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Teacher Feature

Breaking Even?


Another reason that people in colonial America didn't believe that the Higley Copper was worth the same as Three pence was due to its extremely light weight.  Previously, a coin's worth had been based on the type and amount of metal used to make the coin.  The Higley Copper was near or lighter than the English half pence of that time period.


With your students use this opportunity to do a small scientific experiment.  After introducing your students to the Higley Copper (through the related Coin of the Month) read them the sentences above to inform them further about the background of the coin.  Ask your students if the weight of a coin determines that coin's value (in other words, is a heavier coin always worth more than a lighter coin?).  Chart your students' responses (yes or no), and then begin the experiment.

Place your students in groups and distribute supplies to each group.  Each group will need the following supplies for this activity:

  • A balance that is appropriate for the age group you are teaching (this may require some prior knowledge or instruction for your students)
  • A set of real coins (1 penny, 1 nickel, 1 dime, 1quarter, 1 golden dollar)
  • The "What's Your Weight" worksheet to record their data

Have each group first write the value of each of their coins in the appropriate spots on their worksheet.  Then have each group measure the weights of each coin against the other coins (e.g. place the penny on one side of the balance and put each coin, one by one, on the other side of the balance to find which coin is heavier).  Your students should record their observations on their worksheets.  Have each group determine if the more valuable coin is always heavier than the less valuable coin (this shouldn't be true because a nickel weighs more than a dime).  Independently have each student write an answer to this question based on what they observed.


The project described above reflects some of the national standards of learning as defined by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE), and the International Society for Technology in Education.  These standards are listed below:

Science Standards

Unifying concepts and processes in science:  In this activity, students will explore what it means to measure the weight of an object, and will learn how to use a measurement device to determine answers to their questions about coin weights.

Science as inquiry:  Students will conduct a scientific experiment and make observations about the weights of coins in order to reach answers to their questions about coin weights.

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