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Jun 2, 2021


75 minutes


9th, 10th, 11th, 12th


Social Studies, Justice

Resource Language:


Regional Focus

North America, United States


Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides

How Should the Federal Government Spend Our Money?


This lesson plan connects intergenerational justice with the federal budget.

Step 1 - Inquire: Students watch a TED video by Roman Krznaric called “How to Be a Good Ancestor." It allows students to see sustainability from a future perspective.

Step 2 - Investigate: Students explore usaspending.gov and examine spending by federal agency in the fiscal year 2022. In groups, students design a budget for the federal government. Some students represent people living now while other students represent people living seven generations in the future.

Step 3 - Inspire: Students reflect on what it feels like to represent those living now and those living seven generations in the future. Finally, students share, comment, and deepen each other’s ideas and opinions.

Accompanying Teaching Materials
15 minutes
  • Teacher shares the Seventh Generation Principle and the Great Law of Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
  • Students watch the TED video by Roman Krznaric titled “How to Be a Good Ancestor.”
  • Students turn and talk after the video, using the guiding questions on slide 9.
  • Teacher shares more background information about TED Countdown.
  • Students turn and talk about TED Countdown, using the guiding questions on slide 11.
30 minutes
  • In groups of 4, students design the budget for next year’s federal government.
    • 2 students represent people from the present.
    • 2 students represent people 7 generations later (175 years from now)
  • Students explore usaspending.gov by looking at spending per agency in the fiscal year 2022.
  • Note: There are 102 agencies listed on this site, everything from the Department of Health and Human Services (nearly $1 trillion) to several agencies not receiving any funding in FY 2022.
  • Students allocate resources for the next fiscal year using the guiding question "What is best for society?"
    • Students “from the present” allocate resources as if they are from the present.
    • Students “from the future” allocate resources as if they are from the future.

  • Students use the Federal Spending Spreadsheet to track their budget allocation. Each group gets one tab.
    • Numbers are rounded to make it easier.
    • Total budget is $2,960,050,000,000.
  • Students can decide to create or abolish federal agencies if desired.
  • Students can also make note of how a certain agency spends money.
    • Example: Department of Energy.
    • Much of the Department of Energy’s spending is on things like “weapons activities.” (i.e., nuclear weapons)
    • Students can decide to keep spending $17 billion in the Department of Energy but choose to spend it on solar and wind energy instead of spending it on the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Students should write that in the “notes” section of the spreadsheet.
30 minutes
  • Students complete question 1 in their reflection document [5 minutes]
  • Students engage in small group discussion. [15 minutes]
  • Students engage in whole class discussion. [10 minutes]
Teaching Tips
  • This is a powerful lesson connecting past, present, and future.
  • Students can have agency as to which group they'd like to represent: the present or the future.
Additional Prerequisites
  • The top 40 of 102 agencies by spending are included in the spreadsheet. The total (estimated) spending by all 40 of these agencies is $2,960,050,000,000.
  • The numbers presented at usaspending.gov are pretty messy. The attached spreadsheet rounds to cleaner numbers.
    • The numbers in red are rounded to the nearest billion.
    • The numbers in orange are rounded to the nearest hundred million.
    • The numbers in blue are rounded to the nearest fifty million.
  • Students may be missing some background knowledge. Be prepared to answer questions and/or do some research along with them.
    • For example, some students might not know the function of the Department of the Interior.
    • Feel free to use this site to look up the function of the major federal agencies. These are one-sentence explanations.
    • Feel free to also use this site from the White House where the major agencies (e.g., Agriculture, Defense) are outlined in one large paragraph. 
  • Note that one “agency” is simply called “unreported data.” That data is not made public. Students can simply leave that $8 billion alone.
  • Students will most likely not finish. This is not really a “finishable” activity. The main goal of this activity is for students to figure out the best way to allocate money to the major federal agencies.
  • It is not really worth it to discuss the really small expenditures like the Administrative Conference of the U.S.
  • Students can wear armbands or robes to show that they are representing the future. Some physical representation of their role is a very powerful reminder of who they represent.
Scientist Notes

The resource highlights government's spending and budget. It deepens understanding on ways government agencies can be more accountable to the people when providing services to them. This resource is recommended. The podcast of "SustainabiliGuy" is recommended as it will help students to explore actions that can mitigate climate change impact using a radical philosophy.

  • College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards
    • Dimension 2: Civics
      • D2.Civ.14.9-12 Analyze historical, contemporary, and emerging means of changing societies, promoting the common good, and protecting rights.
      • D2.Civ.8.9-12 Evaluate social and political systems in different contexts, times, and places, that promote civic virtues and enact democratic principles.


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