise their life-style decisions as they become aware of the real costs. Class discussions are used to help students estimate their tax liability. Some students have become so involved and enthusiastic that they submit completed 1040A Forms. Many need to be reminded to calculate F.I.C.A. as part of their taxes. Parents tell me that they love this part of the project. Students, on the other hand, become angry about their "high taxes" and begin to complain about how little money they have left after taxes and basic expenses are calculated. Revisions are frequently required in this portion. I ask questions like, "Where are your transportation costs for commuting to work?"

Designing an "investment portfolio" goes to the heart of the project-using money to earn money. How much money do you have to invest? What investment goals do you have? How are you going to invest your money? Stocks? Bonds? Tax-free investments? Mutual funds? Certificates of deposit? How much risk can you tolerate? Early in the semester, students learn about financial instruments such as certificates of deposit, stocks, and bonds. Once they begin designing their investment portfolios, they are introduced to specialized sources of investment information such as Standard and Poor's Stock Market Encyclopedia, The Wall Street Journal, Investors Daily, Barrons, and The New York Times Business Section. Students also become acquainted with popular sources of financial information such as Money, Fortune, Business Week, and television programs such as "Adam Smith's Money World" and "Wall Street Week." Students are required to use and cite at least two of these sources in making their investment decisions.

Class discussions supplemented by visits from stockbrokers or bank officers can help review concepts and provide valuable assistance to students. Students may change their investment strategies at any time so long as they explain the reasons for their decision. They must keep track of their investments. Some students with low-paying jobs have decided to invest in themselves by enrolling in college or graduate school and preparing for a more lucrative career.

In the final evaluation, students are asked whether they are rich or are likely to become rich in the near future. They are asked to analyze the opportunity factors, investment decisions, and external factors that contributed to their ability or inability to become rich. Class discussions further elucidate the issue as students discuss their jobs, budgets, and investment decisions.

Among the criteria I use to evaluate students' projects are their responses to my comments. One-third of a student's final grade is based on taking my editorial suggestions, questions, and comments and integrating them into the final product; students who fail to make revisions are heavily penalized. The conclusion, which requires an analysis of external factors, opportunity costs, investment strategies, and the consequences of life-style choice, is worth another third. The quantity and quality of sources selected accounts for the final third. The "Getting Rich?" project is a significant element in determining a student's final economics grade.

Student Directions for "Getting Rich?"
Becoming rich is the American dream. But is it possible for everyone? This project will help answer that question. Students will work on this project in pairs and submit it periodically, in process, for review. Project submissions can be revised, but all portions of the project must be submitted as part of the final evaluation. The project schedule I use appears below.

A.Select another student as your partner.
B.Select an occupation in class.
C.Write a personal profile that contains answers to the following questions:
1.Who are you? (Include name, address, marital status, dependents, etc.)
2.What kind of work do you do? What education or special training does your job require? Describe a typical workday. Learn more about your occupation by interviewing someone who works in the occupation or read about your occupation in The Dictionary of Occupational Titles, or Working by Studs Terkel.
3.What is the salary range for your job? You may refer to the current Occupational Outlook Handbook for information.
4.How much money do you earn annually? Assume that you are twenty-eight years old and have been working at this job for between five and eight years. Be sure to identify the source of this information.
This is the creative part of the project. Describe your life-style. How do you spend your spare time (e.g., hobbies, activities, special obligations)? The personal profile is due at the end of the second week of the semester.

D.Prepare a personal budget that includes the following information:
1.Now that you know your annual income, you need to talk to your most important and knowledgeable resource-your parents or guardians. Using the categories we've established in class and suggestions from your parents or guardians, prepare an annual budget. Remember to include all taxes-federal, state, and local-in your estimations. Don't forget to calculate deductions for F.I.C.A. Using the standard tax tables, available at your local post office, you can calculate your tax liability.
2.Compute your discretionary income, i.e., the money you have available to spend or invest after you have deducted your taxes and basic necessities (food, housing, medical costs, etc.).
3.Your personal budget is due at the end of week five of the semester.
E.Preparing your investment portfolio comes next. How can you use your disposable income to earn money? What are your investment goals? Do you want to buy a house? Prepare for your retirement? Finance a college education? Begin by deciding how you want to use the money you accumulate, then think about how much risk you can tolerate (some investments entail more risk than others). Your investment portfolio may include stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, mutual funds, real estate, precious metals, or works of art.
1.You need to keep a list of all purchases and explain your reasons behind each investment decision. You must use and cite at least two sources of financial information to help explain your decisions. You may use any two of the following sources: Standard and Poor's Stock Market Encyclopedia, The Wall Street Journal, Investors Daily, Barrons, The New York Times Business Section, Money, Fortune, Business Week, "Adam Smith's Money World," and "Wall Street Week." Keep careful records of your investments and transactions: you must note the date of each purchase, the specific item purchased, and the purchase price. Remember to add a 2 percent broker's commission to the cost of your stock purchases. You may change your investment decisions at any time, but you must give an explanation for each decision.
2.Stock and bond prices fluctuate daily and you will need to keep track of price changes by graphing them. The final graph must be submitted with your conclusion. Have current events had an effect on your stocks or bonds? Pay attention to articles in the newspapers. Remember political events can have an economic effect.
3.Your investment portfolio is due at the end of week eight.
F.It's time to see whether you are likely to become "rich."
1.Did you have an opportunity to become "rich"? Will you become "rich" in the near future? Explain your response.
2.How well have your investments performed? Have any external factors contributed to the growth or decline of your investments?
3.How would you evaluate your financial position now? Would you make the same investments again? Why?
4.Your final evaluation is due at the end of May and must include all of the portions submitted in final form and all drafts.

The Dictionary of Occupational Titles. 4th ed. Lanham, Md.: Bernan Press, 1991.The Occupational Outlook Handbook. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor, annual.Standard and Poor's Stock Market Encyclopedia. New York: Standard and Poor, annual.Terkel, Studs. Working. New York: Random House, 1974.