Currency

Eighth Graders Ask: Why Gold?

In our podcast "Why Gold?," a professor of chemical engineering talked us through the qualities you'd want in an element that's used for money. We played periodic table bingo, eliminating all the elements that couldn't be used for money. We wound up crossing out everything except gold.

Joe Donahue, an 8th-grade teacher at Santa Ynez Elementary School in Santa Ynez, California, sent us this email after listening to the podcast:

...I decided that it would be fun to take the information from your podcast and make it into a lesson on how the periodic table is organized. ... I'm trying it out for the first time this week. I'll let you know how it turns out. Thanks for the inspiration...

I followed up with Mr. Donahue this week. He said most students in the class had never even seen the periodic table before, and the class went pretty well. You can read his lesson plan here.

I also spoke with a few of Mr. Donahue's students and read the essays they wrote for the project.

Here's what a student named Sadie Edwards told me:

At the beginning it was very confusing, because I had never seen the periodic table before. I think I saw it in science, but I had never looked at it. But after he explained it, it made perfect sense. I saw how [the elements] were organized...

You want something like gold or platinum to be your money. They're rare, they're not really highly reactive. You don't want money that's a gas or a liquid.

The essay written by another student, Rocio Hernandez, had this succinct explanation for why gold has been used as money:

Gold is worth more than silver because it is a rare metal. ...gold is not highly reactive, a gas, a liquid, or radioactive. We don't want our money to be radioactive because it would hurt us.

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