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Pocket-sized History Lessons: Discover Coins

Connecticut’s original charter was once hidden inside an oak tree. Ohio has produced more presidents than any other state. There are 118 “reeds” on the edge of a dime, but 119 on a quarter. With coins, to paraphrase Art Linkletter, kids learn the darnedest things. From sea to shining sea, hundreds of thousands of teachers are finding new ways to make use of the educational value of coins in their classrooms. The popular 50 State Quarters Program, in which each state is honored on a quarter in the order they joined the Union, has more than 130 million Americans collecting coins and learning something new about the nation with each one. Who knew Arkansas has the nation’s only public diamond mine, or that you get to keep what you mine while inside?

“With coins,” says Henrietta Holsman Fore, director of the 211-year-old U.S. Mint, “children across America are learning about the geography, history, values and the many achievements of our great nation.” “The educational value of coins has proven to be more significant than anyone realized,” Fore adds. “Each coin is a pocket-sized history lesson.”

The U.S. Mint’s 50 State Quarters Program is not the first effort to use coins as educational tools. Ben Franklin sought to distribute proverbs as guideposts of morality through the most widely-read medium available to colonial America -- coinage. In a letter to Edward Bridgen, a British coinmaker and a friend to the American cause, Franklin suggested our coins feature “some pious moral, prudential or economical precept, the frequent inculcation of which, by seeing it every time one receives a piece of money, might make an impression on the mind -- especially of young persons.” The famous Fugio cents of 1787, featuring “Mind Your Business” and “We Are One,” were the only ones to bear his handiwork. However, he had several other helpful maxims in mind, including “Honesty Is the Best Policy” and, fittingly, “A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned.”

Franklin would be proud of the U.S. Mint’s highly-acclaimed educational program, “H.I.P. Pocket Change.” The H.I.P. -- an abbreviation for “History In Your Pocket” -- program began in 2000 as the result of an innovative partnership between the government and professional educators. It relies on a dynamic Web site -- -- featuring lively animation that explores the process of coinmaking, and shares fascinating trivia about designs and denominations. It even allows visitors to customize their own favorite state quarter design online, complete with colors and sound effects. Truth be told, hearing the sound of paint “splooch” on their online coin is almost as fun for adults as it is for children. Also included is a “Coins of the World” section, where students of all ages can compare U.S. coins to those of other nations and learn about the qualities of each.

The H.I.P. Pocket Change Web site also features downloadable lesson plans based on the popular 50 State Quarters, designed for students K-6, that teachers can download and use to supplement ongoing history, math or geography curricula. A “teacher’s network” can be joined, giving professional educators access to a variety of supplemental educational materials perfect for young minds. By all accounts, teachers love it. In fact, the National Education Association’s magazine, “NEA Today,” gave the U.S. Mint’s H.I.P. Pocket Change Web site high marks for educational content. In February 2003, they named it their “Editor’s Pick.”

Teachers agree. “I like the website and the activities it has,” says Willard Sipple, a teacher at Grafton Village Elementary in Stafford County, Va. He uses the state quarter-oriented lesson plans in his fourth and fifth-grade classes. “[The lesson plans] are easy to use. It’s nice to find resources where the lesson plans are already made up. The worksheets are tied in with a variety of subjects -- history, math, geography, social studies.

“They’re great!” he added. Hundreds of thousands of teachers have already learned that discovering the beauty in coins can help students rediscover America. To download lesson plans for your students, please visit and click on the “Teachers” button. Your class will be glad you did, and Ben Franklin will be too. (Courtesy of ARA Content)

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