Here is a copy of my 1st Year February exam. This was my first attempt at setting a 'significant' exam for this course and students had 90 minutes to complete the assessment. It was a real challenge to work out both the content and the timing and I had to reassure students that I would bear that in mind when correcting their work. The fact that it was a common level exam for a mixed ability class added to my difficulties and there is always a balance to be drawn between challenging the most able students, while also being fair those with less ability. That balance applies not only to the content, but also to the timing of the assessment. In the end I added a crossword to the exam and told students to attempt this activity only after all other questions had been completed. I took the crossword from the student activity book, but have not included it here.
At this point I can say that most students completed all questions and activities in the 90 minute timeframe. A few students did not get the crossword completed, so I did not include that when scoring the assessment. All in all, the material included here could be completed by most students in 60 minutes.
I tried to create an assessment which had a 'storyline' running through it... though on reflection, maybe this worked against students with poor literacy skills? I also attempted to assess a range of knowledge, understanding, skill and values.
As I said at the outset, this was my first attempt, I'm sure there are improvements to be made in the future, but as with everything associated with this new specification it's a work in progress. I hope by sharing it with teachers it will provide you with some food for thought.
Click here to download a copy of the test
Co-author of Time for Business Joe Stafford teaches Junior Cycle Business Studies in a mixed ability setting in a co-educational school with four 40 minute classes per week. He is currently sharing his experiences of teaching the new Junior Cycle Business Studies specification for the first time.
LEARNING OUTCOME 1.12:
Prepare and analyse a budget, determine the financial position, recommend appropriate action and present the analysis in tabular and graphic formats.
In our view the following are the key ideas and messages for this topic:
Having studied Household Budgeting (Learning Outcome 1.12) and Analysed Cash Books I deviated a little from the scheme of work outlined in the Teacher Resource Book.
I had always felt that the ‘personal financial lifecycle’ (see Time for Business Chapter 4 and LO 1.3) represented something of a capstone element for Strand 1. To me at least, it seemed more appropriate to provide students with a detailed insight into to each of the individual elements (budgeting, taxation, pensions, insurance etc.) before finally connecting all of them at the end through the creation of a realistic and comprehensive personal financial life cycle.
During most of the writing process for the textbook, this had been my intention and approach but I later decided to reorder the chapters so as to follow the Learning Outcomes’s (LO's) more sequentially. It should be pointed out that there is absolutely no requirement to follow the chapters, or indeed the LO’s, in any specific order. Having said that, there are clearly some concepts that are more fundamental than others and also some related chapters that make up distinct ‘units of learning’.
As I reviewed the material again in preparation for my class, I began to feel that my initial instincts had been valid and in some sense this LO was misplaced. It strengthened my conviction to deal with each element in turn before tying the whole lot up with the life cycle later in the year. At the same time I still wanted to reinforce the idea of making plans to suit changing personal circumstances and aspirations (see household budgeting), so I spent just one class outlining the concept of a personal financial life cycle to students.
I really just used the infographic on page 30 of TFB textbook to start a discussion on changing financial needs. I put the diagram on the whiteboard and we had a ‘chat’ about what it meant. We also looked at the case studies for Emily and Priyal on page 33 of TFB textbook. The students contributed really well to this discussion although their knowledge and understanding was superficial in some areas. Overall though they really seemed to grasp the basic premise that financial needs change over time and planning should reflect those changes. We did not however get into any detailed discussion of issues like taxation, insurance or pension planning.
If the intention of the new specification is to “meet the students where they are”, it was clear to me that some of them at least were not quite at a stage where pension planning or taxation was on their radar. I only spent a single 40 minute class on this topic. I will return to it at a later date, having completed the chapters on household finance, insurance and taxation. I feel students will have a better understanding of the issues at that point and should be in a better position to prepare a realistic personal financial life cycle.
Immediately after the section on household budgeting we tackled Chapter 6 which deals with recording income and expenditure in the analysed cash book. The most relevant Learning Outcome here is 1.13: Monitor and calculate income and expenditure data, determine the financial position, recommend appropriate action and present the analysis in tabular and graphic formats.
Once again this is a topic which is very familiar to teachers of the ‘previous’ Junior Cert curriculum and I didn’t approach or teach it any differently than I had done in the past. I emphasised the difference between the PLAN of what was expected to happen (household budget) and the RECORD of what actually occurred (Analysed Cash Book).
At the outset at least this is very much a ‘teacher led’ topic as students need to be made aware of the basic rules, layout and procedures involved in recording financial information. Once they had a good grasp of these issues I spent a lot of time checking student work. At this stage the emphasis changes to a ‘learning by doing’ approach and the students had a lot of opportunities to practise their technique. As I observed student work I was focusing on their ability to correctly apply the book keeping rules as well as emphasising the need for neat and presentable work.
Inevitably the ‘balancing’ and ‘totalling’ tasks proved to be the most problematic for students. We worked through all of the questions in the Student Activity Book and I got students to complete many of them in Record Book 1. While I am aware that some other textbooks don’t seem to be promoting the use of Record Books for book keeping, when writing 'Time for Business' we have taken the view that this is a useful ability for students to acquire, especially if they are likely to keep personal financial records or go on to study accounting.
We completed this unit of learning by combining the material in chapters 5 and 6 and looked at budget comparison statements (chapter 7). The focus here was on analysing outcomes, identifying deviations from the plan and using the analysis to inform future planning.
It remains to be seen whether this is a specific requirement for the new JC specification but we felt that this approach helped students to appreciate the difference between financial planning and record keeping. Perhaps more importantly it enabled them to see planning as one step in a process (see financial control cycle diagram on p59 of TFB textbook) and understand that just making budgets is not enough. Plans need to be checked and evaluated against expectations and actual outcomes. The idea is to get students to reflect on the differences; figure out why they happened and how they can be avoided in the future. All in all this is the essence of effective financial planning, and to my mind, goes to the very heart of LO’s 1.12 and 1.13.
Chapter 5: Household Budgets
Having completed the previous chapters on household income and expenditure I decided to move straight to the section on household budgeting. It just seemed more logical to tackle the chapters in this order…or maybe it was just force of habit.
Learning Outcome 1.12 appears the most relevant here: “prepare and analyse a budget, determine the financial position, recommend appropriate action and present the analysis in tabular and graphic formats." (See the separate blog on LO. 1.12 for further discussion of this topic)
For those who’ve been teaching the previous, pre-2016 Business Studies syllabus, there is plenty of familiar material here, but the new specification has a distinct change of emphasis when it comes to the topic of household budgeting. While the ability to prepare a budget is an important skill, there seems to be a much greater focus on analysis and interpretation of the financial plan. A capacity to critically analyse and ‘make sense of’ the figures is much more in keeping with the spirit of the new specification. The references to ‘determining the financial position’ and ‘recommending appropriate action” provide strong and obvious clues to the shift in emphasis. There is also a requirement to use appropriate tables and/or charts to illustrate key patterns and findings and this is certainly a new departure from the more numerate approach of old.
I began by sticking to the ‘old stuff’ and consolidating the material from previous income and expenditure chapters. Students again seemed to enjoy the ‘doing’ and ‘calculating’ part of this topic and most were soon able to complete the question templates with both speed and accuracy. The Student Activity Book (SAB) provided plenty of questions for students to practise and develop their skills. As ever, the final three lines of the ‘traditional’ household budget cause a few problems... both with understanding and with application, but a step-by step walk-through of one question resolved most issues. Further practice and a handful of one-to-one explanations helped clear up the rest.
I made a point of focusing on the ‘budget outcomes’ for each activity. After a few unsuccessful and ‘experimental ad lib’ attempts in class (that’s code for winging it!), I retrospectively generated a worksheet to guide student thinking for budget analysis. In hindsight it might have been helpful to include this in the SAB or Teacher Resource Book (TRB), but the need wasn’t as obvious at time of writing and really only became more apparent as students began to engage with the material. I suppose that reflects a major benefit of being both an author and a practicing teacher and having learned from the experience I am at least in a position to pass on my insight.
When analysing the household budgets I used the worksheet to focus student thinking on the key issues and insisted that they provide evidence to support all of their answers. A copy of this worksheet is available to download at the end of this post.
We next tackled some revised budget questions. We made a decision to include these in the book because they reflect the dynamic nature of household financial planning. They enable students to clearly see the need to adapt household planning in order to produce a budget which is appropriate to the changing financial circumstances of a household. Similar thinking can be applied to the inclusion of budget comparison statements which again reflects the link between planning and the financial reality facing a household. In the context of the learning outcome, having analysed the financial position and found the budget to be unrealistic the recommended course of action must surely be to prepare a revised budget which is more in keeping with the households financial circumstances.
Introducing a digital element…
In the past I would never have used ICT to teach this topic; let’s face it, there was never any need or encouragement to… but this new specification sometimes requires, and often promotes the use of digital elements. So, I took the class to the computer room for two forty minute periods. I prepared for the class by pre-saving a blank budget template in the dropbox on the school server. I used the Morgan budget on page 36 of the SAB. All students were able to access this file and I showed them how to enter data and to create formulas in order to calculate totals, net cash, opening cash and closing cash etc. Most students were excellent at this and I really was pleasantly surprised as how quickly they mastered the technology (only two had used Microsoft Excel previously). Many students were able to work ahead of my explanations, which I delivered via digital projector, and this allowed me to engage in small group work with the remainder. By the end of the classes all students were capable of correctly completing a digital version of the Morgan and El Masri budgets. Had time (and computer room access) allowed I would certainly have availed of this technology to help with the section on revised budgets. The fact that the digital version updates all the calculations whenever a number is changed makes it ideal for revised budgets, but at least students were able to engage with the technology and appreciate its benefits. I will definitely make more use of this approach when teaching this topic next time round.
* I am aware that there is a digital resource which can be used to generate pie charts from a given set of figures. It was developed for use with an Edco maths book. I had an opportunity to try it out while writing the textbook. I will enquire again about having it added to our digital resources. There may also be some free resources available online.
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