by Rachel Richardson
Teaching Outside the Lines
Who says math has to be boring? $martPath, an innovative new software program developed by the University of Cincinnati Economics Center, allows educators to ditch the flash cards and make learning math and personal finance fun.
by Rachel Richardson
Economist Julie Heath is no stranger to tackling the challenge of teaching children and adults the basics to managing money — an often daunting task given that 70 percent of American households face serious savings, income or debt problems, according to a report released last year by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
After all, the award-winning educator previously founded the Center for Economic Education at the University of Memphis, crafted first-of-its-kind legislation requiring financial literacy testing of Tennessee’s elementary school students and was named the 2010 Tennessee Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation.
But soon after taking the helm as the new director of the University of Cincinnati Economics Center in 2012, Heath encountered a financial challenge — a one-off phenomenon any nonprofit would give its eyeteeth to have: How to best spend a $1 million donation earmarked for the economic and financial education of teachers and students.
“I walk into this job and have to do what?” Heath remembers of the astonishing windfall — the nation’s largest private investment to support online continuing education in economics — gifted by Peter Alpaugh and the Alpaugh Family Foundation.
“I was so tied up in knots,” she said. “I didn’t want to waste this man’s money.”
Heath needn’t have worried. The product of that investment, $martPath, recently launched to rave reviews from educators across the nation, dozens of whom have been on a waiting list for months in anticipation of the software’s release.
The venture represents the most ambitious project to date for the UC Economic Center, which ranks among the largest of more than 200 university-based economics education centers in the country. More than 400 K-12 educators and administrators participate in the center’s 40-plus professional development courses offered each year.
$martPath meets both Ohio’s new Common Core-based learning standards and national standards in K-12 personal finance education set by JumpStart, a nonprofit organization dedicated to financial education.
Heath says teachers love the online financial and economic literacy curriculum tailored to students in grades 1-6 not only because it’s offered free of charge to educators and students across the globe, but because $martPath incorporates both economic and financial literacy — a rarity among the hodgepodge of commercial applications currently available.
That’s helpful for teachers who recognize a critical need for the dual curriculum for grade school students, but who feel unqualified to teach it, says Heath.
While many teachers welcome the opportunity to learn strategies for teaching financial education to students, shrinking school budgets and weak state and national financial education standards often result in a lack of professional development for educators, she says.
“Teachers are anxious to get quality materials in their hands because they know their students need this,” said Heath. “They’re very stretched and they want to know how to make the most of the time they have.”
That’s a familiar refrain to Laura Smith, president and CEO of the Louisiana Council for Economic Education, a nonprofit organization that helps promote financial education for the more than 700,000 students enrolled in public schools across the Pelican State. Her organization plans to promote $martPath to the 1,500 Louisiana elementary schools it works with.
Time-strapped Louisiana teachers still adapting to newly implemented Common Core standards need intuitive and turnkey software in order to incorporate financial education standards into curriculums, she said.
“$martpath is that tool,” Smith said, pointing to its pre- and post-assessment features that allows teachers to easily and instantly gauge student progress.
“With so much on teacher’s plates, this alleviates the hesitancy some educators have about utilizing new programming for fear that a program will require extensive training and troubleshooting or that they will have to justify its use by creating assessment metrics and researching standards alignment,” she said.
Moreover, Smith said, $martPath is just plain fun – not an easy task with subjects many kids (and adults) find tedious and rote.
She points to a third grade lesson plan — each grade level offers three lesson plans — in which skunks Ronan and Toby make and sell pizzas to earn money to go to Stinkland, the “smelliest place on earth.”
“Stinkland has the ultimate in smelly, disgusting rides,” the narrator exclaims as colorful graphics flash across the screen. “The giant mudslide that ends up in a pool of rotten pickles; or Mount Revoltest, the world’s biggest pile of used diapers; float down Trashcan Juice River on a boat made of old pizza crusts; or how about our Trampoline Wonderland made entirely of elastic from old underwear?”
UC's Heath said $martPath’s use of humor and blend of different learning modalities engages even the most math-challenged of students on a number of levels. Each teacher-led lesson briskly alternates between narrative storytelling, in-class discussions and interactive games and activities.
“It moves along at a fast clip so your attention is captured and stays captured,” explained Heath. “The activities change up so it keeps kids engaged and on point, and it’s about stuff they can relate to. I mean, who doesn’t want to go to Stinkland? It meets them where they are.”
$martPath represents new technological territory for the UC Economics Center, said Heath. The center also offers the Student Enterprise System, which allows elementary students to earn school currency they can spend in on-site stores, and Math That Makes Cents, a grade 3-8 program that helps teachers provide financial literacy context to traditional math curriculums.
Heath worked for a year with the Karrikens Group, the software’s Australia-based developer, in creating the digital platform. $martPath’s high-quality curriculum along with its top-notch graphics and immersive activities make it an ideal tool for use in schools, after-school programs, summer camps and “anywhere there’s a kid,” she said.
“I think this is going to be huge,” Heath said. “It was such a tremendous gift, and I wanted the result to be equally tremendous. It is certainly our most ambitious project and I think we’ve done our donor proud.”
Any teacher can sign up to use $martPath.
All $martPath units of study:
- Are relevant and deliver on Ohio Learning Standards outcomes
- Include embedded assessments so you can track and report on student progress
- Are fun, simple-to-run and quick so they fit into your teaching program
- Are high-quality, interactive and engaging
Click the launch button below to sign up or login, and start exploring and using the resources today!
Talk to us
For questions or more information about $martPath, please call 513-556-2684 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rachel is a public information officer with the University of Cincinnati and a contributor to UC Magazine. As a former multimedia journalist and two-time alumna of UC's McMicken College of Arts & Sciences, Rachel is thrilled to have the opportunity to share the stories of UC's amazing community of faculty, staff, alumni and students. Rachel.Richardson@uc.edu