Every kid turns treasurer at OMSI

People used to ask why Johnny can't read.

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry wonders why he can't count. And it's figured out a way to help.

This weekend OMSI opens a $2.8 million show called 'Moneyville,' which hits the road at the end of this year. The 6,000-square-foot show will benefit OMSI twofold Ñ generating income and increasing its standing among American museums.

The capital cost was paid by the National Science Foundation, the Nasdaq Stock Market Educational Foundation, James and Marion Miller Foundation and OMSI itself. The show will start recouping money at its first stop, make three visits a year and wind up netting $3 million by the time it retires after 10 years.

And though OMSI seems like a downtown fixture on the banks of the Willamette River, under the roar of Interstate 5 and the Marquam Bridge, the little science museum that could spreads its influence far and wide.

In fact, OMSI has 27 science shows on the road right now, says Ray Vandiver, vice president of exhibits.

'Our closest competitors have fewer than 10 traveling exhibits. What makes OMSI unique is that we develop and build all our own,' he says.

The idea of 'Moneyville' started in 1999 when Vandiver read that half of U.S. adults and two of three high school students would fail the test of basic economic literacy.

'Currently there is no mandated standard for economic knowledge, but we discovered a lot of interest in the subject from museum visitors. The hook for the museum committee is that the exhibit is rich in math content for kids, from counting money, paying bills, balancing the checkbook and finding what money buys,' he says.

What OMSI does best are hands-on projects, says Karen Bertschi, the show's lead exhibit developer.

There will be a lot of role-playing in the show's exhibits, she says.

'We have a simulated stock market where the choices visitors make can actually affect the market,' she says. 'There are four players at any one time, and you can drive prices up or down.'

The soundness of the theories behind the role-playing can be traced to advisers like Noelwah Netusil, an associate professor of economics at Reed College; Fred Rectanus, a math teacher at Mount Tabor Middle School; Dan Raguse, president of the Math Learning Center at Portland State University; and Lorraine Thayer of the Portland branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. In all, 20 experts advised on the project.

And as long as we're talking math, the show took 36 staff members 8,000 hours to build, including 25 prototypes. It contains 16,000 square feet of plywood, 5,500 square feet of laminate, miles of wire and uncountable nails and screws. Two shows will actually be constructed, one at 6,000 square feet and one at 2,000 square feet for smaller museums.

The 'Moneyville' show has a bank, a mint (where you can make money with your own face on it), a store where you can buy things, an anticounterfeiting lab and a lemonade stand. Visitors also can see how much space $1 million 'in ones' occupies (about 4 feet by 4 feet).

The exhibit divides into five categories.

The Money Factory teaches visitors the history of money, from stone rings to e-commerce. You can barter in Barterville and learn to distinguish real money from counterfeit.

The Bank shows how local banks interface with the Federal Reserve System and how compound interest adds up. 'A lot of us upped our 401(k)s after that,' Bertschi says with a laugh.

To Market, to Market allows visitors to try and stay in the lemonade business; learn to make change as a checkout clerk; and sort, wrap and weigh goods for sale.

Dollars and Sense teaches visitors how to live on their own, within their means. They get to balance checkbooks and see the real cost of credit.

World Trade shows how business is integrated around the world, where everyday products come from (kids are encouraged to check their shirt labels) and how currencies are interdependent. For example, kids can see how strong currencies affect trade and what happens to money in a country that's invaded. Which certainly brings the subject up-to-date.

Contact Paul Duchene at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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