Cromwell Valley Elementary
Baltimore County Public Schools
Flo Falatko sees financial literacy as an important part of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) education. And in her classroom at Cromwell Valley Elementary School in Baltimore County, she makes sure it is - by working with MCEE to deliver financial literacy lessons, hands-on experiences, and programs in ways that stick, simulate real-world economics, and are fun for students.
“I love the energy from the students! Learning from and with them, and giving them a voice is extremely important to me,” said Falatko. “I thoroughly enjoy that aspect of teaching - and it shines through in financial literacy.”
For 20 years, Flo has been guiding K-5th grade students as a STEAM Resource Teacher - working with every student and teacher in the school. No matter the subject Flo is teaching, she finds ways to bring financial literacy into learning. If students are doing science projects on sending food pods to the moon, Flo makes sure they consider the pricing and budget for their materials. If book reports are in the lesson plan, Flo works with MCEE to find compelling stories (dubbed tradebooks) and lessons that reinforce financial concepts.
Flo uses many of MCEE’s resources in her work. She supports educators as they offer the Stock Market Game to 140 Cromwell Valley students a year, and identifies MCEE-produced lessons they can incorporate in their plans, from topical books to informative case studies. Flo often brainstorms with MCEE staff about explaining economic concepts to different age groups, what to cover in emerging economic theories, and more.
“Whenever I have an idea, I bounce it off MCEE. They are incredibly responsive and passionate about making it a reality. And in the process, they provide a community of teachers to talk with, share ideas, and explore lessons learned. It’s such an important resource. Sometimes, I simply go to their website, search by grade level, and find books and resources to consider.”
Last year, one of Flo’s fourth grade teacher colleagues expressed interest in preparing students for the Stock Market Game, which is tailored to students in grades five and above. Flo came to MCEE for ideas on how to accommodate the younger class. “MCEE was so supportive in providing lesson connections,” she explained. “Anything that’s helping to further the financial education of our students; MCEE is there to help make it a reality.”
Flo’s commitment to financial literacy stems from her experiences growing up without the guidance she now delivers to students. “Simply put, I feel that if I had had the financial education I needed, I wouldn’t have experienced the financial challenges I overcame,” she explained. “Our students and families need to be met wherever they are, and that’s what we're trying to do.” In doing so, Flo brings a unique perspective on how financial literacy can enhance a variety of subjects, from social studies and English to science and, of particular focus for her, math.
“I use financial literacy as a tool to teach students math skills like place value, ratios, positive and negative integers, and percentages. There are so many in-roads to financial principles. It’s an organic way for students to learn math concepts without realizing they are learning math concepts!” Along the way, students learn budgeting, the stock market, risk calculation, and interest rates.
Through this focus on economic education, students are also building foundational skills like collaboration, cooperation, critical thinking, forecasting, and problem solving. They’re paying attention to current events and bringing what they learn back to the classroom - asking Flo and one another if or how news of war or elections might impact economic markets. The classes learn together, explore together, and build 21st century skills they need to be successful.
“I think teachers sometimes are hesitant to admit they don’t know something, especially with financial literacy,” said Flo. “They may say ‘I should know this’ but the truth is, you shouldn’t know everything. Embrace collective learning, never underestimate student interest, and pick up the phone to collaborate with MCEE around these powerful, impactful ideas!”