It takes a teacher to bring the real world into the classroom

Ben Thomas, a learning and digital pedagogy coordinator at Xavier High School in Albury, New South Wales, Australia, talks about his mortgage payments, tax returns, and mobile phone plans when he teaches math class. No, he’s not oversharing – he’s using his finances to explain money and economic concepts in a way that resonates with students and encourages them to take part in the conversation. We spoke to Ben to learn more about his philosophy on getting students excited about connections between what they learn, and the real world.

It takes a teacher to create a classroom that students want to be in

Ben teaches math, information technology and software design to students in grades 7-12 at the Catholic high school. With a deep desire to help young people reach their potential, teaching has always been his calling. “I considered becoming an engineer, but the thought of sitting in an office all day didn’t appeal to me,” says Ben. “Now I get to engage with students every day.”

In every lesson, Ben’s goal is to create relatable moments with students. He offers personal stories to explain concepts better than traditional lessons would. To illustrate how interest rates work, he tells students about his own mortgage and how paying it down faster helps his family save money. He’ll also tell them about the value of taking deductions on a tax return, and why it’s smart financial planning to track expenses that can become tax writeoffs.

“It’s about making your classroom a place they want to be,” Ben says.“You can see the level of engagement increase when we talk about real-world stories.” In a recent lesson, he asked each student to find out if their mobile phone plan was a good deal. By encouraging the class to compare phone plans and calculate how much data they used, Ben sparked a discussion about saving money and being smart consumers.

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