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Brooklyn School

Brooklyn School is a decile 5 rural school with a role of 83. The trial was conducted by lead teachers Sharon Prestidge and Emma Ryder. Students from years 5-8 were the main participants.

We had already introduced an “economic system” to our classrooms after learning of Ralphe Esquith’s book Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire. The purpose of this was to assist students to become more engaged with their learning and develop a better sense of classroom ownership and responsibility. Within the system, students applied for a variety of 'jobs' in the school environment. Once employed, they earned a monthly salary, paid in “Brooklyn Dollars”. There were opportunities to generate extra income in the form of bonuses for excellence in work, perfect attendance, perfect work completion record, and community service jobs. Students could be fined for offences such as: disrupting the class, lateness, and incomplete work. At the end of each month, students paid rent on their desk. If unable to pay, they lost the use of their desk. They had the option of buying their desk, and then others, if they have been able to save enough money. At the end of term, students were able to use their savings to bid for a variety of items, for example, books, balls in an auction.

We had noticed previously that although our students were engaged in the economic system, there was a significant group in each class who were consistently unable to pay their rent at the end of each month. They displayed an attitude of it being out of their control and were always surprised to find themselves in such a predicament. This was because students hadn’t set financial goals. There was no sense of control about where they were heading financially with the system.

Our approach

We conducted a baseline survey, which gathered information on a range of financial literacy skills and attitudes. This showed gaps in student knowledge in calculating personal wealth, making calculations using interest rates, and understanding the best way to have less debt is by planning spending.

We planned a 10-week cross curricular unit using the financial capability progressions to support the development of financial capability through the numeracy, English, and social science learning areas.

Financial capability in the curriculum

Learning areas


  • Number and algebra level 3 AO1 | level 3 AO4 | level 4 AO3 | level 4 AO2

Social sciences

  • Resources and economic activities level 3 AO2 | level 4 AO2


  • Speaking, writing, and presenting

Financial capability matrix of learning outcomes

Managing money and income

  • Money levels 1, 4, 5
  • Saving level 5
  • Credit level 3
  • Spending and budgeting levels 3, 4

Setting goals and planning ahead

  • Setting financial goals level 3

Key competencies

The competency of 'managing self' was developed through students participating in setting and recording a financial goal, and planning steps and strategies toward achieving it.

Students had the opportunity to develop the 'thinking' competency, as they made decisions about access to and use of resources.


Students had the opportunity to express values of 'innovation, inquiry, and curiosity' through the creation of an economy within classes, which encouraged discussion and debate on social issues. Through theorising on the need for rules and laws within this economy, students considered the values of 'equity' and 'community and participation for the common good'.

Learning areas


Students applied for new jobs, going through an interview process. This provided a real context for selecting, developing, and communicating ideas. After reading job descriptions, they decided on what jobs they wanted to apply for. Students developed their ability to read and fill out forms within the context of the economic system. They studied the language, and filled out application forms for their jobs. They had to present a prepared speech as well as responding to questions during their interviews. They were peer assessed by the appointments committee who used pre-decided success criteria as their reference point.

Once they had an income, students set individual financial goals (both short term and longer term). They recorded, evaluated, and identified steps to achieving these throughout the unit.


Initially, students rented their desks, which was a cost they had to budget for. The option of lending and borrowing, including paying interest, was introduced to students when they were given the option of taking out a mortgage to purchase their desk. Students were then able to develop their own ‘property portfolio’ through purchasing other desks, which they could rent out. The introduction of this investment option facilitated the development of skills in calculating both simple and compound interest rates. They had to assess the risks involved in this and make informed financial decisions.

The keeping of personal financial records required that students understood the addition and subtraction of integers and decimals. They also developed a broadening range of strategies when operating on whole numbers, and skills in calculating percentages when working with interest rates. Time needed to be allowed within the classroom timetable for this. A weekly record of reconciliation was kept by the classroom teachers. Students who were able to reconcile their personal cashflow statements with their banker’s balance sheet were paid a bonus of $50 Brooklyn Dollars.

Social sciences

The creation of an economy within classes encouraged much lively discussion and debate on social issues. As consumers within the economy, they theorised on the need for rules and laws. They followed agreed processes when it became obvious that the society we had created needed to implement laws. Every student made decisions about access and use of resources when they set goals, such as buying their desks, becoming landlords by buying other people’s desks, and setting goals for their purchases in the end of term auction.

Developing financial capability

We began by extending the economic system already running in the classrooms. This extension included students:

  • applying for jobs, and going through an interview process
  • setting and recording a financial goal, and planning steps and strategies toward achieving these
  • finding out about budgets, credit, income, and spending through keeping personal balance books
  • being introduced to different forms of credit and investment, and identifying the risks involved.

Prior to starting the unit we developed a school currency, cheques, bankbooks, fine sheets, and agreed schedules of bonuses and fines as tools to use in the development of financial capability.

To fill identified knowledge gaps from the baseline survey, we introduced the budgeting tools to our students and they each kept individual balance sheets as well as bankers keeping track of their ‘clients'’ balances. Guest speakers from the Westpac Bank were invited to visit. The students had formulated questions related to financial issues and found being able to gather information from an expert a valuable experience. We found the Sorted website a valuable source of individual games and activities to reinforce lessons in the classroom.

Transferring their learning

In the senior class, budgeting skills were transferred from the economic system context to real life through school camp. Students budgeted their personal spending money by looking through the timetable, and deciding on spending choices. Each night students assessed their individual budget. Every student was able to manage their money and some even returned with money. This was the first time we had such success on the camp. When students self-assessed their use of the budgeting tool, all were positive it had helped them in their personal financial management.


When both classes repeated the initial financial literacy survey we found pleasing improvements in students’ financial literacy. The most significant growth areas were:

  • budget knowledge
  • calculating interest rates
  • financial goal setting
  • debt management.

The increasing skill levels in using tools for financial management was shown by the growing number of students who received a bonus every week for reconciling their personal cashflow statements. Students said they felt more informed and in control of their financial position. For example, they knew if they needed/wanted to earn more income before rent day. However, students showed a clear lack of skill in calculating personal wealth. This identifies a very clear next step for us.

In both classes the number of ‘homeless’ students who were unable to pay monthly rent reduced from an average of six students each rent day to just one (in each room) on the final rent day of term three. It was interesting to note that the one ‘homeless’ person in the senior room had been away for five weeks of the term.

The real-life context for the learning of literacy and numeracy skills was probably the most crucial factor in the success of the trial. Students and parents saw what they were learning as intensely relevant to their lives now and in the future. Anecdotal conversations indicated there is a high level of feedback through students between home and school. Students discussed with their parents their goals and progress toward them on a frequent basis.

We have had excellent support from our wider community. Parents and businesses have been willing participants in the programme. All expressed the importance of the skills the children are developing using this system. Financial literacy has emerged as something our community values highly.

Lead teachers up-skilling in financial literacy during professional development was extremely useful in developing confidence in our own financial knowledge. The teachers involved loved teaching it – it was exciting and real.

The introduction of the revised NZ Curriculum provides us with opportunity to formalise the integration of personal financial education into our school curriculum. New curriculum survey returns reinforced the success of the trial when they stated that ‘The Economic System’ should be retained as an important part of our school curriculum. Student enthusiasm and interest in this system is extremely high, and dictates that it will be a continual and integral part of our programme. Students exuded an aura of financial confidence as a result of the trial. We plan to continue with our economic system in both classes indefinitely. To ensure the success of this we will implement planning structures linked to the financial capability progressions of skill/knowledge levels.

Resource recommendations

We found the following resources helpful:

Published on: 20 Jun 2017