Interviewing a Superstar Teacher — Amanda Volz

Amanda Volz is a personal finance teacher in St. Clair, Michigan. She has been a top user of Budget Challenge since 2014. In that time, she has led several hundred students through our simulation, with a large proportion finishing in the top 5% of students nationwide. Her success with the simulation allowed her to land a local sponsorship to provide a scholarship for her top performing student this school year. We asked her for some insight into how she finds student success with our program. Here is our interview with Ms. Volz.

What has been your favorite part of Budget Challenge as a teacher?
My favorite part of the simulation is that it is hands-on. Students get to make financial decisions in a simulated environment that mimics real life. The fact that the simulation happens in real time and each student gets their own account and makes their own decisions allows them to learn by experience.

What is the biggest challenge as a teacher when using Budget Challenge?
The biggest challenge in the first year was figuring out how to teach and implement Budget Challenge. There is a lot of information to take in when you are first starting. My biggest challenge has been finding funding to continue providing the simulation in my classroom. In surveying my students each year, ALL of them recommend that future students participate in the simulation, but at $25/student, the cost is a bit prohibitive. We are fortunate to be in Michigan where the Michigan Council of Economic Education received a grant from the State to provide Budget Challenge free to all high schools in the state.

What is the biggest challenge for students participating in Budget Challenge?
The biggest challenge for students is understanding the rules and layout of the simulation. I use Budget Challenge at the beginning of the school year as a PROJECT BASED LEARNING way of teaching the material in my class. Students do not take on Budget Challenge as a capstone to their learning, but rather a way to apply and begin learning about financial topics. Some students are overwhelmed at the beginning of the project because (1) they lack knowledge in these areas and (2) there are a lot of rules and information to get started in the simulation. Despite their struggle at the beginning, students find it much easier (and even enjoyable!) at the end.

Are there any tips you can give to new teachers using Budget Challenge?
My advice to new teachers is to just dive in! The first year I implemented Budget Challenge, I literally stood in front of my class and told them "I found this simulation that looks interesting, but I have no idea how it works. So, let's try it and learn together." That year, I had the top student in the nation out of over 100,000 participants. Another piece of advice is to find a teacher who HAS used it before to be a mentor. It is nice to have someone who you can quickly email or connect with to answer questions when you get stuck.

How have your students responded to Budget Challenge?
They like it! I seriously think some of my students take my course because of Budget Challenge. They like that it is real world and directly applies to their financial lives. I always survey my students at the end of the simulation and 100% of them find the simulation to be beneficial to their learning and recommend that future students participate.

Do you have a Budget Challenge story that is especially memorable?
My obvious memorable story is having the top student in the nation along with many other students and classes that have been among the best in individual and class rankings. We have received quite a bit of notoriety which has resulted in our local Community Foundation of St. Clair County providing a $5000 scholarship to our top student this year. Besides the obvious, hearing previous students come back and talk about the benefit of my course and the Budget Challenge experience is immensely rewarding. There have even been quite a few students that, after they have graduated, contact me to get a copy of the Budget Challenge CFS to use in their financial lives!

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