Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Ins and Outs of Taxes

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As April arrives and I think about my own taxes, I realize how little I understand about how income taxes work. Benjamin Franklin believed “… in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” If this is true, a lot of us better brush up on our tax knowledge! I learned a lot just by looking through The Gateway resources Joann highlighted this week. The first lesson uses traditional lecturing with visual aids, partner activities, and whole-class discussions to simplify the concept of how taxes work. This assignment can be a very valuable tool, especially if you use the “What if” activity and the extension activities at the end which introduce some discovery learning to make the students think a little more about the subject. When students research things on the internet, they find out new things for themselves. I feel like they “own” the learning more, which will hopefully make it stick.

The second lesson focuses on the ability-to-pay principle and why the U.S. uses a progressive tax system. This lesson helps compare the taxation in our country with taxes in other countries, and how a person’s income affects their taxation rate. You may want to build upon lessons like this to make them more interesting and memorable for your students. The assessment at the end of the second lesson asks students to choose a tax system they think is best and defend it in an essay. Expand on this and give your students a choice of projects to answer this question. Instead of writing an essay about their chosen tax system, an artistic student might create a display board with the information (or a glog if they want to go even more high tech.). A verbal student might decide to create a live or video presentation of their findings. Some students might be motivated to interview people around them…maybe they can poll people with an online polling tool. Some students really enjoy writing and they may want to do an essay. They can even format their writing as a newspaper or an illustrated short story.

The last Gateway resource we are discussing this week is a 3-lesson series that looks at the big picture of taxes and how they work from an individual perspective. These are multimedia-based lessons that use video, internet, and spreadsheet creation. They include lectures, pre-made worksheets, and a teacher or student-created spreadsheet. The class works together to create a new federal budget and debates it in teams. I was looking around online to find ways to embellish these lessons, and I found a lot of sites that report annual salaries of famous people. Other salaries are publicly available such as teacher salaries and government worker salaries. Wouldn’t it be fun to figure out how much taxes a famous athlete or actor would owe compared to a teacher? The following resource from USA Today does just that. ( The activity was created for high school students and it includes a debate on federal taxes. The last few pages of this resource ( include many ways to present the information and activities you can use along with many of the above activities. Play around with these ideas to combine things from all of these resources. Soon you’ll have a perfect set of lessons to get your students up to speed this tax season.

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