The National Debt--Time to Collect?

The National Debt--Time to Collect?
Laura Bush: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: Three to four class periods


Standards Compliance
NCSS Strand 2
Time, Continuity, and Change
NCSS Strand 6
Power, Authority, and Governance
NCSS Strand 10
Civic Ideals and Practices
NCTE Standard 1
Students read fiction, nonfiction, classic, and contemporary works to acquire information for various purposes.
NCTE Standard 4
Students adjust the use of spoken, written, and visual language to communicate with different audiences and purposes.
NCTE Standard 8
Students use a variety of technology and information resources to gather, synthesize, and communicate knowledge.
ISTE Standard 3
Technology productivity tools
ISTE Standard 4
Technology communications tools
ISTE Standard 5
Technology research tools

Introduction:

The current national debt has been increasing at what some believe to be an alarming rate—faster than it ever has in the history of our nation.  Right now, the national debt is about $8 trillion dollars.  How much is a trillion?  For that matter, how much is a million? (See below!)

Objectives:

The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the idea (and reality!) of the national debt, and to give them an opportunity to work collaboratively in suggesting solutions that will help to pay off the debt.

Materials Required:

Computer with Internet access.  Paper and pencils.

Procedures:

1.  Ask students if they get an allowance, or if they receive money from their parents, for their birthdays, or for other holidays from time to time, or if they sometimes earn money.
 
2.  Ask students to assume that they have received $20.00.  Out of this $20.00, they must allocate funds to the following items:

  • Snacks or gum or candy
  • Entertainment (movies, CDs, videos, games)
  • Gifts (for family birthdays, etc.)
  • Toys (or other items they want, but do not need)
  • Other?

3.  How much of the $20.00 would they allocate to each item?  This list would be their budget.
 
4.  Ask students to share their budgets.

5.  Now suggest to students that, because of the high price of gasoline, their income (from whatever sources) is going to be reduced by 10% ($2.00 of their $20.00).  Have students re-calculate their original budget.
 
6.  Engage students in a class discussion about their budgets and how the income reduction affected them and their future plans. Then suggest to students that the classroom has a fund where students can borrow funds if necessary.  Ask how many students wish to borrow money to meet their budgets.  Ask how they intend to pay back the loan.
 
7.  Explain to students that the national debt is the amount of money that the federal government needs to “pay back” because it has borrowed money to maintain its budget.
 
8.  Divide students into five groups, and assign each group the task of researching the following questions, using the websites listed below: 

  • What is the national debt?
  • How much is a Trillion? (give examples)
  • What has happened to the national debt since 1900?
  • How is the federal budget defined?
  • Where does federal revenue come from and where does it go?
9.  Discuss with the group possible solutions to paying off the national debt.  Draw a link between their own re-calculations of their budget and re-calculating expenditures in the federal budget.  Explore with students the actual federal budget, using the graph outlining the actual federal budget expenditures.  When students understand where the money currently goes, ask them where they would make cuts to balance the budget.
 
10.  Evaluate their understanding by having them write individual proposals (short) for balancing the budget.
 

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by creating an on-paper-only bank in the classroom, appointing students as officers of the bank, and carrying on a savings and loan program with students for things they would like to have in the classroom.  Propose possible sources of income, and rates of interest for loans.  See how it works! 

Sources & Resources:

Websites:

How Much is a Million?
 
What is the National Debt?

History of the National Debt (20th century)

The National Debt Clock

What Is the Budget?

Where the Money Comes From and Where It Goes

The Actual Federal Budget

A WebQuest Concerning the National Debt (background for teachers, or students if the teacher wishes to use the WebQuest)

Credits:

This lesson was developed by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University.