Monday, November 23, 2009

One Hundred Great American Moments in History

History is jam packed with moments…..moments great and small.
For someone like me they are all equally intriguing….all equally important though some actually get a little more play in the classroom than others.

If I had to ask you about your top ten list for events in American History more than likely we would all have varying lists with a little overlap.

I’m sure that most of you would include events from the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, the Boston Massacre, or even Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

My events would be a little more obscure (for some)….Shay’s Rebellion, the inception of The Manhattan Project, the Election of 1800, the March on Washington Movement (1941-1947), or the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

I could go on and on and on with my list……

The folks over at Online School recently alerted me regarding their post titled One Hundred Great Moments in American History You Can Catch on YouTube. Their list includes moments involving war, presidential inaugurations, assassinations, music, sports, world ties, and so much more.

I’ve looked through their list and there are many gems there. Some that rose to the top for me include:

World War II: The Lost Color Archives: One of the most devastating wars in the history of mankind, this five part series contains many lost images of the war presented in color. There are images of many turning points in the war and even images of Hitler himself.

The Declaration of Independence: The birthing document of the United States was signed on July 4, 1776. Mel Gibson, Michael Douglas, Whoopi Goldberg, and others recite it word for word.
Gettysburg Address: Abraham Lincoln gave this speech at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Pennsylvania on November 19, 1863, at the height of the Civil War. Actor Jeff Daniels reads it over a slideshow of historical images

Reagan’s 1964 Republican National Convention: "I think it’s time to ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intened to us by our Founding Fathers."

First Moon Landing: The Russians beat the Americans to space, but Neil Armstrong played a pivotal role in history when he set foot on the moon in 1969. This short video is actual footage of the moon landing, including the historic line.

Go on…..go take a look and find something to occupy your time in a fashion that will inspire you and remind you that we do live in a great nation with a great and long history.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Who the Heck Is Thorfinn Karlsefni?


Dig down deep into that creaky file cabinet in your mind and pull out the folder labeled “Vikings” and name a few of the more famous ones for me.

I’ll wait.

No, not the football team. There should be another folder there for the OTHER Vikings. You know, the Norsemen who were explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates.

There you go. That’s it. Wow, that folder hasn’t seen the light of day in…..well, just blow the dust off it and open it up.

So, what have you got?

Leif Ericsson….son of Erik the Red

Canute (Knut or Cnut) Sweynsson….better known as Canute the Great….King of England, etc.
Those are usually the top three names I get. Most of the time folks just give me Erik and Leif.

What about Thorfinn Karlsefni?

Yep, you are so very right. Who in the heck is Thorfinn Karlsefni?

Well….here goes….

1. Thorfinn was a Norse merchant who followed Leif Ericsson’s route seven years later.…around 1010 AD…to North America.
2. While on a trading trip to Greenland Thorfinn met and married Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir, the widow of Erik the Red’s son, Thorvald. (Believe me, I’m glad I don’t have to type these names every day.)

3. Snorri, the son of Thorfinn and his wife is thought to be the first European baby born in North American.

4. The location of Snorri’s birth it thought to be Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. Other locations given include Long Island Sound, the Bay of Fundy, or L'Anse aux Meadows

5. Three years after arriving in North America, Thorfinn and his men abandoned the settlement they created and went to Greenland first…..then Norway and finally settled in Iceland, his childhood home.

6 Why was the North American settlement abandoned? Perhaps distance was the key. Some scholars theorize that Vinland was to the Vikings like India was to Alexander the Great… was beyond the Viking’s ability to impose their will. Others argue that climate change was the culprit.

7. You can find a statue of Thorfinn Karlsefni in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania....pictured here with my post.

8. Thorfinn grew up in Iceland and can count Aud the Deepminded, a queen from the British Isles and Ugarval, King of Ireland in his lineage though I have found no verifiable reference to Ugarval.

9. Archeology supports the long-held theory that it was Thorfinn who began the tradition of telling the Viking sagas that were passed down from generation to generation.

10. Sagas recount for most of our knowledge regarding Viking history, but it is important to remember we must separate Viking fantasy from Viking fact. Archeology lends credence to the sagas. Sagas that include Thorfinn explain he left North America after a clash with Native Americans.

11. One of the sagas tells the story of Freydis and Thorvald…a married couple that accompanied Thorfinn and his wife to the New World. When attacked by Native Americans the saga states that the Viking men ran off leaving a pregnant Freydis to scream after them, “Why do you flee from such pitiful wretches, brave men like you? If I had weapons, I am sure I could fight better than any of you.” At this point Freydid picks up a sword and exposes her breast to indicate she is a woman and frightens off her attackers. There are other versions of this particular saga…..

12.Once he settled in Iceland the records indicate Thorfinn never returned to North America.

13. Archeologist discovered a turf mansion believed to belong to Thorfinn in Iceland.

An online article regarding Thorfinn and the archaeology that proves some of the sagas concerning him can be found at Smithsonian Magazine online.

Other bloggers participate in Thursday Thirteen. You can learn more about the meme or find links to other participants here

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Parent's Love....

Halloween night Mr. EHT and I received a phone call that every parent dreads…one from a stranger identifying himself as an EMT.

My mind worked furiously to comprehend what he was saying, but all I wanted to say was, “Surely sir, you have the wrong number.” He just kept rattling off information ---he was with my daughter, there had been an accident, he and his wife ( a nurse) had been driving by, he assured me they would stay by Dear Daughter’s side until she was in the ambulance.


I finally got the words out…..”Is she….is she ok?”

The voice on the other end of the phone said, “Yes, she’s complaining (hmmmm…….complaining….that’s good, I thought) of back and neck pain, and they have her on a backboard to stabilize her until they can see what is causing her pain.

After arriving at the hospital, Mr. EHT and I discovered barring any findings from the x-rays, Dear Daughter was just very scared and hurting from the slam of the airbag deploying and the strain against the seatbelt.

Dear Daughter’s Youth Minister had at arrived at the hospital about the same time her father and I had walked in. We left him in a near empty waiting room to see our daughter. Fifteen minutes later I returned to the waiting room to advise Pastor Danny how Dear Daughter was doing and to see if he wanted to go back to see her.

I was taken aback. The empty room, in that very short span of fifteen minutes had filled up with various members of our church and several teens. The room was full. We were overwhelmed with the support we had. Most stayed until Dear Daughter went home later that night.

Friends and family…..they certainly come in handy in the time of a crisis, don’t they?

Since that night I’ve continued to think about the support that was freely given to my family and as I tend to do I began to put a historical spin on the whole episode. My thoughts zeroed in on Thomas Jefferson and his daughters. He certainly knew what it was like to depend on friends and family during moments of crisis and upheaval.

Head on over to American Presidents to see where I’m heading with all of this……

The letter pictured at the beginning of this post was written by Mary Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How to Achieve World Domination in One 50-Minute Class Period or the Post in Which I Discuss Diversionary Tactics

When I was growing up my dad had a constant supply of gravel around our house because he was always using one of his tractors to move the gravel around to fill up potholes that would form on the many gravel drives around the lumberyard. From time to time my friends and I would climb the huge pile of white and grey granite stones and proclaim ourselves kings and queens of the world. That is, until we got knocked off our perch and onto our keisters. To this day I have scars and divets in my shins, knees and elbows from my rather abrupt ousters from being a world ruler.

From time to time I need a diversion in the classroom…maybe I don’t feel particularly well, perhaps the weather is really crummy, or it could be that a certain student is pushing my button a little too often. Then again, maybe I’m just simply not in the mood to teach that next lesson in my American Revolution unit or World War II, or I simply can’t face explaining how the Korean War has never really ended. Yes, believe it or not Elementaryhistoryteacher gets a bit worn mid-way through a unit...sometimes.

Then again….it could be the students need a diversion. You begin class and look out to find those glazed over looks that beg for a diversion. Perhaps it’s a really sunny day after a string of really nasty weather days, maybe there was a really nasty fight down the hall and it riled everyone up, and then again perhaps students need a diversion because……because diversions are…they are….

… the stuff of life!

Diversions make the mundane bearable.

So… of my little pleasures that serve as a diversionary lesson begins where I ring my little bell to signal class has begun and then on the whiteboard at the front of the board I write: Remain quiet. We are going to suspend our present study and detour down another road. Today’s lesson involves folks who wanted to take over the world, but first we are going to watch a little video and enjoy some music.

I show some song lyrics on the overhead and begin the video…..

Yep, from the mid-eighties the song is Everybody Wants to Rule the World from the band Tears For Fears. The audio is particularly good on this video, so turn it up and enjoy!

Here are the lyrics:

Welcome to your life…There’s no turning back…Even while we sleep…We will find you…Acting on your best behavior…Turn your back on Mother Nature.

Everybody wants to rule the world.

It’s my own design…It’s my own remorse…Help me to decide…Help me make the most of freedom and pleasure…nothing ever lasts forever.

Everybody wants to rule the world.

There’s a room where the light won’t find you…Holding hands while the walls come tumbling down…When they do I’ll be right behind you.

So glad we’ve almost made it….So sad they had to face it.

Everybody wants to rule the world.

I can’t stand this indecision…Married with a lack of vision

Everybody wants to rule the world.

Say that you’ll never, never, never, never need it….One headline why believe it?

Everybody wants to rule the world.

All for freedom and for pleasure….Nothing ever lasts forever.

Everybody wants to rule the world.

I ask students what they think the song is about and how it might fit into a study of history. I then inform them that when asked about the song, Curt Smith, the band’s lead vocalist, stated, “The concept is quite serious – it’s about everybody wanting power, about warfare and the misery it causes.”

Then we switch gears a little and we discuss a cartoon from the WB Television Network called Pinky and the Brain. You can find all sorts of video clips from the series at this YouTube link. Pinky and the Brain are two rats who have been altered genetically and reside in a laboratory. Pinky is good-natured but feebleminded while the Brain is self-centered and scheming. Each episode begins with the following dialogue:

Pinky: “So Brain, what do you want to do tonight?”

Brain: “The same thing we do every night, Pinky – try to take over the world!”

Added to the mix in each episode and each new plan for world domination are parodies of classic novels and popular movies.

I share with students that the show was actually inspired by an actual conversation between two men who had previously worked on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and the popular Ren and Stimpy series. They wondered like we all have what it would be like to take over the world.
We then launch into a discussion about world domination. Why would someone want to control the world? What would the pros and cons be? Would it take a particular type of individual to actually pull off such a feat?

At this point I present a list to students including some of the following: Napoleon, Ghengkis Khan, Caesar, Hitler, Alexander the Great, and a few others. Hopefully, you have recognized these names as men who sought to take over the world…..or at least the world that was known to them at the time.

Based on our prior discussion regarding what motivates someone to seek world domination I ask students to choose one name and do a little in-class research using my encyclopedias and the vast array of Kids Discover magazines I’ve been collecting over the years. Each issue is centered around one topic…..The Constitution….Ancient Rome….Gengkis Khan, etc. They are geared for younger students age 7-12, and I haven’t found a student yet that doesn’t like them.

Students complete some research on their own and then I ask them to gather in small groups based on the person they chose. I ask them to share with each other what they have discovered and analyze the information in order to conclude what motivated the person to want to take over the world and why they failed. Finally, each student meets with another student who researched a different person. They share with each other what they have discovered and keep meeting with a different student until they have heard about each man on our research list.

Diversion ARE the stuff of life and sometimes they are very, very necessary.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Glober Trekker

I have this deep dark secret.

I’ve never really shared it with anyone.

My secret doesn’t exactly fit the image many have of me….the quiet unassuming married school marm who in the past has lugged home not just one but two large bags each night filled to capacity with papers to grade, materials to review and to plan lessons with, paperwork to complete, and an assortment of other effects that teachers just seem to accumulate.

Teachers just have that image...always doing the right thing, always saying the right thing, always being where they are expected to be, but I have this desire…

If I could….if the timing was right…..if I had the funds….if my health was better…..if I didn’t have so many obligations…if ….if….if….if….if…







I would run away.

Yes, you read that right.

ElementaryHistoryTeacher would love to run away.

The reason? Well, to travel, of course. I want to see and experience the world.

I want to see the Great Pyramid, the Great Wall of China, and see “the running of the bulls” in Pamplona, Spain.

I want to climb the Rockies, ride through the Alps, and see Mount Kilimanjaro.

I want to take a mud bath in China, take a cooking class in Thailand, and go on a safari in Tanzania, Africa.

I want to sleep in a Bedouin tent, belly dance in Istanbul, and explore the Greek and Roman ruins.

I want to watch the sunrise over the Grand Canyon, trace the route of Lewis and Clark, and actually lay on the stones where the Mayans performed their rituals.

I want to read a book in some quaint bookstore in England, I want to sip coffee sitting in a sidewalk café in Paris, and I want to lay in the sun topless like all the office girls do during their lunch hour in Malaga, Spain.

I want to ride the Orient Express across Europe, ride a lodge boat down the Amazon River and experience Victoria Falls via the Devil's Pool .

I want to see where Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the door in Wittenberg, stand in St. Peter’s Square, and most importantly walk the path of Jesus through the Holy Land.

I want to skinny dip along the beaches of the Cook Islands….in particular one of the most beautiful places there…. Aitutaki Island.

Watch the video and you will see what I mean….

How did you like the music? Did you recognize it? It’s the theme to one of my most favorite travel shows.

You see, as much as I would like to visit all of the places mentioned above and do the things I listed the likelihood of any of them coming true at this point is next to nothing. I’m not looking for sympathy here….just being realistic. I might get to some of those things, but the reality of just running away and experiencing the world is unrealistic for me at this point for many reasons.

Therefore, I have to satisfy my desire vicariously.

I’m not usually a big fan of most travel shows, but Globe Trekker on PBS is one way that I can cure my wanderlust. The guides on the show travel the way I would like to. They explore the authentic culture of every region they visit yet they still hit on the important historical sites as well. Ian Wright, one my most favorite guides on the show states he enjoys “living cheap and getting dirty” on his travels, and I have to say a little of that would be interesting. Justine Shapiro, another host on the show, states, “The way to connect with other distinct cultures is to go with an open heart and spend time with the locals.” That would be part of my schtick if I was able to just …..GO.

In fact….the guides on the show are one of the reasons why I like it so much. There are several of them and they rotate through the episodes. They all have interesting backgrounds and bring their own little spin to the show. For example, Megan McCormick is a former English teacher in Japan. Zay Harding grew up in Hawaii and became interested in world cultures through the Boy Scouts, and Holly Morris is a print and media journalist with Adventure Divas.

From time to time I’ve used clips found at YouTube or the show’s main site in the classroom. These do need to be previewed for inappropriate content, but so many of the clips have value when teaching geography, world cultures or history. Most of the episodes can be searched by location. Often I’ve used them for independent study and allowed students to just pick something and run with it the way their heart takes them.

Sometimes THAT is when the best learning takes place.

The main website for Globe Trekker can be found here . Enjoy!