Money around the world — Part 3: Dollar bill investigation

Learn more about what’s on a U.S. dollar bill and what it tells us.

If you are adding in some fun financial literacy activities to your youth group club meeting or event, such as the activities explained in other “Money around the world” articles (Part 1: Foreign currency, Part 2: Create your own money and Part 4: Currency exchange), you are helping youth become more familiar with the topic of money. Another idea from Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H Youth Development is to take a closer look at our own currency.

There are many signs and symbols on our own dollar bill, and even if we use them every day we rarely take time to look at them. This activity, based on a lesson in Reading Makes Cents from National 4-H, is a great way to introduce money topics to young people. It can also work well in conjunction with talking about money from other countries.

Bring enough dollar bills for everyone to look at one or to share with one other person. To make it harder for money to get lost during or after this activity, consider putting each bill in a clear, plastic bag. Each participant (or group of participants) will also want a magnifying glass.

Start with some fun facts about the dollar bill. What is the average lifespan of a dollar bill? Reading Makes Cents cites the average age as 18 months, but more recently the Federal Reserve says that bills are lasting closer to five years each. Ask students if they can tell how old their dollar bill is. Check the “series” in the lower right; while it is not always exactly the year printed, it is the year the Secretary of the Treasury changed, and it will be close to when it was printed. Ask what impacts the lifespan of the bill; would the impacts on coins be different?

Next, ask youth if they can tell where their dollar bill was issued. (It may be helpful to print a list of the Federal Reserve Banks ahead of time for this part.) The letter code on the left-hand side of the bill will correspond to a bank on the list, and it is also printed in teeny tiny writing in the circle around the code. Kids love a de-coding task!

For younger children or those who love counting, have them find all the number 1s on the front and back of the bill. If they need more of a challenge, add in the word “one” as well. For those who like learning about government, have them find the signature on the bill and encourage them to research who that person is and why their signature appears on our money. For those who like tracking objects, have them find the serial number of the bill and enter it into Where's George?, the official currency tracking project. For those who like learning about symbols, use the reference sheet Reading Makes Cents to learn more about the back of the bill.

We can learn a lot about our own country just by studying a dollar bill! For more ideas to extend learning about money around the world, make sure to read the other articles in this series:

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development help to prepare young people for successful futures. As a result of career exploration and workforce preparation activities, thousands of Michigan youth are better equipped to make important decisions about their professional future, ready to contribute to the workforce and able to take fiscal responsibility in their personal lives.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth career preparationmoney management and entrepreneurship programs, read the 2016 Impact Report: “Preparing Michigan Youth for Future Employment.”

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