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July 8th, 2009
You Can Take That to the Bank!
Lesson Overview

(Click here for a printer-friendly version of this lesson.)


TOPIC / SUBJECT MATTER: Economics, Finance, History

TIME ALLOTMENT: 2-3 45-minute class periods

Using video segments from the PBS series THE ASCENT OF MONEY, this lesson teaches high school students about the role of banks both in history and the present day. Students will learn about key financial concepts that contributed to the evolution of banks. Those concepts will then be applied to modern banks and the services they provide. As a culminating activity, students will be introduced to the concept of creditworthiness.


By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
• Define the terms “credit” and “interest”
• Explain the evolution of money lending to banking
• Detail the role of modern banks and the services they provide
• Analyze criteria banks use to determine creditworthiness
• Understand the roots of the modern banking system
• Recognize how personal choices and decisions affect one’s creditworthiness


National Standards for Economics
Standard 4: Role of Incentives

• People respond predictably to positive and negative incentives.

Standard 5: Gain from Trade

• Voluntary exchange occurs only when all participating parties expect to gain. This is true for trade among individuals or organizations within a nation, and among individuals or organizations in different nations.

Standard 10: Role of Economic Institutions

• Institutions evolve in market economies to help individuals and groups accomplish their goals. Banks, labor unions, corporations, legal systems, and not-for-profit organizations are examples of important institutions. A different kind of institution, clearly defined and enforced property rights, is essential to a market economy.

Standard 11: Role of Money

• Money makes it easier to trade, borrow, save, invest, and compare the value of goods and services.

Standard 12: Role of Interest Rates

• Interest rates, adjusted for inflation, rise and fall to balance the amount saved with the amount borrowed, which affects the allocation of scarce resources between present and future uses.


Clip 1:

Establishing Credit, Earning Interest

Clip 2:

Borrowing Time

Clip 3:

First Bank of the Medici

Access the streaming and downloadable video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

CitiFinancial: Resource Center: All About Credit
This Web site from Citibank details criteria for granting a loan or issuing a credit card.

What’s Up in Finance? It Costs What?! Credit Card Primer
In this learning interactive from THIRTEEN, users learn about the basics of using credit cards.

What’s Up In Finance? It Costs What?! Case Files
In this learning interactive from THIRTEEN, users read about and understand different ways of dealing with credit card debt.


For each student:
• Creditworthiness Student Organizer (PDF) (RTF)
• Weekend Trip Invitation (PDF) (RTF).

For each pair/group of students:
• Chart paper and markers
• Computer with access to internet

For the class:
• Creditworthiness Student Organizer Answer Key (PDF) (RTF)
• Bank Services Answer Key (PDF) (RTF)
• Computer with access to internet
• Projector and screen


Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Preview all of the video segments and Web sites used in the lesson.

Download the video clips used in the lesson to your classroom computer, or prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.

Make copies of the Student Organizers.

Next: Proceed to Activities

Lesson plans for THE ASCENT OF MONEY were created by the LAB@Thirteen, Thirteen’s Community and Educational Outreach Department.

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  • Barb

    Really Great Program!

  • Ann Washington

    The Ascent of Money has been a most interesting and enlightening series. Thank you, Niall Ferguson, for your scholarship, and thank you, PBS, for making this series available–online and on PBS!

  • StuartK

    Niall Ferguson really misses many fundamental principals I learned both in University in the 1970’s and at Yale Law in the late 1980’s. Capitalism is really not very complex. However, constitutional democracy is the one necessity to save capitalism from itself. Global capitalism will always pursue lowest cost of production (especially labor). China, for example, is ultimately a 1990’s story for anyone who learns from history. As I learned in university in 1975, low-cost depressed economies like Ireland and China were to become the future as capital powerhouses – incentivized by a combination of poverty and tax policy to attract capital. So for those of us who learn from the history of global capital and trade, underdeveloped and impoverished countries with a hard-working populace and a government ready to embrace trade (despite politics or religion) will always become economic powerhouses in the “relatively” near future. For example, watch countries that can sacrifice their politics (Asian and south-Asian countries like Vietnam; Cambodia and Bangladesh) and under-resourced middle-eastern countries that can moderate their religion (Jordan). If certain countries could ever overcome their problems – if North Korea could overcome its politics (like China and Japan had done) or African countries could overcome both corruption and tribalism, they would likely become economic powerhouses in the short term as well. Unfortunately, if the history of global capitalism has taught us anything, it is that moving from “underdevelopment” to “development” to “wealth,” is a relatively fleeting proposition – in relation to world history. CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY IS THE ONE NECESSITY TO SAVE CAPITALISM FROM ITSELF.

  • Susmita Barua

    Could we define and understand ‘credit’ itself before going to credit worthyness? If ‘credit’ is just a nice label for ‘money as debt’, then perhaps we should start with what is money? May be we need to see the youtube video ‘money as debt’ and read the book ‘the web of debt: the shocking truth about our money system and how to break free’

  • Mark S

    To below creditworthiness, and credit but then to stop at money is unimaginative. Money is not there. Money is not money. It is nothing unless exchanged for something else. The things we exchange money for, those are interesting. Those display our values. Money is simply an intervalua. It provides a method of intervaluation between unlike goods. Such as a tank of gas and a days labor.
    The real crisis that we are having now and the ones shown in the program is a crisis of value. People do not end up agreeing with the governments heavy-handed valuation of homes to be used as a repository of wealth. The problem of indenturement scared many away from the dream of home ownership. The value was overinflated by policy. Barney Frank is a predatory lender.


    How many dogs am i holding up?

  • Andre

    I have watched your documentary over and over again. I will continue to watch it over and over again because I think it to be that good. Thank you for putting it all together for those of us who want to make sense of this complex world we live. I have travelled to many of the destinations featured in your documentary to make sense of this world but that was too much of an adventure for a ‘common man’ to try making sense of such complex history. There are limitations when one is trying to educate oneself by means of reading books and traveling to the many different destinations. You, Niall, have been able to get right to the points. In my personal opinion your documentary is a must have in every home. That is, those who care to understand this world humans have created. But of most interest I thought was how you connected the dot in the Merchant of Venice so your audience would understand what the world views (When it comes to lending money & deeply entrenched religious views) of Europeans were at the time. well done.
    words cannot explain how your documentary, The Ascent of Money, has greatly broaden my understanding. All that remains for me to do is keep reading more for you have provided me with a very good foundation. Again, Thank you for your good work.

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  • Frank

    Very great
    Keep doing

  • Frank

    I watched the movies yesterday. Could you send me an e- mail?

  • Frank

    I watched the movies about economic
    yesterday. Could you send me an e- mail?

    Thank you very much.

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