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'Moneyville' helps kids make cents

Exhibit teaches practical ideas about finance

PORTLAND, Ore. — Melissa Leighty, 13, had only been at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry for a few minutes, but she already had the stock market figured out.

Given a choice of buying high-risk, medium-risk or low-risk stock, she opted for low-risk.

"So you're not losing that much," said the teen from Canby.

That's "Moneyville," a new interactive OMSI exhibit that intends to make kids and their parents savvy about such things as comparison shopping, the stock market and counterfeiting.

While learning about math, visitors also can learn how to make economic choices.

"It's a tough subject, math," said OMSI spokeswoman Karen Kane. "No one learns about money in school."

"Moneyville" also is important for OMSI as the biggest exhibit, at 6,000 square feet, it has built since a "Star Trek" exhibit in 1992. The exhibit, along with 27 others built by OMSI, will be traveling nationally.

"It's a big deal," said Kane. "We are the most prolific builder of museum exhibits in the world, at least in the country. They all make money for us."

"Moneyville" will have a 2,000-square-foot traveling version, according to Ray Vandiver, vice president of exhibits for OMSI.

The timing of the opening, during a period of economic stress, is coincidental, he said: The exhibit has been in planning for years and in active preparation for two years.

"I know there's a lot of interest because of the economy," Vandiver said.

"Moneyville" was designed by the OMSI exhibits team in a family-friendly style, targeting older children and adults as well as youngsters. In any of the theme areas, there are activities for different age groups. There are more than 25 hands-on, interactive games that teach kids and adults about money and finances.

Visitors should leave "Moneyville" with a better understanding of the idea that economics is about making choices and learning from the consequences of choices, whether it's a matter of buying stocks or buying clothing.

Along the way, they get some critical math and problem-solving skills that can prove valuable in the real world of economics and get a glimpse of how economic systems are connecting people around the world.

"It's intended to be fun but also meaningful," Vandiver said.

The exhibit has a cartoony city approach, with colorful backdrops that include a store, an anti-counterfeiting lab, bank, mint, stock market and lemonade stand.

"We wanted to create an atmosphere that was comfortable and accessible," he said.

There are five major exhibition areas in "Moneyville."

The Money Factory explores the history, science and technology of money through several stations, including making money with your own face on it, training to be a special agent and learning about security features in money, using video technology to experience the art of bartering, studying the history of money and getting an inside look at the history of money.

The Bank takes you into the math behind money and talks about the roles of the local bank, the Federal Reserve System and the government.

You can see what a million $1 bills would look like, follow the life of a dollar bill and open shop in a farmers' market with stalls and goods.

Dollars and Sense focuses on strategies for sound economic decisions in everyday life — utilizing math skills and concepts such as estimation, calculation, percentages and problem solving.

The stations allow you to balance a budget, learn the real cost of credit, discover the powers of comparative shopping and learn about inflation.

Market to Market is all about understanding markets, prices, supply and demand. You can test your skills as an investor in the stock market, reacting to the latest news about companies, run a virtual lemonade stand and make change for customers at a giant cash register.

Global Trade, which will be added to the exhibit this fall, will explore the interdependence of international trade and markets, the role of trade in world cultures, foreign currency exchange and how wealth is distributed around the world.

"Moneyville," which runs through Jan. 4, will go on an eight-year national tour.