Grade 9 math students put budget skills to charitable use this holiday

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Grade 9 students at Fort Frances High School capped off their math classes with a real-world exercise involving budgeting and helping others in the community.

Over the course of a few weeks, math students in the newly de-streamed Grade 9 curriculum were tasked with buying Christmas presents on a budget, which were then donated to charitable causes in Fort Frances. One such class was at Walmart on the afternoon of Wednesday, December 15, ready to put their math skills to the test. FFHS teacher Denise Rybuck explained that while the bigger lesson to be had that day was in regards to math, there are other aspects to these kinds of in-the-field learning experiences as well.

“The plan for today was to give the students in the Grade 9 de-streamed course the opportunity to be able to get a real life experience in terms of financial literacy,” Rybuck said.

“But it’s also to work on something called ‘social emotional learning skills.’ That’s a new piece that’s been added to the revised Grade 9 curriculum. It’s looking at skills that are bigger than just math, like being able to think outside of yourself, empathy, working collaboratively with others, being able to problem solve, strategize, being able to compromise. Those kinds of things.”

In order to put these skills to the test, students were divided into groups and were given an angel from a community organization like the United Native Friendship Centre to buy gifts for. Each group was then given a budget of $50 in order to purchase items off the list provided for each angel.

“Students have to stick within that budget to get the items identified on the list,” Rybuck said.

“They’re working in groups of anywhere from three to five. They have to actually chat and talk and figure out what they’re going to get to get the most bang for their buck.”

In addition to the purchasing, Rybuck also noted a subsequent project for the students was using their geometry skill to figure out the surface areas of the gifts they’ve purchased in order to figure out how much wrapping paper they will need. The leftover funds on the giftcards will also be given to the UNFC, Rybuck said.

“It’s just to make sure we’re giving back to the community,” she explained.

“Along with students recognizing that there are children their age that may not be able to have the same things they have. Also in terms of the financial piece as to how this matters. I know Mr. Grinsell was talking to a group of students this morning about how once they get out of their parents house they might have a budget where they only have $50 a week to spend on groceries. So how would you deal with that?”

Rybuck noted a common refrain from students was their disbelief at just how expensive some items are, which she said helps students build that financial awareness that complements the math skills they’re learning in class.

The move to de-stream Grade 9 math was made in the summer of 2020, with the first semester, or quadmester as it was in Fort Frances, of the new curriculum having started in September of 2021. these grade 9 students have never known the old applied and academic paths, which Rybuck said is entirely the point.

“In terms of implementation, it’s been really interesting because it’s a fresh start,” she said.

“We are levelling the playing field for students. There’s equity in the fact that students are taking one course and we’re leaving pathways open for students, which is the biggest thing. One of the main reasons behind the de-streaming was that there was a real divide between the students who were maybe going to be going on to college or university and pathways being decided in grade 9 that limit them for lifelong decisions.”

The biggest difference between the old and new math curriculums has been a consolidation of information. Rybuck noted there’s additional flexibility to allow teachers to modify the delivery of content to support a more diverse range of students in terms of math skills.

“Teachers are able to differentiate instruction and use really unique strategies in terms of presenting activities so that it meets the mark for students where math may be a real strength for them, or for some students where math may be an area where they require additional assistance,” she said.

“Going forward, all courses will be de-streamed in grade 9, so the goal of that is to again ensure that we’re providing opportunities to students and not limiting them. To make a decision when you’re 13 or 14 years old for the rest of your life is very, very difficult. For some students in the past, once they chose a pathway, it was very difficult for them to get out of that path. So the goal is just to make sure we’re providing opportunities for students.”

Rybuck noted that she’s seen the students enjoying the new class and content. She explained that it’s not math in the traditional sense of working individually on a worksheet.

“Within this curriculum it encourages collaboration, talking to a partner, checking in,” sh said.

“There’s a lot of application of that and encouragement of a growth mindset where ‘you can do this.’ You might have areas where you need skill building, but everyone is going to be working together to make sure you get where you need to get.”