Financial Literacy for the Elementary Student – Coin Box Simulator through Anchored Instruction


Financial literacy is highlighted throughout the elementary grade levels in the Content area of BC’s New Curriculum. Most paper-pencil curricula address money identification, counting coin and dollar amounts, and one or two step word problems connected to money. However, these paper-pencil activities minimally equip students for financial literacy skills and applications. While exploring the information visualization simulators during this past week, the elementary and middle school simulations from Illuminations were easy to understand and seemed quite plausible to implement into already developed curriculum.

Literature Support for Lesson Cornerstones:

In a study conducted by Srinivasan, Pérez, Palmer, Brooks, Wilson and Fowler (2006), engineering freshman students who completed learning using MATLAB did not experience what they perceive as an authentic experience. The students felt that their experience was disconnected from real expert experience because they manipulated a simulated system rather than a real-life system. The researchers conclude that a probable reason for this disconnect is that the students “need/want authenticity to be able to make connections the experts make with the simulation” (Srinivasan, 2006, p.140).  This perception from the students leads educators to consider the value of real-life experiences in connection with simulated experiences.

Transferring simulated experiences to real-life experiences is supported through the study completed by Finkelstein, Adams, Keller, Kohl, Perkins, Podolefsky and Reid (2005). In their study, students in a second semester introductory physics course, who had used a simulation first to design a circuit system, were more successful later in designing real-life models. These same students also achieved greater success on related exam material that was completed two months after the simulated and real-life circuit building experience (Finkelstein, 2005). Due to these findings, authenticity of learning through the transferring of knowledge from simulation to real-life experience is a main cornerstone of the following lesson design.

In addition to authenticity, two lesser cornerstones, rich content and goal challenge motivation, are also incorporated into the lesson design as supported through the writings of Srinivasan et al. (2006). A pre-test assessment begins the lesson in order to determine prior knowledge and the optimal area of learning for the individual student. As well, this pre-test assessment can be used to determine pairings/groupings throughout the lesson activities. By providing rich content within the lesson plan, this affords opportunity for students with less prior knowledge to acquire new knowledge before exploring the simulated and real-life experiences. Building prior knowledge within students is critical for their success as Srinivasan et al. (2006) state, “Prior knowledge accounts for the largest amount of variance when predicting the likelihood of success with learning new material” (p.138). In regards to gaining knowledge of the student’s optimal area of learning, this connects closely to Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, but is also supported by goal oriented motivation when learning goals are neither too steep, nor too simple: “If learning goals are too steep for a learner’s current context, learning is not successful. On the other hand, when learning is simple for the learner, the instruction can become over-designed and lead to diminished performance” (Srinivasan, 2006, p. 139).

Lesson Overview:

The following lesson incorporates the instructional framework of anchored instruction. This has been accomplished through a narrative multi-step problem solving feature. The three cornerstones highlighted in the section above are evident within the lesson: goal challenge motivation {decided by pre-test assessment}, content-rich material, and authenticity through real-life application.


Pre-test Assessment:

Provide paper-pencil assessment including photos of Canadian coins asking students to identify individual coins.

Addition questions for pre-test assessment may include:

  • How many quarters makes a dollar? How many dimes? How many nickels?
  • Show 3 different ways of making one dollar using a mix of coin types. Draw coins with labelled amounts to share learning.

 Include two ‘making change’ questions that require student to calculate amount of change from $1.


Content-rich Material:

Read and discuss Dave Ramsay’s book entitled, My Fantastic Fieldtrip on saving money.

Provide pairs of students with real sets of Canadian coins with accompanying anchored money solving problems. Problems may require students to interact with other students in the class or with the teacher. An example of an anchored money problem solving scenario follows:

Macey has been saving her allowance for seven weeks. She has a saving goal of $20.00. Each week she receives $1.50. Three weeks ago, Macey decided to buy her sister a rubber ball for her birthday which cost $1.00.  She used a loony from her savings . After seven weeks, Macey wanted to exchange all of her quarters for loonies, but she also wanted to keep half a dozen quarters for when she visited the candy machine at the grocery store when she went shopping with her mom.  She knew that several of her classmates had loonies that they could exchange for her quarters. (At this time, go around to your classmates and exchange your quarters for loonies just like Macey wanted to.) Once Macey exchanged her quarters for loonies with her classmates, how many loonies does Macey have? How much money does Macey have all together? How much more money will Macey need to save to reach her saving goal?


Simulation  Activity:

Illuminations –  Coin Box {elementary level}: Initially, direct instruction is required to demonstrate how by clicking on the cent icon in the bottom right corner, the student can see the amount of each coin as they are  US coins and difficult to decipher visually. Direct instruction should also be provided to guide the student to the “Instructions” tab and show the subtitled areas “Modes”. Student can then have time exploring the “Activity” section using the dropdown menu in the top left corner. Student should have ample time to explore all five activities including: “Count”, “Collect”, “Exchange”, “Change from Coins”, and “Change from Value”.


Transfer to ‘Real-Life’ Context: Students should have opportunity to transfer the simulated learning to a real-life context. An example of a real-life context is provided below, however adapting this to uniqueness of the learning community is recommended:

Cookie Sale –  Each student bakes one dozen cookies to sell to classmates and other students at the school. Pricing: 1 cookie = $0.40, 2 cookies = $0.75, 3 cookies = $1.00, 4 cookies = $1.25, 5 cookies = $1.45, 6 cookies = $1.70. This activity allows for assessment by the teacher through observation. Student’s accuracy and ease of providing change could be assessed using a simple checklist. Students should work in pairs  or small groups to help ensure that change to buyer is accurate.


Self Assessment/Reflection: A reflection activity is to be completed by each student. This activity requires the student to reflect on and share about growth and relevancy of learning. A self assessment printable is here:

Self Assessment


Finkelstein, N.D., Perkins, K.K., Adams, W., Kohl, P., Podolefsky, N., & Reid, S. (2005). When learning about the real world is better done virtually: A study of substituting computer simulations for laboratory equipment. Physics Education Research,1(1), 1-8.

Srinivasan, S., Pérez, L.C., Palmer, R.D., Brooks, D.W., Wilson, K., & Fowler, D. (2006). Reality versus simulation. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 15(2), 137-141. doi: 10.1007/sl0956-006-9007-5








  1. HI Jessica,
    Do you have a Junior Acheivement branch in your area? Junior achievement offers some great workshops for students in grade 6-12 on fianances and budgeting. It is a real eye opener for them when they choose the house and car they want, the type of vacation they would like each year, as well as the type of groceries and entertainment they would like each month. Most students choose an extravagent life style and quickly find out that it will take them a long time to achieve this goal. The work shop then takes them through the budget of a middle class starting job and

    1. students realize they can not afford much without going into debt. They are then walked through the steps of paying for an education. It is a real eye opener for most students.
      ps I apologize for the errors and double post but part way through my first post it submitted, before I had a chance to complete and fix it.

      1. Thanks so much, Catherine, for the recommendation. I have not heard of the Junior Achievement program until now :), but am always keeping my eyes and ears open for financial wisdom resources for youth. It is a life skill that needs to be taught, learned and practiced. Your wealth {no pun intended ;)} of resource information throughout this course has been much appreciated!

  2. HI Jessica,

    Thank you for producing an enhanced math-oriented TELE on financial literacy. Your analysis of the literature and the theme you raise of authenticity in terms of this week’s discussion on visualization (and simulation) reminds me of some of the underpinnings of simulacra. A sociologist and philosopher Baudrillard developed a concept of simulacra to mean, in general, that eventually we as a society will begin to refer to the simulated or virtual or the hyperreal as the real. We can see his prediction entering into our vernacular today; for example, “it’s as if you were in a video game” when referring to children playing in a set of library stacks or at a store rather than the game itself; “that’s like the painting of the clouds” referring to the painting (the simulated) rather than the clouds themselves. If interested in exploring the hyperreal or simulation in terms of its philosophy, there are scholars like him who delve into what it might mean from a sociological standpoint.

    In terms of the lesson, the reference to your curriculum is especially useful for us who wish to check out other curricula as we might be working in different provinces, states, or countries. The objectives (from the grade math curricula?) of developing financial literacy skills aligns nicely with anchoring instruction. Your assessment of students’ prior knowledge sets the stage nicely for shaping instruction. Here, how might a teacher utilize the information from the assessment to shape the upcoming activities or develop intermediate ones?

    Making the explicit the link between the theory and research to the TELE (Eg. anchored instruction= through a narrative multi-step problem solving feature on buying a gift for a sister using loonies. The three cornerstones highlighted in the section above are evident within the lesson: goal challenge motivation {decided by pre-test assessment}, content-rich material, and authenticity through real-life application was valuable in seeing the thought processes that go into lesson planning such as this.

    Once the anchored problem is resolved, what might be the transition from the “real” or authentic problem to then looking at the simulation? It is a thoughtful move to provide direct instruction on how to use the simulation, especially tailored to the class. When you write, Student should have ample time to explore all five activities including: “Count”, “Collect”, “Exchange”, “Change from Coins”, and “Change from Value”, is it envisioned that one might break this into a set of guided activities or moreso of a free exploration? The return to the applied problem is a great way to begin to check students skills at financial literacy, especially since the students had a similar activity earlier on.

    Really interesting to see the self-assessment on confidence levels after the activity! Thank you for getting us thinking about a range of teaching possibilities of in this research informed TELE. Samia

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