Transforming the lives we touch

The most critical aspect of any organization is its people and what they make possible. Nothing wonderful happens without a creative, committed team.

This isn’t about overhead.  It’s about our heroic staff, creating amazing programs that transform the lives we touch – the teachers, students and parents.  It’s about committed Board members who provide leadership and advocate for our work.  It’s about our many supporters who provide the critical financial resources needed to bring ideas into reality. The end results of our efforts are the stories we tell.  It is about futures changed and the beating heart of our mission.

From Board member and former Stock Market Game participant Martin Cabrera, to award-winning teacher Larry Leck, to the national winning team from Neuqua Valley High School, Naperville, Econ Illinois has incredible stories about teachers and their students whose futures are being fueled with the best in economic and personal finance education.  And what makes it possible is the small, dedicated Econ Illinois staff team, along with our volunteer Board members and the continuous support of our donors, who allow the magic to happen.

If you are an Illinois educator, please allow us to help you touch lives by enrolling in our programs, or telling us what you need. Nothing wonderful happens without a creative, committed team – the people who are the change agents of our organization. We want to continue to help teachers make wonderful things happen in the classroom and in the lives of their students.

This article is taken from the June 29 issue of First Friday.

Financial Illiteracy: Educated Women Too?

The Council for Economic Education hosted industry leaders at their national headquarters to address an important, yet rarely discussed topic: that even highly educated women have low levels of financial literacy.

Flash Mob for Houston Money Week

Check out this flash mob, produced by the Houston Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank to help promote Houston Money Week.  The “mob” is from Texas Southern University.

Week In Review 3/23/12: The Hunger Games and company earnings

While many sports fans are glued to their TVs for March Madness, Wall Street’s focus lately has been on company earnings, as we are in the midst of earnings season. For the most part, the overall tone on Wall Street has been positive with a large number of companies topping estimates. FedEx reported better-than-expected earnings and sales. The company, seen as a proxy for the health of the broader economy, said it expects its “solid performance” to continue. General Mills also reported sales of $4.1 billion this week, and earnings per share of 55 cents. The food producer cited its international acquisition of Yoplait as a source of growth.

Two additional companies to keep an eye on include Lions Gate Entertainment and McDonald’s. With its release of the The Hunger Games movie, Lions Gate continues to draw attention as investors bet the company will benefit from the opening. McDonald’s is also in the news as its long-standing CEO, Jim Skinner, plans to retire at the end of June, ending a seven-year run at the helm, and 41 years with the company. Many analysts question “why now?” Is it a coincidence the company recently announced its first earnings disappointment under Skinner’s reign?

For those new to investing, quarterly earnings may be unfamiliar. At the most basic level, a quarterly earnings report is similar to a student’s report card except it’s for publicly traded companies. These reports, usually filed in January, April, July, and October, let shareholders know how well the company has performed over the past three months. It is important to note that not all companies report during earnings season because the exact date of an earnings release depends on when the given company’s quarter ends. As such, it is not uncommon to find companies reporting earnings between earnings seasons.

Included in most quarterly reports are net income, earnings per share, earnings from continuing operations, and net sales. Most often, the key metrics – net income and earnings per share, are compared to the previous year’s numbers. Analysts and investors then gauge the financial health of the company and whether or not to invest. Expect to see a lot of movement in the shares of companies releasing their earnings reports as the market reacts to the new data. It is not unheard of to see shares jump 20% or more or to see them fall by this same amount. One question you might ask yourself is whether you feel a quarterly earnings report will accurately predict the company’s future.

To help keep track of when a particular company reports its earnings, be sure to check out the helpful earnings calendar on Yahoo Finance. Click here to access it.

Week In Review 3/2/12: DOW, Bernanke, YELP, ZNGA and Seuss

(Week in Review is provided weekly to teachers registered in The Stock Market Game, connecting curricular content to current events.  Content of each issue is often of interest to any teacher of economics and personal finance.)

The end of February was a choppy time on Wall Street. Going into  trading on March 2, the Dow was down two points from the previous week’s close, but it hit 13,000 on Feb 28 for the first time since May 2008.  While the 13,000 level is not considered technically significant, it is a psychological milestone.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke also headed to Capitol Hill to give Congress his semi-annual report on the economy, and what he had to say wasn’t exactly rosy.  The job market remains “far from normal,” household income is flat and access to credit remains too tight for many people, he said. Meanwhile, rising gas prices are likely to reduce consumer buying power and the housing market remains a drag.

In Europe, efforts continue to bring the continent’s debt crisis under control.  At the end of a two-day meeting in Brussels, 25 of the 27 leaders in the European Union signed a so-called fiscal compact designed to prevent a future crisis by strengthening budget discipline.  The fiscal pact includes a “balanced budget rule” that requires governments to keep deficits below 0.5% of gross domestic product.  Those that break the rule will be subject to an “automatic correction mechanism,” which has yet to be defined.  The goal is to prevent a future crisis and foster economic growth by ensuring that governments do not spend beyond their means and rack up unsustainable debts, said European Council president Herman Van Rompuy at a signing ceremony.

To follow up last week’s Week in Review newsletter regarding IPOs,  students are probably familiar with Yelp, the online reviewer of restaurants, salons, and other businesses.  Yelp officially went public yesterday and raised $107.25 million while their $15/share price set their company valuation at nearly $900 million.  Its shares start trading today on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “YELP.”  See them ringing today’s opening bell on the NYSE here.  In terms of The Stock Market Game program, students should be able to start trading Yelp in the next week.

Another company that has been in the news quite frequently as of late and of which your students are probably fans is Zynga (ZNGA).  Its shares are on the move after the online game developer announced a new online platform,, which will allow users to play Zynga’s games like FarmVille and Words With Friends on its site and reduce the company’s dependence on Facebook.

And finally, happy birthday to Dr. Seuss who would have been 108 years old today.  What better way to celebrate his birthday than reading to a child.  The NEA’s Read Across America campaign celebration’s theme this year is being green and showcases Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.  The SIFMA Foundation also exposes SMG students to “green” investing through its project “Going Green” in the Teacher Support Center.  This project introduces students to the concept of “environmentally responsible investing” through activities based on The Lorax.  Students will examine how companies balance their need for raw material with their need to manage those same resources to insure future availability and supply.  It is accessible in the “Projects” section of the Teacher Support Center.

Written by Elizabeth Reidel, Vice President, National Director, The Stock Market Game program, SIFMA Foundation.

Groupthink dynamics – in the classroom?

I happened upon Cindy Ivanac-Lillig’s January 13 blog titled “Groupthink and Economics.” I got to thinking about how we encourage teachers to use The Stock Market Game program as a way to engage students in grades 4-12 in group skills – cooperation and decision-making. In the Challenges – Economics Challenge and Illinois Personal Finance Challenge – teams of four high school students arrive at collaborative decisions/answers following rounds of individual tests. In our Economics Poster Contest, students in grades 1-8 individually draw an accurate depiction of an economic concept without any focused group collaboration.

Cindy poses the idea of using “electronic brainstorming” – such as is done in social media like blogs and on Facebook – to aid in learning about economics.  What do you think? What works in your classroom? What works for you as an individual?

Week in Review 2/24/12: IPOs, Facebook

(Week in Review is provided weekly to teachers registered in The Stock Market Game, connecting curricular content to current events.  Content of each issue is often of interest to any teacher of economics and personal finance.)

While news of Linsanity and the continued financial troubles in Europe have dominated the headlines over the past month, students may be familiar with the IPO news about Facebook, the social networking site.  The company filed for an initial public offering on February 1st that could value the company between $75 and $100 billion, putting it on track for one of the biggest US stock market debuts of all time.  This makes Google’s valuation of $23 billion in 2004 seem like chump change.  Facebook would truly be in a league of its own as only Visa Inc., General Motors Co. and AT&T Wireless have had larger valuations than $10 billion.  Potential buyers got their first look at its financials Wednesday, which showed the company produced a $1 billion profit last year from $3.71 billion in revenues. The company derives 85% of those revenues from advertising, with the rest from social gaming and other fees.

One person who is set to make a fortune overnight from the IPO is David Choe, a graffiti artist who opted for stock options instead of payment in 2005 for covering the walls of the Facebook headquarters with spray-painted murals.  He stands to make around $200 million when the company officially goes public in May.  Check out an interesting NY Times feature on Choe here.

To help better explain the current events related to Facebook, it’s important for students to know the basics about an initial public offering (IPO).  One reason a company may decide to “go public” is because their product or service is in great demand, demand may outstrip the ability of banks and venture capitalists (who privately supply funding) to provide money for the company’s expansion to meet that demand.

Company management goes to investment bankers to negotiate an agreement to underwrite a stock offering known as an IPO. The investment bankers buy all the shares that will be offered to the public at a set price (primary market). In other words, they underwrite the IPO. The investment bankers then sell the stock to the general public (secondary market) in the hopes of making a profit.

In addition to finding underwriters, company management must register its stock with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) before “going public.” Generally, companies can offer two types of stock, common and preferred. Common stock entitles the owners (called stockholders or shareholders) to collect dividends, if the company declares them. It also entitles the owners to vote in company elections and decisions. Stockholders who purchase common stock share in most of a company’s profits and losses.

Stockholders who purchase preferred stock are usually guaranteed a dividend payment. This payment is made before any payments to common stock holders. If a company fails, preferred stock holders are repaid before common stock holders. Preferred stock holders do not share in most of a company’s profits or losses. Preferred stock holders also do not have any voting rights.

An important difference between common stock and preferred stock is that the price of the preferred stock tends to be more stable, changing little over time, than that of common stock.

Teachers of The Stock Market Game can review the IPO concept with students by incorporating the “Happy IPO” and “Sweet Stock” editions of the Stocktalk newsletter. Both issues explain what an IPO is and how the stock market helps companies raise money for their growth. Both editions can be found in the “Publications” section of the Teacher Support Center.

Spending, Seven Swans-a-Swimming and Teaching

If you braved the crowds and participated in the Black Friday spending frenzy last week, perhaps you noticed it was a bit more crowded this year.  According to ShopperTrak — the world’s largest provider of retail and mall foot-traffic counting services —Black Friday sales increased 6.6 percent over the same day last year.  This represents $11.40 billion in retail purchases and the biggest dollar amount ever spent during the day. Retail foot-traffic rose accordingly, increasing by 5.1 percent over Black Friday 2010.  But did they spend?  The National Federation of Retailers (NFR) reports retailers have a reason to smile.  Digging deep into their holiday budgets, the average holiday shopper spent $398.62 this past weekend, up from $365.34 last year.  Total spending reached an estimated $52.4 billion up from $45 billion last year.  As for Cyber Monday, which is the e-tailers version of Black Friday and the day that on-line retailers entice consumers to spend their holiday shopping dollars online, retailers have another reason to cheer.  Americans spent more than $1.3 billion making it the biggest shopping day in history and an increase of 22% over last year, according to comScore, a marketing research company that tracks Internet data.

In keeping with the holiday theme, the PNC Christmas Price Index has arrived and we’re confident your students will enjoy the interactive site  For the past 28 years, PNC Wealth Management has calculated the total cost of the items included in the popular Christmas tune “The Twelve Days of Christmas” if purchased at current prices.  This year your students can hop aboard an interactive train journey through a “winter wonderland” setting.  A sluggish economy coupled with weak demand has kept the PNC CPI to a moderate gain of 3.5 percent in the whimsical economic analysis.  The total prices of the items hit their peak of $24,263.18 which is $823.80 more than last year.  The price of the Seven Swans-a-Swimming, which typically provides the biggest swings from year to year in the PNC CPI, based on supply and demand, rose by 12.5 percent, almost double last year’s rise of 6.7 percent, to $6,300. That was the biggest dollar increase this year, up $700, a 12.5 percent boost.

To help students get the most from the Christmas Price Index, a project has been developed to support your teaching about saving and investing.  The PNC Christmas Price Index project is available directly on the PNC CPI web site,  Click “For Educators” along the bottom of the page.  Students also have the ability to explore the index and examine how the prices of each item have changed since the index’s inception in 1984.

We’d like to hear if you incorporate the topic of Holiday spending in your December teaching.

Written by Elizabeth Reidel, Northeast Regional Director, SIFMA Foundation for Investor Education

What price Christmas?

What if you bought all the items in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas?  How much would that cost?

What if you incorporated this idea into your teaching? What curricular skills would your students enhance? Teachers of all curriculum areas can access a lesson that brings excitement and interest as we slide into the chilly days (and nights!) of late fall.  We have all heard and seen the call to Holiday shopping!

PNC Wealth Management and the SIFMA Foundation are pleased to present the 2011 PNC Christmas Price Index Stock Market Game lessonThe Stock Market Game has partnered again with PNC to bring you the PNC Christmas Price Index (CPI).  The CPI is an index of the current costs of the items listed in the Twelve Days of Christmas song.  Begun 28 years ago, the PNC CPI is one of PNC’s most popular and anticipated economic reports, and a fun way to introduce economic trends to your students.

The PNC CPI lesson is especially well-suited to family and consumer sciences, language arts, math and economics.  It enhances research skills and can be used as a small group activity. Teachers do not have to be enrolled in The Stock Market Game to utilize this lesson.

Using concepts of ratio and rate to solve problems, extending the notation of number to the system of rational numbers, and developing understanding of statistical thinking are three of the national Common Core Standards in middle school math that students address in this lesson.

Both English and Spanish versions of the PNC Christmas Price Index Stock Market Game lesson are available in the Educators section of the 2011 PNC Christmas Price Index website:

Also, visit on November 28th to see how much that partridge and pear tree will cost this holiday season!  We’d enjoy hearing about how your students fared with approximating the 2011 Christmas Price Index!

Week in Review 11/03/11

(Week in Review is provided weekly to teachers registered in The Stock Market Game, connecting curricular content to current events.  Content of each issue is often of interest to any teacher of economics and personal finance.)

From the freak pre-Halloween snowstorm experienced by many on the East Coast to the continued issues in Oakland, it’s been a tumultuous week both on and off Wall Street.  The big news on the Street continues to revolve around the financial woes of struggling European countries, specifically Greece.  According to Reuters, Greece’s leaders are holding emergency meetings for discussions around Prime Minister George Papandreou’s potential resignation and to discuss a vote on the euro zone bailout.

The possibility that the country may exit the European Union and face a default has increased significantly.  The response by the markets has been choppy with news of the European Central Bank’s rate cut pushing stocks higher on Thursday morning.

[With market performance uncertain] this may be a good time to introduce students to dividend-paying stocks to ensure returns in a difficult market.  A dividend means that the company pays you a certain amount of money, either as a one-time payment or more commonly on a quarterly basis, for each share of stock you own.  Many times, dividends come at the expense of greater price appreciation, because the company is distributing its profits to shareholders rather than reinvesting the profits back into the growth of the company. However, companies that pay dividends can be very attractive to investors when they offer a steady stream of income.

For more information about dividends, please be sure to take a look at the “Dividend and Earnings” lesson under the Lesson Sequence section of the Teacher Support Center.

Written by Elizabeth Reidel, SIFMA Foundation


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