Smart money

Students learn financial management and the ups and downs of the stock market through classes and computer games
Thursday, January 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:14 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Red and green arrows go up and down as the trader updates his stocks. He checks the market news and sees what is affecting his stocks. He checks the 52-week charts on the Excite Web site to chart his stocks’ long-term progress.

This isn’t the computer of the average investor. This is the computer screen of Cody Houston, a sophomore at Hallsville High School. Cody, along with his nine classmates in Scott Wallace’s stock market class, is learning how to invest money through Internet stock market games.

The games, which are played through the University of Missouri-Kansas City and, allow Hallsville’s students to compete against students and adults from around the area, the state and the country. In the UMKC version, called the Stock Market Game, if students finish in the top two in their region, they receive an invitation to an awards dinner in Kansas City, St. Louis or Springfield.

“Caterpillar is going up,” Cody said as he checked his stocks.The class is an elective anyone at the high school can take. Students range from freshmen to seniors; some have played the game before, while others are just beginning.

The games allow students to learn how the stock market works by buying and selling shares throughout the semester.

Wallace has been teaching the game as a separate class for the past year and a half after using it as part of his personal finance class for nine years. He said the topic was important enough that the principal made it a semester-long class.

“The longer time period is invaluable to see how the stocks fluctuate,” Wallace said.

The students’ first task in the class is to research stocks they are interested in buying. They check Web sites such as Yahoo! Finance for stock reports and 52-week and five-year graphs that depict how much the stock has risen and fallen. Once they research the stocks, the students take tests about the stock market on a tutorial Web page. While going through these tests, they start buying and selling stocks through the Internet games.

Each day can either bring a lot of money into the accounts of the investors, other days can be dreadful. Most of the students own stocks in businesses where their parents work, such as 3M, or stores at the mall, such as Hot Topic. They check the stock market news every day online to learn why their stocks are going up or down.

“It (the class) gives them the idea of saving their money and having a financial plan,” Wallace said.

In the Smartstocks game, students start off with $1 million and invest in common stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Corey Cathey bought Delta Airlines, Wal-Mart, 3M and Dollar General in her game. She is one of the top traders in the class.

“I bought 3M for the most part,” Corey said, “It’s done pretty well since I’ve had it.”

In August, 3M announced a two for one split of its common stock. Most of the students in the class own 3M stocks.

The game through the university is different than the Smartstocks game. In this game, the class is divided into teams of two with a $100,000 budget.

“We’re fifth out of 13 in the region,” Cody said as he checked the rankings. Their region consists of Marceline, California, New Franklin and Boonville.

Roger Stone has taught stock market investing in his business math class at New Franklin High School for the past two years. Two days a week, his class of 12 divides into two teams that purchase up-and-coming stocks in the UMKC game.

“I teach it to break the monotony of the class and for research purposes,” Stone said.

Wallace said the competition among classmates and other schools helps them learn about the market.

Like his students, Wallace got his first taste of the stock market in high school. In one of his economics classes, Wallace had a section on the stock market. His class would buy stocks and check them through the Wall Street Journal.

“I had the phone number of a local broker to get stock quotes,” he said.

Wallace, who earned a degree in business at Columbia College, said that although he had two semesters of finance, he hardly learned anything about the stock market.

“We talked about it, but we didn’t play any games,” he said.

Wallace has had teachers, parents and administrators tell him how neat it is to have a class like this.

“A lot of them say, ‘I wish I had that or knew more about the stock market when I was in high school,’” Wallace said.

Some of the students have aspirations to work in the business industry and to own stocks. Tanner Burton, a junior at Hallsville, has thought about working for Edward Jones, an investment company, when he graduates. He is also one of the class’ top traders.

“I’m pretty good at financial stuff and managing money,” he said.

Tanner said it’s pretty easy to learn about the stock market. His sister is taking a similar course in the eighth grade.

“Once you take the class, you can do it on your own,” he said.

Other students have said their knowledge in the stock market could help with what they want to do in the future. Cody plans to start an automobile business.

“It can help out majorly if I can make a lot of money,” Cody said.

To some, the class is not as easy as just checking the graphs and seeing whether the stock has been in an upward or downward climb for the past month. The students have to create a spreadsheet that calculates the total cost and the profit or loss of the stocks. They must know the formulas in order to get a good grade on their spreadsheet.

Corey did not know very much about the stock market when she arrived from South Carolina this school year. She needed an elective credit class, and one of the classes that was suggested to her was the stock market class because it could be handy in the future.

“It’s a learning game,” Corey said. “It takes a while, but I’m getting there.”

Students create a poster of their stocks at the end of semester. The poster includes a graph of the closings and openings of their stocks; the results of their investments, for example, their net profit or loss; and an attractive design. Students then present their project to the class and explain the stocks they purchased, the reason they bought those particular stocks and the profit or loss of the stocks.

Wallace hopes the lessons his students learn in class will enable them to be better at managing their personal finances and more knowledgeable about the stock market.

“Society benefits when people spend their money wisely,” Wallace said.

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