One day, I thought I’d have some fun and bring out my old American coins for my math students. I showed them an 1877 Trade dollar and asked them how old it was. Most answered, “1877.”
“No, that’s the year it was made in," I explained. "How old is it now? How many years ago was it made?”
Most took awhile to figure out how to go about solving the answer and found the subtraction problem difficult because of all the “carrying.” I then presented them with an 1898 Morgan dollar, a 1926 Peace dollar, a 1972 Eisenhower dollar, a 1979 Susan B. Anthony dollar, a 2000 Sacajawea dollar, and a 2007 President Jefferson dollar, and asked them to work out the age of each. Needless to say, the subtraction problems got easier as the coins got newer.
Some of the students were having problems with the thousands and millions. I told them that five-year-old Indonesian children are used to thousands, ten thousands, and hundred thousands—even millions—because Indonesian money uses big numbers. I then pulled out a wad of Indonesian Rupiah. I had two 50,000 bills, two 20,000 bills, several 10,000 and 5,000 bills, a 2,000 bill, and nine 1000 bills. There were twenty-some bills that added up to 226,000 Rupiah.
I then asked them to guess how much money that was worth. This is when the fun began. Some were sure it was worth a lot of money. Others had no clue.
“Well, it’s worth about $17,” I finally answered straight-faced.
One third grader, when I told him, burst out laughing, and he couldn’t stop. His older sister and little brother came running into the room to find out what was so funny. Even his mother came. When he told them in Spanish (which I could follow okay), the whole room was laughing. Of course, I couldn’t help but laugh along at their reaction, too. I wonder what they would have done had I brought in Vietnamese Dong. At least it got the kids used to counting in thousands, ten thousands, and hundred thousands!
Note: 1 US dollar is about 13,000 Rupiah // 1 US dollar is about 22,000 Vietnamese Dong
Note: This short piece is in no way intended to be disrespectful toward Indonesia or Vietnam. Anybody who knows me knows how much I love Indonesia, Vietnam, and their peoples. This piece is merely enjoying the laughter of a third grader and his family at their own misconceptions about numbers and money.