For many parents, the courses that Gerri Kimble teaches at Hoover High School in Alabama might seem like a dream come true. As part of the school’s state-mandated Career Prep course, students learn how to find a job, buy a car, balance a checking account, manage a credit card, save for retirement, buy a home - even pay their taxes. Kimble teaches all of these financial literacy classes using Knowledge Matters Virtual Business - Personal Finance computer simulations.
"At first, I wasn’t sure how to go about getting students interested in these grown-up topics," says Kimble, one of eight business teachers in the Hoover High School Business Department. "We began researching different ways to teach personal finance, and came across Knowledge Matters."
Virtual Business simulations (sims) allow teachers to choose the lessons they want to use, and to put them in the order they want. Teachers can decide whether to include reading assignments, reading quizzes, and math quizzes. They can open lessons to all students so that the class proceeds at the same pace. Or they can allow students to work at their own speed.
The Virtual Business - Personal Finance simulation has 18 lessons and one project. Kimble divides the class up into small groups, and assigns a section of each lesson to each group. The groups use sim content and their own experience to create a class presentation on the section. After each presentation and a class discussion, the entire class takes quizzes to reinforce the fundamentals of each lesson.
The simulation allows students to retry the assignment if they make mistakes. The Knowledge Matters interface shows Kimble how many times a student retries. "But I don’t really care about that," she says. "What I like to know is that they cared enough to go back and try to improve their understanding."
The second part of the lesson is the computer simulation itself. Kimble uses the Checking Account lesson as an example of how the sims work.
"Their online character gets a paycheck every week, then they have to add that to their checking account, and pay their bills. They have to budget for groceries, clothes, gas, entertainment–things parents often pay for. If they forget to enter one expense, their whole checking account is off. So the sim makes them pay attention to detail."
She explains that the lessons are detailed and challenging. Some students, she says, have to go through the simulation three or four times to really understand it. "That lets me know that they’re really learning something new–that they’re really interested in understanding the concepts, even if it takes them five times. All of these sims challenge my students to really think things through."
Easy to Use: Kimble says that every year she researches the educational program market to see what’s new. She has yet to see a product as easy to use as Knowledge Matters.
Easy to Grade: The Knowledge Matters teacher account keeps track of student scores, so there is no need for Kimble to do her own grading. She says that sometimes IEP or special-needs students might get a lower grade than expected because they haven’t understood something in the sim. In those cases, she reviews the lesson with the student and gives them other ways to improve their understanding.
"Grading is a breeze with this. And the fact that the program grades for me gives me time to focus on other things - like improving my teaching methods, reading up on financial literacy topics, and spending more time with my students."
Culturally Appropriate: Kimble finds that while her kids live in a world of text messages and social media, other teaching simulations continue to be too wordy and too much like textbooks.
"I don’t teach a textbook-y generation, you know? The Knowledge Matters sims fit into the teen culture. They make learning fun for the students, which obviously makes it even more fun for me."
Allows for Excellence: Every student is different. Some strive for perfection while others put their attention elsewhere, whether that is extracurricular activities or other interests. Kimble likes the fact that she can configure the sims to make sure that each student achieves at least a basic understanding of the course work while still allowing more motivated students to attain mastery of the topic at hand.
Encourages Collaboration: "I’m not someone who just stands in front of the class and lectures all day, because that doesn’t work," Kimble says. "I put the work in the students’ hands. I facilitate, but I give each group a section and make them the owners of that section. They do the research; they share and learn the concepts with peers, and they learn how to work together."