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Nobody likes getting tickets. For many people they’re merely an annoyance; for people struggling to make ends meet they can be a serious burden. And since many states levy additional monthly fees when someone can’t pay off a fine in its entirety, some people get stuck in a cycle of debt that’s difficult to escape.

In this lesson, students write linear equations and solve linear systems to examine the relative difficulty of paying off a small municipal fine. They also discuss what can happen to the most financially vulnerable citizens when cities rely heavily on fines for revenue.

Students will

  • Write and solve a system of linear equations and interpret the intersection in a real-world context
  • Explore how changing the slopes and y-intercepts affects where (and if) two lines intersect
  • Use a unit rate to create a table, graph, and equation

Before you begin

Students should be comfortable relating a scenario to an equation to a graph. Previous experience with systems of equations is not needed.

Common Core Standards

Content Standards
Mathematical Practices


John Oliver, Hali Woods, Tom Barrett, Harriet Cleveland. Image courtesy of Chris Yarzab (