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Ancient Story Problems

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Students will research ancient civilizations and develop story problems using symbols and coins from those times. Students will then retell these story problems using modern terms and coins. This lesson is part of the Unit Plan “Ancient and Modern Coins.”

Coin Type(s)

  • Cent
  • Nickel
  • Dime
  • Quarter
  • Half dollar
  • Dollar

Coin Program(s)

  • Generic


  • Students will create their own story problems based on people, symbols, and coins from ancient Greek and Roman times.
  • Students will retell these story problems using modern terms and coins.
  • Students will learn about the history of ancient Rome and Greece.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Math

Minor/supporting Subject Area Connections

  • Social Studies
  • Technology


  • Third grade
  • Fourth grade
  • Fifth grade
  • Sixth grade
  • Seventh grade
  • Eighth grade

Class Time

Sessions: One
Session Length: 90 minutes
Total Length: 46-90 minutes


  • Small groups
  • Individual work

Terms and Concepts

  • Coin history
  • Coins
  • Greece
  • Greek coins
  • Roman coins
  • Rome
  • Story problems
  • Writing


  • Access to the Internet.
  • Web pages on ancient Roman and Greek coins
  • Web pages on Roman history, coins, and technology
  • Pencils
  • Paper
  • Books that give information about coins and coin making, such as:
    • Roman History From Coins by Michael Grant
    • North American Coins and Prices, 9th edition edited by David C. Harper
    • Handbook of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins by Zander Klawans
    • Facts and Fictions about Coins:  An Uncommon Guidebook to the Wonderful World of Numismatics by Leon Lindheim
    • Official 2001 Blackbook Price Guide to United States Coins published by Random House, Inc.
    • Coins as Living History by Ted Schwarz
    • Art In Coinage by Carol H.V. Sutherland
  1. Tell the students that they will each be writing a math story problem using ancient Greek or Roman coins and settings, then a similar story in a modern setting. You can give the students guidelines (grading rubric) for which mathematical operations should be used in their problems and how many steps their problems should include.
  2. Divide the class into groups. Have the students use the internet sites or books to research the coins and times of ancient Rome and Greece and come up with a list of coins and items they can use in their story problems.
  3. Have each group write ideas on butcher or chart paper and post them around the room to share with other groups.
  4. Model the exercise with these examples:
    • A Roman laborer earned one Denarius a day. A Denarius could purchase 25 pounds of bread or 10 pounds of olive oil. How many days would the laborer need to work to buy 30 pounds of oil? If he eats 2 pounds of bread per day, how many days does he have to work to buy bread for 50 days?
    • A modern day worker makes 50 dollars a day. If a loaf of bread costs 99 cents, then how many loaves can he buy after working one day? How much money would he have left over?

Differentiated Learning Options

  • Students could create harder (multi-step) problems for enrichment.
  • Story problems can be sent to another class at the same level via email for other students to solve.
  • Students can use manipulatives to help them plan out their story problem, or they can also draw out the problem instead of writing it.
  • Evaluate the story problems to see whether the students have met the lesson objectives.
  • If you use a rubric, have it specify the number of steps, types of mathematical operations, and strategies for solving the problem.

Discipline: Math
Domain: 1.OA Operations and Algebraic Thinking
Grade(s): Grade 1
Cluster: Represent and solve problems involving addition and subtraction

  • 1.OA.1. Use addition and subtraction within 20 to solve word problems involving situations of adding to, taking from, putting together, taking apart and comparing with unknowns in all positions, eg, by using objects, drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem.
  • 1.OA.2. Solve word problems that call for addition of three whole numbers whose sum is less than or equal to 20, eg, by using objects, drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem. 

Discipline: Mathematics
Domain: 6-8 Number and Operations
Cluster: Understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems.
Grade(s): Grades 6–8

In grades 6–8 all students should

  • work flexibly with fractions, decimals, and percents to solve problems;
  • compare and order fractions, decimals, and percents efficiently and find their approximate locations on a number line;
  • develop meaning for percents greater than 100 and less than 1;
  • understand and use ratios and proportions to represent quantitative relationships;
  • develop an understanding of large numbers and recognize and appropriately use exponential, scientific, and calculator notation;
  • use factors, multiples, prime factorization, and relatively prime numbers to solve problems; and
  • develop meaning for integers and represent and compare quantities with them.

Discipline: Mathematics
Domain: All Problem Solving
Cluster: Instructional programs from kindergarten through grade 12 should enable all students to
Grade(s): Grades 6–8

  • Build new mathematical knowledge through problem solving
  • Solve problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts
  • Apply and adapt a variety of appropriate strategies to solve problems
  • Monitor and reflect on the process of mathematical problem solving

Discipline: Social Studies
Domain: All Thematic Standards
Cluster: Time, Continuity, and Change
Grade(s): Grades 6–8

Teachers should:

  • assist learners to understand that historical knowledge and the concept of time are socially influenced constructions that lead historians to be selective in the questions they seek to answer and the evidence they use
  • help learners apply key concepts such as time, chronology, causality, change, conflict, and complexity to explain, analyze, and show connections among patterns of historical change and continuity
  • enable learners to identify and describe significant historical periods and patterns of change within and across cultures, including but not limited to, the development of ancient cultures and civilizations, the emergence of religious belief systems, the rise of nation-states, and social, economic, and political revolutions
  • guide learners in using such processes of critical historical inquiry to reconstruct and interpret the past, such as using a variety of sources and checking their credibility, validating and weighing evidence for claims, searching for causality, and distinguishing between events and developments that are significant and those that are inconsequential
  • provide learners with opportunities to investigate, interpret, and analyze multiple historical and contemporary viewpoints within and across cultures related to important events, recurring dilemmas, and persistent issues, while employing empathy, skepticism, and critical judgment; and enable learners to apply ideas, theories, and modes of historical inquiry to analyze historical and contemporary developments, and to inform and evaluate actions concerning public policy issues.

Discipline: Mathematics
Domain: 3-5 Number and Operations
Cluster: Understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems.
Grade(s): Grades 6–8

In grades 3–5 all students should

  • understand the place-value structure of the base-ten number system and be able to represent and compare whole numbers and decimals;
  • recognize equivalent representations for the same number and generate them by decomposing and composing numbers;
  • develop understanding of fractions as parts of unit wholes, as parts of a collection, as locations on number lines, and as divisions of whole numbers;
  • use models, benchmarks, and equivalent forms to judge the size of fractions;
  • recognize and generate equivalent forms of commonly used fractions, decimals, and percents;
  • explore numbers less than 0 by extending the number line and through familiar applications; and
  • describe classes of numbers according to characteristics such as the nature of their factors.

Discipline: Technology
Domain: All Research and Information Fluency
Cluster: Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.
Grade(s): Grades 6–8

  • Plan strategies to guide inquiry
  • Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media
  • Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks
  • Process data and report results

Discipline: Mathematics
Domain: All Communication
Cluster: Instructional programs from kindergarten through grade 12 should enable all students to
Grade(s): Grades 6–8

  • organize and consolidate their mathematical thinking through communication 
  • communicate their mathematical thinking coherently and clearly to peers, teachers, and others;
  • analyze and evaluate the mathematical thinking and strategies of others; and
  • use the language of mathematics to express mathematical ideas precisely.   

Discipline: Social Studies
Domain: All Thematic Standards
Cluster: People, Places, and Environment
Grade(s): Grades 6–8

Teachers should:

  • Enable learners to use, interpret, and distinguish various representations of Earth such as maps, globes, and photographs, and to use appropriate geographic tools
  • Encourage learners to construct, use, and refine maps and mental maps, calculate distance, scale, area, and density, and organize information about people, places, regions, and environments in a spatial context
  • Help learners to locate, distinguish, and describe the relationships among varying regional and global patterns of physical systems such as landforms, climate, and natural resources, and explain changes in the physical systems
  • Guide learners in exploring characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth’s surface
  • Have learners describe how people create places that reflect culture, human needs, current values and ideals, and government policies
  • Provide opportunities for learners to examine, interpret, and analyze interactions of human beings and their physical environments, and to observe and analyze social and economic effects of environmental changes, both positive and negative
  • Challenge learners to consider, compare, and evaluate existing uses of resources and land in communities, regions, countries, and the world
  • Direct learners to explore ways in which Earth’s physical features have changed over time, and describe and assess ways historical events have influenced and been influenced by physical and human geographic features