By examining and learning about coins and paper currency, you can educate yourself about art, communication, culture, economics, geography, history, languages, industrial production, mathematics, science and a lot more. Here are just a few questions for which the answers can be both fun and educational:
• How, where, and especially why was money created?
• Why did the United States adopt a decimal monetary system rather than something similar to the British system that most were used to using?
• Why don’t all countries have the same monetary system?
• How come countries have had different monetary systems over the course of their history?
• How do you decide which monetary units are the most practical to issue?
• What information is typically found on coins and paper money?
• Why does the country of Ecuador, since the year 2000, use the U.S. dollar as its medium of exchange? Further, why and what difference does it make that the local population has an aversion to accepting paper currency and highly prefers using coins?
As you can see just from this handful of questions, the answers can educate on a wide range of subjects.
If you are studying art, coins and paper money often involve artistic skills in selecting design concepts and producing the actual images. Since designs on money evolve and change over time, this raises the questions about what factors affect what appears on coins and paper currencies.
In the days of ancient Rome, centuries before there were regular post offices, newspapers, books, telephones, radio, televisions, the Internet and other modern means of communication, coins were a means of disseminating news. If you wanted to know who was the current emperor 500 miles away, you might find out by looking at the change in your purse.
If learning about culture, geography, or history, there are reasons why various monetary systems were created that correlate with what was happening in the lands where they were issued.
As for economics, monetary systems typically reflected the strength or weakness of the economy. If there is rampant hyperinflation, the economy tended to be in turmoil or weak. If it was strong, you often see higher mintages of gold coins.
As for languages, of which there are thousands spoken around the globe, some coins and paper money have denominations and other information on them in more than one language – such as Canadian paper currency. Even foreign monetary issues that use only one language tend to use that spoken by the largest number of a nation’s residents, which is often not in English.
As for industrial production and science, the level of technology affected what materials were available to use for coins and paper currency and what measures were taken to minimize the risk of counterfeits. As technology advanced by different rates around the world, you find different metals being used, different quality and efficiency of production and even restrictions on the amount issued.
Using coins in learning mathematics is an obvious application. Coins and paper money can easily be used in counting, addition, subtraction and learning about fractions.
Now, there are lots of ways that these subjects can be taught, most of which don’t involve the need to use coins or paper currency. However, there is significant research that learning that involves a greater number of sensory organs tends to be better retained than something taught using fewer senses. Students can read, look at a teacher, or what is on a chalk board, and listen to lectures to learn about a subject. But, when you can actually touch money and look at it up close, that can spark a number of insights beyond what is learned through vision and hearing.
Unfortunately, colleges and universities that train teachers don’t cover the use of coins and paper currency to enhance student learning. Therefore, it is up to numismatists to share with educators the value of doing so.
The United States Mint, starting with the issues of the statehood quarter series in 1999, developed content on its website for children (of all ages) to have fun learning about numismatics. This effort has evolved so that teachers can now access actual kindergarten through high school lesson plans and other educational activities by going to http://www.usmint.gov/kids/teachers/lessonPlans/index.cfm. For example, a lesson titled “Change Mixer” intended for kindergarten through fifth grade helps students develop motor skills, develops the ability to recognize and sort different coins and serves as practice of their math skills. By using the actual coins in circulation in this country, the students use everyday objects in their life and become more proficient at handling them.
More than a decade ago, the American Numismatic Association raised funds to sponsor “Coins In The Classroom” workshops to help train teachers in using coins and paper currencies as teaching materials. While educators who took these programs were enthusiastic about them, follow-up research showed that even one year later such teachers rarely incorporated what they learned in these programs into their classroom curriculums. This outcome led the ANA to redeploy its resources to more effective educational efforts.
Today the ANA offers a variety of activities for Young Numismatists (YNs) at https://www.money.org/young-numismatists. Under this menu choice you can find information on earning YN dollars to bid in YN auctions, becoming a numismatic journalist (a project that might also be used for school assignments), applying for a college scholarship, participating in the ANA Summer Seminars, ancient coin project, or the Early American Copper project, obtaining a free coin and ANA membership in the “Coins for A’s” program, or learning while having fun with Money ‘Musements or Treasure Trivia. Many activities in the last two categories could be easily used in a classroom setting.
Collectors and especially coin dealers can foster the use of coins in classrooms by working with educators to share the information in this article and considering the donation of coins and paper money to schools. For coin dealers, making such donations of time and materials could have a long-term financial payoff in expanding the future customer base. Aside from potential financial considerations, however, numismatists of all kinds can enrich their personal numismatic experience by helping educators in using coins and paper currencies in the classroom to enrich the learning environment for their students.
Patrick A. Heller was the American Numismatic Association 2012 Harry Forman Numismatic Dealer of the Year Award winner. He was also honored by the Numismatic Literary Guild in 2016 for the Best Dealer-Published Magazine/Newspaper and for Best Radio Report. He is the owner emeritus and communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes “Liberty’s Outlook,” a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Some of his radio commentaries titled, “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 a.m., Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News Express.
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