Problem-Based Learning: Saving for Retirement

Educator utilizes problem-based learning to facilitate student exploration of the challenges to saving for retirement
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About this Micro-credential

Apply for a micro-credential before December 22nd, 2017 for a $75 Amazon gift card!*

*Offer valid until 12/22/2017. To receive a gift card, participant must complete all portions of the micro-credential application including the optional survey. Gift cards will be awarded in the form of Amazon eGift Cards emailed to the account specified by the participant. Each participant can receive maximum one gift card. GFLEC reserves the right to withdraw this offer at any time.

Key Method

The educator utilizes a problem-based learning approach to increase student engagement and motivate students to propose solutions to the real-world challenges of saving for retirement.

Method Components

What is problem-based learning?

  • Problem-based learning is a type of authentic instruction in which teachers act as facilitators to help guide students through student-centered lessons. These inquiry based lessons use “real world” problems to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, while learning valuable content. Students can use this method of learning to explore how to plan for retirement.
  • The achievement of long-term retention makes problem-based learning useful for financial literacy content and skills, since retirement planning is a long-term activity. By using the problem-based learning approach, students can explore the impact of beginning the retirement saving process at multiple points in their lives by employing retirement saving strategies.

Components of problem-based learning

  • A loosely structured case or prompt embedded with links to desired learning content.
  • Student-centered learning.
  • Small group cooperative learning.

Components of problem-based learning for retirement savings strategies

There are multiple retirement savings strategies an educator can use to engage students in PBL for saving for retirement (see Resources section). All strategies used should, at a minimum, speak to:

  • Contributing toward retirement as early as possible to take advantage of compounding
  • Taking full advantage of employer match opportunities, and
  • Making retirement savings contributions automatic.

Suggested Implementation:

  1. Divide the classroom into three groups:
    • Beginning the process of saving for retirement at age 22, concluding at age 60.
    • Beginning the process of saving for retirement at age 32, concluding at age 60.
    • Beginning the process of saving for retirement at age 42, concluding at age 60.
  2. Introduce a problem, such as each group needs to accumulate $1.5 million in retirement savings by age 60. Assuming a market average of 7% and a retirement age of 60, how much is necessary to contribute annually and what strategies can the investor employ?
  3. Introduce students to a retirement savings calculator, and resources that illustrate investment strategies such as paying yourself first and match-based contributions.
  4. Students calculate how much is necessary to contribute annually toward retirement and review investment strategies that can aid in the process.
  5. Through classroom discussion, each group shares its findings and discusses strategies that aid in the retirement savings process.

Research & Resources

Supporting Research

  • Wang, HsingChi A., Patricia Thompson, and Charles Shuler. “Essential Components of Problem-Based Learning for the K-12 Inquiry Science Instruction.” Web. 24 Mar. 2016. The paper offers the essential components of PBL [pg. 3] and an explanation of how scenarios are integrated into PBL’s.


  • Short article with links to research exhibiting behavior based retirement savings strategies:
    • Page, Brian. “Take Action for America Saves Week: Utilize Direct Deposits.” Take Action for America Saves Week: Utilize Direct Deposits. America Saves, 27 Feb. 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

Submission Requirements

Submission Guidelines & Evaluation Criteria

The items in this following section detail what must be submitted for evaluation. To earn the micro-credential, you must receive a passing evaluation for Parts 1, 3, and 4, and a “Yes” for the artifact submitted for Part 2.

Part 1. Overview Questions

(200-word limit):

  • How did you introduce the prompt and resources for students to address the problem? Were any considerations made when you grouped your students?

Part 2. Work Examples/Artifacts

Submit one example of student work exhibiting recommended retirement savings strategies. Student work can include notes students used to prepare for the classroom discussion.

Part 3. Student Reflection

Provide two written reflections from students who participated in the activity. Use the following questions as guidance (200-word limit):

  • What was your assigned problem? How did your teacher facilitate your work while you were divided into groups? Did you feel as if the group stayed on task and discussions were student-led? At the conclusion of the lesson, did you feel motivated to use at least some of the retirement savings strategies in your near future? Which retirement savings strategies are you motivated to use and why?

Part 4. Teacher Reflection

Provide a reflection of what you learned, using the following questions as guidance (200-word limit):

  • How did your use of problem-based learning lead students to recognize the importance of beginning the retirement savings process as early in life as possible?
  • As students were working in groups, what open-ended questions did you ask to redirect or direct students to discover additional effective retirement savings strategies?

Part 5. Survey (Optional)

Please answer a brief survey about your experience teaching personal finance. Your responses will:

  • help us understand barriers personal finance teachers face;
  • and help us improve the resources being offered to personal finance educators

We appreciate your help.

Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under:
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


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