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Taking stock in education

Twin Bluff Middle School sixth-graders began playing the Stock Market Game in January. The game gives them virtual money to invest in the stock market. Then they can buy, trade and sell stocks using real-world and real-time stock data.1 / 3
Easton Brown (left) and Peter Mitchell look over how their teams are doing in the Stock Market Game. All of the teams in Minnesota compete against each other. The highest-ranked Twin Bluff team is 11th.2 / 3
Students used Yahoo Finance to research companies and their stocks before they bought any. Teacher Kristi Person first taught the sixth-graders how to use the Internet for research.3 / 3

The stock market can be a tricky game. Knowing which stocks to buy, when to sell and how to take risks can be a challenge for many adults.

But for Twin Bluff Middle School sixth-graders in Kristi Person's computer classes, managing their portfolios is just another daily task.

"Are we selling Apple or no?" one student asked last Wednesday.

"Let's sell it and then we can make $5,000," another student answered.

Person's students are taking part in the Stock Market Game, an online program that allows students to buy and sell stocks using their computers and real-world stock information. When they began playing the game in late January, students were given $100,000 in fake money to start.

"Everything is real life -- except the $100,000," Person said, adding that the students must also pay an imaginary 2 percent brokerage fee for each trade.

The Stock Market Game is a statewide program run by BestPrep, a nonprofit whose mission is to teach students business, financial and career skills. More than 400 Schools from across the state are competing in the game.

"As a business teacher and a computer teacher, being able to bring real-world applications into computer applications is my goal," Person said.

At Twin Bluff, all sixth-graders are participating -- including Person's six sections of students and Tricia Harris' one section. Students work in teams of four to buy, sell and trade stocks. Grants from Wells Fargo allowed Person to enroll the 51 teams in the game.

But Person's teams weren't simply handed the virtual money and told to dive in. Instead, she spent weeks going over explaining what the stock market is and how it works, teaching her classes stock market vocabulary, how to read a stock table and how to calculate how much a portfolio is worth.

"At first they're really hesitant. 'Why do I have to do this?'" Person said. "But once it starting clicking what we're doing, they really enjoyed it."

Then, after a lesson on doing Internet research, students were tasked with using Yahoo Finance to research companies and their stocks and figure out which ones might be the best buys.

"Sometimes you have to take risks in life. Just because there's some risk involved, if you've done research, risk isn't a bad thing," Person said.

By the end of January, the students were ready to buy.

Sixth-grader Mac Desutter said his team currently has stock in nine companies and has spent all but about $19,000 of its original funds.

Desutter said his dad is an investment banker, so he already had some knowledge of the stock market before he started playing the Stock Market Game. But Person's class built on that knowledge.

"You know a lot more about the stock market," student Easton Brown agreed, adding that he, too, is now able to have conversations with his parents about stocks.

"I watch the news, too," Brown said.

And now those scrolling numbers across the bottom of the screen actually make sense, he said.

Brown said his team has bought stock in seven companies and has spent all but $4,000. He said he's confident that their investments will pay off.

"You just gotta hope that you make more money," he said.

But Person said she hopes her students do more than just come out on top. In addition to learning about the stock market and learning additional computer skills, she said she hopes that they walk away with a few life skills, too.

"I hope that they learn that they're never too young to start investing," she said. "Anyone with any extra money can invest. That could mean the stock market or savings accounts. It could mean anything."

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.