Monash University
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Connecting social and mathematical thinking: Using financial dilemmas to explore children's financial problem-solving and decision-making

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posted on 2017-02-23, 03:59 authored by Sawatzki, Carly Miranda
This thesis tells the story of a research project incorporating parent, teacher, and student voices. The topic in focus is financial literacy teaching and learning. Since many financial tasks involve some mathematics, those who are numerate are likely to be more financially literate. In Australia, the close relationship between financial literacy and mathematics is represented in the Australian Curriculum with “Money and financial mathematics” to be taught as part of the school mathematics curriculum, and practical applications of numeracy to feature in other disciplines where financial literacy topics are identified. Despite this clear positioning in the curriculum, financial literacy teaching and learning is complex for a range of reasons, not least of which being that, like other literacies, it is socially constructed and situated. Consumer, economic, and financial socialisation research together with behavioural economics research build a compelling case that human financial behaviour may depend as much on intrinsic psychological attributes and social understandings learned at home as knowledge and skills acquired at school. Drawing on both constructivist and sociocultural perspectives, the current research project sought to explore the understandings about money 10-12 year olds bring to school from home, and develop, trial, study, and refine an educational intervention designed to enhance financial literacy teaching and learning. An elaboration of Ajzen’s (1991) theory of planned behaviour was the theoretical framework underpinning this work. The theory of planned behaviour argues that attitudes, subjective norms (expectations), and perceived behavioural control (self-efficacy) have a direct effect on intentions and an indirect effect on behaviour through intentions. However, values also seem to be important to the formation and development of attitudinal and behavioural tendencies, and so were included for consideration as part of the elaborated model. An extensive range of data was collected and analysed over a 12-month period. Initially, interviews were conducted with the Acting Principal, two Year 5/6 teachers, eight parents, and their Year 6 students in a Victorian government school. This research produced stories of within-family financial literacy teaching and learning, including eight case studies that highlight the similarities and differences in understandings about money 10-12 year olds bring to school from home. These insights guided and informed the development and design of an educational intervention. The educational intervention consisted of five financial dilemmas and associated pedagogies. The financial dilemmas were essentially open-ended mathematical problems involving financial contexts drawn from “real life” situations that 10-12 year old children might be familiar with and/or interested in and/or able to imagine. Each financial dilemma formed the basis of a single mathematics lesson. The financial dilemmas required students to draw on both social and mathematical understandings simultaneously and in synergy, involved multiple solutions, and invited students to share and explain their reasoning. An important goal of the educational intervention was to strengthen students’ disposition to connect social and mathematical thinking as part of their financial problem-solving, the assumption being that doing so will likely contribute to informed financial decision-making. Subsequently, more than 35 Year 5 and 6 teachers and more than 850 of their students used the educational intervention. The sample included participants from a range of Government, Catholic, metropolitan, and regional primary schools in Victoria, Australia. The findings confirm the potential of and merit in the financial dilemmas and associated pedagogies to enhance financial literacy teaching and learning by: engaging a wide range of students in everyday applications of mathematics; building students’ capacity to connect social and mathematical thinking; and orienting students to seek out and consider multiple alternative options. In these ways, the educational intervention prepares students to be active and critical problem-solvers who make informed financial decisions in the future. However, the findings also highlight the challenges and complexities associated with creating and/or selecting “real life” contexts that are meaningful to students given their family backgrounds, characteristics, and interests. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” mathematical problem, so the extent to which teachers know and understand their students can be pivotal. Two recommendations to improve financial literacy teaching and learning in schools are made. The first is that financial literacy educational programs should align with and extend upon what children are learning about money at home. The second recommendation is that teachers need quality, research-based professional learning opportunities to guide and inform their approach to financial literacy education. The thesis closes by identifying opportunities for further research.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Peter Sullivan

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education