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Dollars, Cents, and Presidents

How to use spare change and dollar bills to honor Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays in February.

By Carmella VanVleet
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Q&A
Q: One of my third graders can do eighth-grade math. He also has autism and makes comments and rolls his eyes when I'm teaching the class. How can I reach him?
A: Math expert Bob Krech responds: It's important to supply this student with independent work. But as you plan a math unit, consider asking this student to join you. Maybe he can come up with word problems, complete with answers, that he could share with the class. Or there may be certain aspects of a lesson that he could co-teach with you. He knows the math already, but pitching in may help with the social aspects of school.

Federal Reserve Scavenger Hunt

Ask students to find the letter inside the circle next to Washington's face on a dollar bill. This letter denotes which Federal Reserve Bank placed an order for that bill. Next, have students locate the 12 Federal Reserve branches on a map. Using the map's scale, determine which branches are closest and furthest away. As a class, discuss the functions of the Federal Reserve Bank system. Challenge students to figure out why many branches are on the east side of the country. (Hint: Consider the country's history and population trends.)
For more ideas, visit FederalReserveEducation.org.

How High Is a Million?

A dollar bill is .0043 inches thick, weighs .03 ounces and is 6.14 inches long. Have a little math fun by challenging your students to use this information to figure out: how tall one million dollar bills would be, how much one million dollar bills would weigh, and how far a million dollar bills would stretch if you laid them end to end. For an extra challenge, have students figure out the same information if the bills were $10 or $20 denominations.
Then visit tinyurl.com/instructordollarfacts

Dollar Do-Good

Ask families to each send in a dollar for their child. Challenge students to come up with a way to use their money to do something good. As a class, brainstorm ways one dollar could make a difference. For instance, you could give the money to someone who was buying something and ran a little short. Or you could pool your money together with others and donate it or buy supplies to set up a bake sale to earn even more money to donate. Give the students one week to use their dollar and then write about the experience.
Then visit payitforwardfoundation.org

Penny Twins

Prepare for this activity by going through pennies and finding pairs with matching dates. (You will need a penny for each student in your class.) If possible, don't duplicate dates. Next, mix up the pennies. Give each student a coin and have them find their "penny twin." Once students have found their match, they should research the year online as a team. Ask them to find out what that year's headlines were, what kind of music was popular, and what movies were playing. Challenge them to come up with a creative way to present their findings to the class. As an extension, compare all of the pennies as a class. Do the older pennies look or feel different than the newer ones? How so?
Then visit brainyhistory.com

What's Up With Abe?

Most coin portraits face to the left. This is not true of the penny; Abraham Lincoln is facing right. There is no reason for this other than the artist simply chose to do so. (The first penny to feature Lincoln was designed by Victor David Brenner and came out in 1909.) Encourage students to write a story about why Lincoln is facing right. Students can write in the voice of the artist or even as Lincoln himself. Extend this activity by inviting students to design their own penny.
Then visit whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/abrahamlincoln

Sorting by Sound

Before 1982, pennies were made primarily of copper. Nowadays, pennies are mainly zinc with a thin layer of copper. Because of this, you can do a fun experiment with sound. First, have students take a dozen pennies dated before 1982, hold them about six inches above a table and drop them. Then have them do the same with a dozen pennies dated after 1982. Ask students to compare the sound each group makes. Next, invite students to mix the coins, close their eyes, and drop the pennies one at a time. Challenge them to sort each coin into Before 1982 and After 1982 piles based on sound only.
Then visit pennies.org

Penny Shine-Up

Which cleans pennies better: a base or an acid? To set up this experiment, you'll need four plastic cups and 20 pennies. In cup one, put one cup of water and mix in a tablespoon of baking soda. In cup two, mix one cup water and one tablespoon of Lava soap shavings. Fill cup three with a half cup of lemon juice. In cup four, pour one cup white vinegar. Put five pennies in each cup, shake gently and then let them sit for ten minutes. Have students rinse pennies and observe which ones are cleaner. To extend the activity, have students research unusual ways to shine pennies.
Then visit pennycollector.com/tips_clean.html

Money Lessons for the Whiteboard

At teacher.scholastic.com/maven, you'll find interactive mysteries for students to solve using skills in money, fractions, decimals, and more. Challenge your sleuths to crack the case!

  • Subjects:
    Presidents' Day
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