Online Lesson Plan
Show Me the Money
In this lesson students will study the U.S. currency system by making their own paper.
Lesson Plan by Nancy Childs, Visual Arts Curriculum Specialist, Lincoln (Nebraska) Public Schools.
Suggested grade level: 3rd-5th. The student will:
- As an art historian, the student will investigate how our government discourages counterfeiting by researching the history of paper currency in America. He or she will also research the symbols used on American currency and how images are printed on, or embedded in paper by examining actual currency.
- As an art creator, the student will understand that different materials and processes affect the strength, color and transparency of paper by making paper from a variety of fibers and experimenting with wire watermarks.
- As an art critic, the student will evaluate the effectiveness of the image of America that is projected through paper currency.
Bell ringer –
Print out the picture of a 20 dollar bill and /or bring in samples of paper currency from other countries. Pass these examples around. Some questions to ask the students:
- What are these worth?
- How do we know what they are worth?
- How do we know that a piece paper currency is “real?”
- How do we know that it s actually worth anything more than the paper it is printed on?
Line of Inquiry: How is paper currency “backed?” What are some of the reasons that a country might use paper currency rather than real gold, silver or other items of value? How is paper currency made? How does a government prevent counterfeiting? What role does paper play in the prevention of counterfeiting?
- Paper making kits; screens, deckles, vats, blender(s), blankets, sponges, pulp. Paper-making kits could possibly be checked out from your local county extension office – several have kits as part of their recycling units.
- The book, Paper by Kids by Arnold Grummer, a 6th grade level text on the history, science and process of making paper.
- Links from within the Wessels Living History Farm site. [Note that clicking on these links will open a new browser window. Just close it and you’ll be back to this page.] Direct the students to these pages to learn about what money was worth during the 1930s.
- Links to other sites –
- The New Color of Money introduces the new paper and printing for the new money.
- The U.S. Treasury Department maintains an education and history section on their Web site.
- The U.S. Mint has information about making coins, the other part of our money system.
- Ron’s Currency, Stocks & Bonds is a good source for a history of U.S.
- paper money.
- The Museum of Modern Art has interactive infromation about printmaking
After investigating the history of paper currency in America, students will make paper by hand. To set up a paper making station you need –
- Material to make paper pulp (old paper to be recycled, cotton linters or cotton rag, dryer lint, fabric cut into very, very small pieces).
- A source of water.
- A blender to “beat” the pulp in.
- A vat to pour the beaten pulp into.
- A paper making mold (screen and deckle) to form the paper on.
- Piece of woolen blanket or towels to “couch” the paper on to.
- Sponges to remove some of the extra water from the paper.
- Try making paper using a variety of materials. After the paper is dry, examine the samples to see how strong, or how unusual the papers are? Check the Paper by Kids book to learn about the special paper that money is printed on. Also look for the poem that talks about the cycle of rags, paper, money and rags.Watermarks. Use 18-24 guage wire to create flat designs. Lay these designs on the papermaking screen and then pour pulp on the screen. When the paper is dry, hold it up to the light to see if the mark in the paper left by the wire is visible. Research water marks and the new images that are “hidden” in US currency
Have the class observe you as you actually go through all of the steps in making paper. It will be easier to manage the papermaking process if you have a single papermaking station set up in your room and groups of 2-3 students work at the station, experimenting with different materials or combinations of materials for the pulp.
Conclusion of the Lesson
Examine the student made papers. Then use the following questions to facilitate the discussion –
- Was it easy or hard to make paper?
- What materials make the paper stronger?
- What materials make the paper more flexible?
- What materials make the paper thinner?
- How easy would it be to print on the papers you have made?
- Why does the wire design show up when the paper is held up to the light?
Students will participate in group discussions as they proceed through all of the inquiry activities. For individual closure, students could write a narrative summary of what they learned from these investigations. They could also complete a three section “learning map”. In the first section they would write what they knew about paper and/or money at the beginning of this inquiry. Section two details what they learned. And in the third section, students would list what they want to know more about.
Extentions: If you have copies of old bonds, you could extend your discussion into what makes stocks or bonds valuable and how these affect the economy.
If you can find paper money from other countries, compare these paper bills to American bills. What images and symbols are the same? What images and symbols are different? What do the symbols and images on U.S. currency stand for? Where could you go to find more information about U.S. currency?
You can also submit your own lesson plan based on this Web site to us by clicking the button at right. We will review the plan and publish it for you.