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David Rittenhouse, the first Director of the United States Mint, was a scientist and astronomer.  To be a successful scientist, one needs to be skilled in the art of observation.  A good scientist also needs to be a bit of a detective in that they must use their observations to learn more about what they are studying.

Break your class into teams of 4.  Assign the roles of Materials Gatherer, Reader, Recorder, and Reporter.  The Materials Gatherer from each group will be responsible for assembling a research tray for their group which should include directions/glossary of terms for the activity (for the Reader to read to the group); 2 magnifying glasses; 1 ruler, and 1 of each of the following coins: a penny (minted since 1959); a nickel (minted since 1938); a dime (minted since 1946), and a quarter (minted since 1932).  The coin mint dates are important for the observation game below; prior to these dates, the coins appeared differently.

Distribute a sheet of chart paper and a marker to each group.  Within a given time limit, the Recorder will be responsible for writing down every fact the group discovers about the four coins.  If possible, you may also want to have the students take turns weighing their coins on a scale (the scale must be able to measure the light weights of the coins) during their observation period.

After the time limit has passed, reconvene as a class and have all the Reporters bring their observations (written on the chart paper) to the front of the room and post them.  Each reporter will briefly describe the findings of their group.  As a class you will make sure all your findings agree, and will discuss those that don't and reasons why the groups may have found different results.

Have your students return to their seats and use their observations to play the following "game" as a class.  Discuss what is leading the students to their decisions.

It's in the bag!

Bag 1 Bag 2 Bag 3 Bag 4

Goldie the Mint Fish and Plinky the Mint Pig were playing together one day when Plinky told Goldie that she had 4 coins (1 quarter, 1 dime, 1 nickel, and 1 penny) each in a separate bag.  If Goldie could figure out which coin was in each bag, by following several clues, she could have all four coins!

Here are the clues Goldie was given:

  1. The coin in bag 2 is silver in color.
  2. The coin in bag 4 has ridges around the edge.
  3. The reverse of the coin in bag 4 has the word "one" written on it.
  4. The coin in bag 1 has a building on it's reverse.
  5. The nose of the man on the coin in bag 3 faces the left.
  6. The coin in bag 2 features the image of the first president of the United States of America.

Use your head to help Goldie determine which coin is in each bag by using the box above to record your findings.

In the following chart, the X's mark the correct results:

Bag 1 Bag 2 Bag 3 Bag 4
Quarter   X    
Dime       X
Nickel     X  
Penny X      

Differentiated Learning Option

Instead of conducting this activity with your entire class, print copies of the "It's In The Bag" worksheet and place them in your classroom science center, along with a coin set that includes a one, five, ten and twenty-five cent coin.  Allow students to work on these sheets together or independently.


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

Science as Inquiry:  In this activity, the students apply the skill of observation to describe the coins as accurately as possible.  The students must use appropriate tools and techniques to gather this information, and use logic to determine basic differences between the coins.

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