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Percent Change and our National Debt

Project Overview

This RWLO is intended for use in a Basic Arithmetic or Pre-Algebra course, after students have been introduced to percents and percent change, and have a working knowledge of ratios and decimals, and conversion between ratios, decimals, and percents.

This RWLO is intended for individual use outside of class, as homework. However, it could be completed in groups, and it could be completed in class, if students have access to computers with Internet access.

In this RWLO, students are introduced to the concept of the National Debt. They are required to access the U.S. Department of Treasury, Bureau of the Public Debt web site, which provides real-time data on the national debt of the U.S. government. Students are required to find the annual percent change in the national debt over the last five years. They are then asked to interpret their findings by deciding whether the debt itself is increasing or decreasing over the five-year period they have investigated; whether the percent change in the debt is increasing or decreasing; and what the implications are for the U.S. government paying down or paying off the national debt.

Student Learning Objectives

After completing this RWLO, the student should be able to:

1) Access real-time data on the U.S. National Debt using a U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of the Public Debt web site.

2) Access and use an arithmetic calculator on the Internet (which allows the student to enter more digits than is allowed on a typical hand-held calculator)

3) Find the percent increase or percent decrease in the National Debt during a time period of the student’s choosing, using the formula:

% change = increase or decrease

original amount

4) Interpret their findings.

Procedure

Time: Approximately 60 minutes

Materials: Paper, writing utensil, computer with Internet access

Prerequisites: Before attempting this RWLO, students should have been introduced to the topic of percents and percent increase or decrease, and should have received instruction on ratios and decimals, and conversion between ratios, decimals and percents.

Implementation: This RWLO is intended for individual use outside of class, as homework. However, it could be completed in groups, and it could be completed in class, if students have access to computers with Internet access. Either way, it is recommended that a brief discussion of the students’ findings, especially their interpretations of the data, follow completion of the RWLO.

Steps:

1) Briefly review percents, percent increase and percent decrease, and conversion between ratios and percents.

2) Fill in the due date for the assignment on page 1 of Content Materials. Photocopy Content Materials for each student in the class.

3) Briefly introduce the idea of the National Debt. An introduction to this topic is provided in the Content Materials.

4) Instruct students to read the introduction in the Content Materials, and then to complete the worksheets by filling in the required data, making the required calculations, and drawing their own conclusions about their results.

5) Instruct students to return the Content Materials worksheets by the next class meeting (or within one week, at instructor’s discretion).

6) After collecting the worksheets, facilitate a brief discussion about the students’ findings.

Content Material

This assignment provides a real-world example of our current topic, percent change. You are going to find the percent change in the U.S. National Debt over a certain number of years. For this assignment, you will need a computer with Internet access, these worksheets, and a pen or pencil. Read the following introduction, then follow the directions, complete the worksheets, and hand them in on (instructor insert date here).

First, what is the National Debt?

Let’s think about debt. Debt is money that is owed, right? If I purchase something (a house, a car, an education at a community college, for example) and I cannot pay cash for this item, I have to take out a loan or put the purchase on a credit card. Then, the amount of the purchase is money that I must pay back, i.e. a debt. Almost always, when an individual borrows money, he or she must pay it back with interest. So, when we make payments on our debts, we are paying back not only the money we borrowed, but interest payments, too.

Well, our country also has debts. If our country spends more than it takes in through taxes, etc., then it must borrow money to cover its expenses. You may have heard the term “balanced budget.” If the government, or an individual, has a “balanced budget,” then their income is equal to their expenses. But, if their expenses are greater than their income, they must borrow money to meet their expenses, and they will incur a debt. The money that the U.S. government has borrowed to cover its expenses through the years is called the National Debt. And, like in individual cases, the U.S. government must also pay interest to the organizations that loan it money.

In this assignment, your goal is to find the percent change in our country’s National Debt over a period of time.

Instructions begin on the next page.

1) Using Google or another search engine on your computer, go to the U.S. Department of Treasury, Bureau of the Public Debt web site:

This web page gives the U.S. National Debt for any date that you enter, between January 4, 1993 and the last available business day for which the debt has been calculated. (For example, if you are doing this assignment on a Monday, the last available data may be for the previous Thursday).

2) In the boxes marked “Enter Beginning Date,” enter the date of the most recent day for which data is available. See the sentence:

“Debt data is available for 1/4/93 through x/x/x”

Then click on the gray box marked “Find History.”

3) The web page has given you the U.S. National Debt for the date that you entered.

Enter the information you have found on the first line of Table 1:

Table 1

|Date |U.S. National Debt |

|/ / |\$ |

|/ / |\$ |

|/ / |\$ |

|/ / |\$ |

|/ / |\$ |

4) Just for fun, write the word name of the U.S. National Debt amount you found

in step 3:

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5) Now click on the BACK arrow to return to the “History of the National Debt” page. This time, enter another date by changing only the year. You may want to find the national debt one year ago, two years ago, or three years ago. Click on “Find History” again, to find the National Debt on that day. Enter this data into the second line of Table 1 above.

6) Calculate the percent change in the national debt between the first date and the

second date you entered in Table 1, using the formula:

percent change = increase or decrease

original amount

Round your answer to the nearest tenth of a percent.

Whoa! Did you have a problem entering this enormous number into your calculator? If your calculator allows you to enter only ten digits, then here’s another option: Use Google or another search engine to go to this Internet calculator:

calculators/calculator.html

Complete your calculations on this calculator, and record your results on the first line of Table 2. (Round your answers to the nearest percent).

Table 2

|between Dates |% change in |

| |u.s. national debt |

|/ / and / / | |

|/ / and / / | |

|/ / and / / | |

|/ / and / / | |

7) Complete Table 1 by repeating this process three more times. Each time, be sure to change the date by the same number of years. For example, if you changed the date by one year in step 4, then change the date by one more year each time you repeat the process. If you changed the year by two years in step 4, then change it by two years again each time you repeat the process.

8) Complete Table 2 by repeating the process for finding the % change in the

National Debt.

Use the data from Tables 1 and 2 to answer the following questions:

9) Is the amount of the National Debt increasing or decreasing? What does this mean? (If necessary, refer back to the introduction on page 1 of the Content Materials).

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10) Is the percent change in the National Debt increasing or decreasing? Based on your results, does our government have any hope of paying off or paying down the national debt? Explain.

__________________________________________________________________

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If you are interested in learning more about the National Debt, go to the Bureau of the Public Debt web site at:

This will give you information on the history of the national debt as far back as 1791, the interest due on the national debt, and even information on how you can make a gift to reduce the national debt!

Assessment

The following is a recommended form of assessment. Students should return the completed assignment at the next class meeting or within one week, at the instructor’s discretion. Collect Content Materials worksheets, and assign points as follows (10 points total for assignment, partial credit given at instructor’s discretion).

3) Table 1 (1 point)

|Date |U.S. National Debt |

|/ / |\$ |

|/ / |\$ |

|/ / |\$ |

|/ / |\$ |

|/ / |\$ |

4) Just for fun, write the word name of the U.S. National Debt amount you found

in step 3: (1 point)

________________________________________________________________

6) Complete your calculations on this calculator, and record your results on the first line of Table 2: (4 points)

Table 2

|between Dates |% change in |

| |u.s. national debt |

|/ / and / / | |

|/ / and / / | |

|/ / and / / | |

|/ / and / / | |

9) Is the amount of the National Debt increasing or decreasing? What does this mean? (2 points)

10) Is the percent change in the National Debt increasing or decreasing? Based on your results, do you think our government has any hope of paying off or paying down the national debt? Explain. (2 points)

Links to Course Competencies

This RWLO is intended for use in a Basic Arithmetic and Pre-Algebra course. Specifically, this RWLO meets the following course competencies:

• Students will access real-time data on the Internet.

• Students will use an arithmetic calculator.

• Students will write the word name of a number.

• Students will round a number to a specified place value.

• Students will calculate the percent change between pieces of data.

• Students will apply arithmetic skills to a real-world situation.

Supplementary Resources

• is the “The Daily History of the Debt” web page. It returns the national debt on any given day between 01/04/93 and the present.

• An arithmetic calculator that allows students to enter up to 31 digits is available at: calculators/calculator.html

• For more information on the national debt, go to the “Frequently Asked Questions” web site at: . This site provides general information on the debt, the history of the debt, who owns the debt, how to make a payment toward the debt, etc.

• A table listing the national debt by year from 1950-2005 can be found at:

Recommendations

Recommendations for Integration:

This RWLO is intended for use in a Basic Arithmetic and Pre-Algebra course, as a supplement to the study of percents and percent change. It provides a real-world application of percent change, and requires students to interpret their findings in a real-world situation.

This RWLO has been written for out-of-class use by individuals, but it could be used in class if Internet access is available, and it could be assigned to groups rather than individuals. Whether the RWLO is completed by individuals or groups, in class or out of class, a brief in-class discussion of results is recommended.

Back-up:

If students do not have access to the Internet or if the required web sites are not available, a table listing the national debt for each year from 1950-2005 can be found at: . This table could be duplicated by the instructor and distributed to students with the Content Materials as a primary source of data on the national debt.

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