This talk will share the successes and challenges of an educational program that introduces ancient Greece to students in grades 5-8 through connecting ancient, modern, and fictional coins from a familiar story: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (Riordan 2005). The program is freely available as an online resource, making it accessible, replicable, and adaptable for use in museums, academic institutions, and excavations worldwide. The 2005 book and subsequent book and film series ignited an interest in Greek mythology in American students; at the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee, visitation to the museum spiked after the 2010 release of the film and the movie props on display remain a museum highlight for the youngest visitors to this day. As a result, the Parthenon initiated an educational program incorporating the fictional coins in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief in an effort to increase literacy and learning in students grades 5-8. Specifically, the program models numismatic concepts to show how “reading” is more than just seeing words on a page—you read an entire coin to unlock clues about the people and places it represents. In this way, the program provides a powerful learning experience that connects students with the past by using replicas and images of primary sources in order to learn about the ancient world. Students progress from group to individual thinking and learning as they see and analyze examples of fictional golden drachmas (the size of a Girl Scout cookie!), American quarters, and various ancient Greek coins from the numismatic collections of Corinth Excavations and the Athenian Agora Excavations. Through this educational experience, students will understand that reading the whole picture unlocks clues to their favorite stories, with examples to connect the past and present through numismatics.
Teaching with Coins: Coins as Tools for Thinking about the Ancient World