Real Life Challenge

A career and budget unit for 8th grade students

Real Life Challenge Project Overview
Project Activities and Worksheets
Extension Lessons

Real Life Challenge Project Overview

During my Real Life Challenge project (a unit in my Health class), 7th grade students “experience” life from an adult's point-of-view. Students are required to choose a career, develop a monthly budget based on their annual salary, gain money management skills, study consumer education topics, and experience the challenges of parenting.

Although my project simulates life challenges over a six month period, I schedule project days over a six week period. Each new week represents a new month for the Real Life Challenge. Month 1, consisting of choosing a career and developing a budget, usually requires three to four class periods - one for Internet research and others for completing a proof page, the Month 1 budget, and the career lesson. Months 2 through 6 require one class period each week to complete the assignment (see assignments descriptions and Worksheets) and develop monthly budgets. I schedule two class periods at the end of the project to complete the Final Analysis worksheet to evaluate their "real life" skills. View the Table of Contents (pdf) for a listing of unit activities.

In addition to budgeted costs, my students face a number of challenges throughout the unit. Each month students draw a Life Card (pdf). Students must begin making payments on their educational costs starting in Month 3. During the fourth month, students "adopt" a water balloon baby and are required to add child costs (baby-sitting, food, clothing, and other expenses) to their budgets (average $500 - $600 per month.)

Students organize all the project papers (career information, monthly assignments, monthly budgets, and the Final Analysis) in a Challenge Portfolio. The cover of their portfolio (see Portfolio Cover Page (pdf)) must be decorated with their career ad from Month 1. The portfolios are used to calculate unit grades for the Real Life Challenge. I also provide a "monthly" grade worth 10 points per week. Students lose points for not having the activity or budget completed on time.

Also available -Real Life Challenge Grade Rubric (pdf)

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Project Activities and Worksheets

Career Lessons (Introduction) (Requires 2-3 class periods)

Name That Career - This activity, based on the twenty questions format, challenges students to identify a variety of career choices. I use clothespins to attach one career card to the back of each student. The students try to identify the "mystery career" by asking their classmates questions about the card on their backs. They are allowed to ask only those questions that would require a yes or no answer.
Lesson Cards -
Career Cards (pdf)

Career Clusters - Have your students work in small groups to classify the careers listed on the Name That Career cards. Teams should be able to divide the careers into 5 - 6 groups. Discuss skills needed for each career area, education requirements, and job descriptions. Use the information to create a class display including the classification results, summary of discussion topics, and a salary list. As an extension, challenge students to search local/regional newspapers to find articles or references to the careers in the class list.

Also available ... Career Puzzle (pdf) - Word find related to careers!


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Month 1 Activity (Requires 3-4 class periods)

Career Ad - Students complete an Interest Survey (see websites for Careers & Money on the the Kid Zone Archive document) to determine careers that match their interests or skills. They use websites and other resource material to research their career and complete the information sheet. This information is used to create an advertisement to share their career choice with their classmates. The students glue or tape the career ad to the front of their Real Life Challenge portfolio.
Salary Note: After the students have chosen a career, I provide the amount of their annual salary. In order to make the unit challenging, salaries must be based on a standard "starting wage" or "entry wage" for our area. For example, a doctor's salary would be based on the amount a resident would earn. I do not allow students to choose careers in professional sports, acting, modeling, etc. The reason behind this rule is that they may need a career option if their original plan does not materialize.

Proof Page - Students must provide proof for all costs. Advertisements for apartments and automobiles, along with reasonable estimates for other costs, must be provided on the worksheet. Each student is required to save at least 10% of their salary over the 6 month period. Adjustments to their budget may be made at any time during the project, but must be approved by me! Students are amazed at the amount of their money they "lose" to taxes, social security, and other costs. At first, their monthly salary may seem like a lot of money, but the students quickly realize how fast it disappears as they "buy" new cars, select fancy apartments, and decide if they want extra expenses such as cable, computers, and cell phones.
Extra Income - I do allow students to arrange part-time employment or overtime if they prove a need, i.e. they have reduced costs, eliminated unnecessary costs, etc. I usually do not approve requests for additional funds until Months 5 and 6.
Auto Loan Costs - My students use the Auto Loan Calculator (see websites for Careers & Money on the the Kid Zone Archive document) to calculate the amount of their car loan payment. They are also required to add $50 for insurance and budget money for gas ($30 - $50).

Challenge Worksheets: Proof Page (pdf), Career Information Page (pdf), and Month 1 Budget (pdf)


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Month 2 Activity (Requires 1 class period)

Best Buys - During this lesson students learn to calculate unit prices and sale prices to determine the "best buys".

Challenge Worksheets: Best Buys (pdf) and Month 2 Budget (pdf)


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Month 3 Activity (Requires 1 class period)

Amazing Ads - The first part of the lesson challenges students to identify various products based on advertising slogans. Once they have completed the first part, students must classify the ads into various categories based on the strategies the advertisers use to sell their products. As an extension, challenge students to create a new product and design an ad to sell the product to their classmates.

Challenge Worksheets: Amazing Ads (pdf) and Month 3 Budget (pdf)


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Month 4 Activity (Requires 1 class period)

What A Beautiful Baby! - During this lesson, students "adopt" a water balloon baby (see note below) and determine the costs for caring for their child for one month. From child care to diapers, students determine the amount they need to budget which averages between $500 - 600 per month. Students are expected to bring their children to the "Baby Barn" (my room) each morning and take it home each night for a period of two weeks. Points are deducted for forgetting the child at home or at school or failing to keep the child safe. In the case of a broken water balloon, "babies" may receive a skin transplant - a new balloon - as long as the student brings in the pieces from the old "baby." I do not deduct points for skin transplants as long as the break was not due to poor parenting.

NOTE: To make the "babies", I fill pink and blue balloons (helium quality) with water and tie a pink or blue ribbon to the top of each one. Each student chooses a baby from an official "Baby Box" and completes the adoption certificate on the activity page. Students use permanent markers to draw faces on their babies and provide baskets to carry the babies to/from school. I am always amazed at how spoiled these little babies become with baskets filled with baby toys, pacifiers, and blankets. I worried in the beginning about how my students would react to having to carry a water balloon baby around with them for two weeks. They love it! Not only do the learn a great deal about responsibility by having to bring the babies to school each day, they take great care to protect their children from harm. I also warn my students to keep their "babies" away from small children and pets.

Challenge Worksheets:
What A Beautiful Baby! (pdf) and
Month 4 Budget (pdf)
My students found cute costumes to dress up their babies! The kids also decorate the baby baskets with a variety of toys and ribbons!


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Month 5 Activity (Requires 1 class period)

Parenting Challenges - Students must determine how they would deal with various parenting situations. From a younger child who refuses to eat green foods to a teenager with failing grades, students have the opportunity to explore some of the issues facing parents today.

Challenge Worksheets: Parenting Challenges (pdf) and Month 5 Budget (pdf)


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Month 6 Activity (Requires 1 class period)

Large and In Charge - Students brainstorm a list of traits or skills needed for their career. Students share ideas to create a "Top 10" list to highlight those skills or traits they feel are most important to employers.

Challenge Worksheets: Large & In Charge (pdf) and Month 6 Budget (pdf)


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End-of-Unit Activity (Requires 2 class periods)

Final Analysis - Students complete the Final Analysis worksheet to analyze their budgets and efforts during the project. From a balanced budget to evaluating their money skills, students have a chance to reflect on their efforts during all phases of the Real Life Challenge project.

Challenge Worksheet: Final Analysis (pdf)

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Extension Ideas

Real Life Challenge Project - In addition to the monthly lessons and budgets, my students are required to complete a Real Life Challenge Project.
Lesson Worksheet:
Real Life Challenge Project (pdf)

Give Me Credit - Discuss the pros and cons of credit, such as hidden costs of credit cards, interest rates, annual fees, late payment fees, and cash advances. Schedule a visit to a bank (or have a banker come to your class) to answer questions about credit reports and using credit wisely.
Lesson Worksheet:
Give Me Credit (pdf)

Important Investments - Allow the students a chance to "invest" some of their savings in the stock market, CDs, or other investment options. If you have a local broker, invite them to share their expertise in making good stock picks, costs of investing, and how to interpret newspaper reports. Several online stock market sites are available to allow your students to keep an eye on their money and track their progress over a period of several weeks (or months, if possible.)

Money Doesn't Grow on Trees - Allow students time to answer the following question. "If you had $1000 to spend, what would you do with the money?" Discuss their responses as a class to highlight those students making wise consumer choices. Some students will realize how quickly it takes to spend the money, while others will make wise choices to make their hard earned dollars stretch as far as possible.

Communication Smarts - Effective communication skills are a must in today's work force. Provide opportunities for students to develop communication skills and explore their career choices through a variety of projects, such as:
1. Give an oral presentation on their career choice.
2. Write a resume based on the skills/experience they will have at the time they enter the work force.
3. Mock job interviews (conducted by peers or community members).
4. Conduct interviews of "real people" in the career of their choice.
5. Write letters to request information on selected careers.
6. Write a story (or make a computer presentation) to share the "behind the scenes" view of their career.
7. Provide opportunities for students to share their knowledge with younger students (personal visits, children's books, coloring pages, etc.)
8. Host a Career Fair utilizing your students as presenters. If possible, team the student with "real people" for the event - a great way to share ideas and reinforce relationships after job shadowing experiences.
9. Plan a Career Day for your school. Require students to create an outfit that will communicate their career choice through the use of uniforms, tools, or other visual aids.


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The Science Spot was developed in March 1999 by Tracy Tomm Science Teacher @ Havana Junior High, Havana, IL.  Activities, lessons, & worksheets available on any page of this web site are intended for use by a single teacher in his/her classroom or to share at educational conferences.  Reproduction for commercial use or profit is not permitted without the consent of Tracy (Trimpe) Tomm. Visit my Frequently Asked Questions page for more details.