Companion Guide: A Chance to Finance Kyle Kirby - Kyle Kirby - Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design, Denver, Colorado

This guide serves as a companion to the article, “Project Life- A Chance to Finance.” If you have not read the article, please go back and read it first. This guide serves as a resource should you be interested in trying our some of learning activities described in the article.

An Overview of this Guide

Below you’ll find a list of links.  Each takes you to a slideshow detailing the purpose of the activity, pictures of students in action, data of how students liked the activity (spoiler: some fell flat, but we still think that they’re important enough to mention), examples of student work, and supporting documents. We hope that in each link you’ll find all the necessary information to make your own version of the activity should you choose to include it in your own project.  This improver’s guide was written in tandem with an article about this project; the two documents are symbiotic and should be explored together for a clearer picture of this project.


In this project, students think about their futures, they budget, they analyze financial information and they craft an exhibition.  

In phase 1, students are learning about what it means to be an adult – through interviewing adults, conducting research into specific careers and what the payscales look like over time, by doing their taxes and learning about interest rates and return on investment.

Phase 2 of the project culminates in an exhibition called a “personal finance budgeting simulation” wherein visitors are given a random profile such as a lawyer, a judge, an office assistant, etc. and they must shop for all of their major needs – car, housing, groceries, childcare, etc. – while trying to maintain a budget.  Students run the kiosks – both as financial advisors throughout the simulation and as salespeople.  At the end, visitors sit down with a student and plug in their purchases into a budgeting spreadsheet.  They have a conversation about what was difficult and what they learned.  To prepare for this simulation, students craft “artifact cards” for everything that can be shopped for, they become experts at budgeting, they code within google spreadsheets, they build formulas for quick calculations, and they iterate on their simulation until it works smoothly.

Major Activity

Phase 1:

Panel of Adults: We launched with an activity where students created a list of questions and then interviewed a panel of adults about personal finance.

Annotated Bibliography: Students did research into two future careers using different sources and recording information in an annotated bibliography.

Inspiration board: Students created inspiration boards early on to get a grip on what really matters to them in their futures.

Math challenge: you’re a UCSD grad.  What will your monthly payments be?: Students created payment calculators in google spreadsheets to estimate future payments as a student and as a parent to repay student and parent loans.

Taxes and Future paychecks: Students used future potential family situations to estimate their future paychecks, after taxes – a necessary first step if you want students to be able to do their taxes.  Then students did their taxes using Turbotax or H&R block online tax estimators based on preferred careers.

Math challenge: prove to Uncle Rodney that college (or other job training) is worth the cost: Cantankerous Uncle Rodney believes that college is a big waste of money.  Students had to create a mathematical argument to prove that college (or vocational training) is worth the investment (or not).

Return on Investment Presentations: Students presented their return on investment calculations for two different career paths to peers.

Compounding Interest with Fry’s Bank Account: Students explored compound interest through Dan Meyer’s 3-act problem.

Phase 2:

Junior Achievement’s finance park personal finance simulation: Students participated in a professionally run personal finance budgeting simulation, then debriefed the experience and built our simulation from that model.

Students Pitching Simulation Ideas: After students were assigned groups (e.g. coding, graphics), they built pitches in answer to certain simulation questions that they pitched to other students of similar groups.

Project management and day-to-day work time: Students had three weeks to build a personal finance simulation for their parent exhibition.

Simulation dress rehearsals: We had four rehearsals – a rapid prototype due four days into the work time, one a week later, another two days before the exhibition, and the last the day of exhibition.

Parent Exhibition: Students put on a personal finance budgeting simulation for visitors at Festival del Sol, a school-wide celebration of student learning with over 20 exhibitions and 2,000 visitors.

Student-to-student Exhibition: In the final event, students put on their simulation for 12th graders from the other High Tech schools in a 3-hour event that included an introduction, a shopping phase, and a debrief.


It’s a very large task to put together a full account of a project because hundreds of decisions have to be made and many of them are specific to our kids, our school, the resources we have available, and the city in which we teach.  I did my best to paint a clear picture of our major activities.

Please excuse this improver’s guide as imperfect.  It’s not meant as a step-by-step set of instructions, but rather as a general vision of what we did that could be adapted to fit your schedule, priorities, learning goals, and resources.

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