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Real-Life Experience Helps This Second Career Teacher Integrate Math and Finance

Math educator Erik Scott uses his experience, along with a high-quality curriculum, to help students see the relevance in their learning

By John Barnett

Erik Scott, a math teacher at Cache High School in Oklahoma, has forged a unique path to becoming an educator. After 21 years as a submariner in the Navy and 13 additional years in operations and management, he found himself wanting to give back and help youth in the form of teaching and life preparation. “I had always wanted to teach and work with kids, and the high school age was a targeted group I was looking to teach,” says Scott. “They’re so close to getting into the real world, and I thought I might be able to share experiences that I’ve had through my career.”

After being approved through Troops for Teachers, Scott was hired to go through an alternative certification program and is currently nearing full certification. He teaches statistics and pre-calculus to 11th and 12th graders, as well as the Financial Life Cycle Education curriculum (FiCycle Math), a newly adopted curriculum that integrates algebra with personal finance. 

FiCycle works with educators and organizations to equip students with the mathematical and financial understanding to navigate their financial life cycle and meet and exceed state requirements in mathematics. Both educators and students have noted the importance of the curriculum’s true real-world learning, in which they gain a functional understanding of key financial principles and how to apply them in life. When Christy Taylor, Cache High’s principal (and already a fan of the curriculum), introduced Scott to FiCycle, he was quickly intrigued by its relevance. 

Scott notes the importance of the hands-on training offered by the FiCycle team in setting up he and his students for success. “The team did a two-day training workshop. It was a mix of new FiCycle teachers and those that had already taught the curriculum. Having the [veterans] was key to helping us ‘rookies’ out in teaching the curriculum.” Because all educators who teach the curriculum are qualified math teachers, the training largely focuses on introducing them to the financial concepts included in the content, and demonstrating how they’re connected to the underlying math. 

Real-Life relevance and the flexibility factor

Scott has developed a genuine fondness for FiCycle Math. He feels the real-life scenarios connect well with his students, and the relevance to their lives exemplifies why he wanted to go into teaching in the first place. He notes the case studies included in the curriculum, and how they demonstrate real decisions people would have to make in their day-to-day lives, offering the following example:

“Let’s say Kara is a college student and she has a part-time job, but she plans to travel to Miami to visit her family,” he says, setting the context for this problem. “If given X amount for her expenses and X for her income, how many months will it take her to save up the necessary money to go on this trip if plane tickets cost X and there are other expenses? The kids then use the case study and what we’ve learned in the curriculum to figure out how long it will take her to save up for her trip. It presents real-life scenarios that the kids can see themselves in, and they can apply their own experiences to what the curriculum presents.”

The core concepts come alive for students when reflected through the lens of realistic case studies, Scott shares. He also notes the balance between a well-structured curriculum with a defined scope and sequence, with how it also provides flexibility for individual teachers: “The teacher has the latitude to go out and weave in various portions of math that’s being taught,” he says, citing a lesson on exponents and logarithms as an example. For this particular unit, he spent some time putting together a discussion that expanded on the curriculum in a way he felt would enhance students’ understanding. “There was an opportunity where I could just weave it very cleanly into the topic that I was presenting.”

The school’s design has classrooms that are all close in proximity. The layout and accessibility allow for the blending of other disciplines into the discussions and case studies of FiCycle. Students have a way of synthesizing information from different classes to expand learning.

Making learning fun and encouraging feedback

Teaching math has been a learning experience for Scott, often relying on his students to keep his attention on the areas they find most beneficial. When discussion goes deep into various mathematical principles, his students are sure to highlight the importance of tying it back to real-life scenarios. ‘Hey, I miss talking about Kara and what she plans to do. Let’s talk about that,’ students might say if a lesson goes on too long without discussing real world examples. ‘When are we going to talk about credit cards and investment vehicles?’

“You can tell when we get into a stretch of just math that they’re yearning to get back to the real-world financial application again. They are not afraid to tell me, and it’s been very interesting,” says Scott. Between FiCycle and the statistics class he teaches, Scott makes sure to present material in a way that is fun and accessible. “I want it to be a good experience when they’re in the classroom, not drudgery,” he shares, explaining not just his approach but also why he gravitates toward high-engagement curricula. 

Workbook vs. textbook and hands-on experience

In contrast to teaching out of traditional