#DearMrPresident About that 20

A year ago, I blogged about a group of homeschool kids in New England that started a petition to have Andrew Jackson’s picture taken off the $20 bill. (You can find a bunch of Everyday Learning ideas about Andrew Jackson at the original blog post.) Sure, Jackson was the — President of the United States, but he really wasn’t all that great of a decent human being.

The push to have Jackson’s portrait taken off the twenty has been around for some time. But, with the power of social media and the Women on 20s website, this campaign has reached a whole new level.


Agree or disagree, you can harness this hot topic into a fascinating learning journey.

Everyday Learning With a $20 Bill:

  • No record reportedly exists for why certain individuals were selected to be on different denominations, but see if you can make an educated guess after reading the White House’s presidential biographies. You can also talk about why Ben Franklin – who was not a president – was honored with a portrait.

    Check out the Federal Reserve’s free downloadable lesson plan that explores this exact question, if you want to save some planning time.

    • $1: George Washington
    • $2: Thomas Jefferson
    • $5: Abraham Lincoln
    • $10: Alexander Hamilton
    • $20: Andrew Jackson
    • $50: Ulysses S. Grant
    • $100: Benjamin Franklin
  • Read about how the U.S. Treasury Department designs paper currency. Enlarge a photocopy of the front and backsides of a dollar bill. Have your kids identify each of the symbols with a 1 or 2 sentence explanation of what they mean.
  • Take a look at the list of nominated women. Pick 3 names that are unfamiliar. Research them and create a poster that lists 5 interesting facts about each woman.
    • Harriet Tubman*
    • Wilma Mankiller*
    • Rosa Parks*
    • Eleanor Roosevelt*
    • Susan B. Anthony
    • Clara Barton
    • Elizabeth Cady Stanton
    • Rachel Carson
    • Shirley Chisholm
    • Betty Friedan
    • Barbara Jordan
    • Patsy Mink
    • Alice Paul
    • Frances Perkins
    • Margaret Sanger
    • Sojourner Truth
      * – Voted as one of 4 finalists on the Womens on 20 national poll
  • What about paper currency in other countries? Do they only feature past presidents and kings? Do any of them have a woman featured on their money? How often have other countries changed the portrait of who has been featured on their money? You can start with the Bank of England and compare their banknotes to American dollars. You can make a chart that compares and contrasts the answers to these questions across the different countries that you research.
  • Discuss or debate which criteria is more important in determining who should be featured on paper currency. For example: Should only elected officials be honored? How do you measure patriotism across different centuries? If you’re basing your criteria on humanitarian good, how many people should have benefited from a person’s achievements?

    There’s no right or wrong answer to this question. What you’re looking for, however, is the ability to back up your criteria picks with good reasons – not just emotions or opinions – and to be consistent with your reasoning across the selection of every person featured on paper currency.

Do you think Andrew Jackson should be replaced on the $20 bill? How else are you exploring this topic with your kids?

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Got Gamer Girls?

Stunningly beautiful only begins to describe the brand-new Never Alone video game. Developed by a subsidiary of the Alaskan Cook Inlet Tribal Council, in collaboration with almost 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers and community members, Never Alone introduces a new genre of “World Video Games”. Already a debut award winner, Never Alone taps into the rich Iñupiaq culture, to create an atmospheric puzzle platform.

Playing as an Iñupiat girl, gamers explore everywhere from the tundra to underwater ice caverns in order to save the girl’s village from an eternal blizzard. Take a look for yourself!

Now, I’m not the biggest proponent of video games, but there are certain elements about Never Alone that make me want to pick up the controller myself.

  • Non-Sexualized Female Protagonist
    In the gaming world, finding strong female characters who aren’t falling out of their scant or form-fitting clothes is tough. Never Alone’s Nuna is no less the hero for making it through all her challenges while wearing sensible shoes and warm clothes.
  • Cooperative Game Play
    Just as in real life, one person can’t be expected to do everything. It usually takes teamwork to accomplish a big goal. In order to navigate through the game, players must switch between playing as Nuna and playing as her fox companion. Alternatively, two players can tag-team the game.
  • Exploration of Spiritual Connection to the Natural World
    Yes, the goal of the game is to overcome the blizzard, but that’s not accomplished through conquering and destruction. As a Wired game reviewer pointed out, players wind up learning about “respect for nature, one another, and one’s elders . . . cultivating a spiritual connection with the land. In short, community-informed selflessness.”
  • Learn Something New
    Unlocking challenges is rewarded with short educational videos that share elements of the Iñupiat culture.

  • I think PC Gamer described playing the game best:

    [W]hat you’re doing is reclaiming, rescuing the fragments of a way of life that’s melting away into the ocean, in order to shore up the sense of fellowship that’s boldly insisted upon by the game’s title.

    The Never Alone video game is available for PC download, as well as for various gaming systems.

    Have your kids played Never Alone, yet?
    Tell us what you think of the game!

Andrew Jackon Has Got To Go

Here’s my favorite learning project from this week: A group of homeschool kids in New England have started a petition to have Andrew Jackson’s picture taken off the $20 bill.

This is what the kids have to say:

Although Andrew Jackson was a war hero, a champion of the common man, and a popular president, his shameful treatment of slaves and Native Americans should disqualify him from being on the $20 bill.

While leading troops against Native Americans, Jackson favored killing women and children after massacres to eliminate future threats. As a prosperous slave owner, he sympathized with those who wanted tribal land for cotton production. As President, he passed the Indian Removal Act and initiated the forced removal we now call the Trail of Tears. When the Supreme Court sided with the Cherokee, Jackson became the only president to openly defy a Supreme Court ruling.

Even by the standards of his time, he was vindictive and dishonorable. Certainly, we can find a better role model than Jackson!


Go ahead and check their facts:

Agree that Andrew Jackson has to to go? Sign the petition today! The kids have until June 15 to gather 100,000 signatures before President Obama is required to respond to their petition.

What do you think? Did the kids do their homework?
Does Andrew Jackson really have to go?

Discovery of Columbus’ Santa Maria Ship

Whatever you may think of Christopher Columbus’ legacy, one fact remains true: His fateful “discovery” in 1492 forever changed the history of the world.

Originally sailing the ocean blue with three Portuguese vessels, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria; Columbus returned home with only 2 ships. Why? Because on Christmas Day in 1492, Columbus and his other lead sailors left command of the ship in the hands of a “boy” while they slept.

The Santa Maria ran aground and quickly took on water. The decision was made to rescue the cargo and abandon the ship.

Underwater archaeologists have been searching for the wreckage of the Santa Maria for many years. Reading through Columbus’ journal, they’ve been rather certain that the ship’s remains would be found off the coast of Haiti. And that’s just what they discovered!

Everyday Exploration of Columbus and the Santa Maria

  • Read Columbus’ journal about the day the Santa Maria sank
    Skip ahead to page 199 of this online digital translation. After you read the short account, talk about how accurate Columbus may have portrayed his role. Had he really not slept for 2 days? Or, had all the sailors “celebrated” Christmas Day a little too much that they weren’t thinking when they left the ship in the hands of a young crewman?
  • Trace Columbus’ 1st journey
    Take a look at a map drawn in 1500 that shows how the world was seen after Columbus’ first voyage. Compare the map to a modern-day version. Can you locate about where the Santa Maria went down? What are the modern-day names of the countries that Columbus visited?

  • Decide who owns sunken treasures
    Back in 2003, the bell that supposedly rang from the helm of the Santa Maria when Columbus “discovered” America was found by a Spanish underwater archaeologist in different shipwreck off the coast of Portugal. Portugal sued to have the bell returned to their county, saying it had been “stolen”. What do you think? Should the person who discovered the bell get to keep it? Or, should it be returned as rightful property to Portugal, who financed Columbus’ journey over 500 years ago?
  • Tour a replica of Columbus’ Nina
    Now through the end of 2014, the Columbus Foundation will be sailing their reproduction of the Nina along the East Coast and interior of the United States. Visit the website for more information about the original ship and how the reproduction was built.

How are you exploring Columbus and the discovery of the Santa Maria today?
Share your ideas below!

National Mythology Exam Prep

Every January, for a number of years, we’d dig out our copy of the D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths and read through our favorite stories to start preparing for the National Mythology Exam.

Hosted by the Excellence Through the Classics, NME is a gentle way to introduce kids into the dynamic world of mythology. It’s not just about studying literature or Ancient Greece. It’s a cultural literacy lesson that brings our daily lives into focus.

  • Fluffy, the 3-headed dog in Harry Potter is really the monster Cerebus
  • Neptune Pools isn’t named after someone’s family. It’s the Roman equivalent for the god of water
  • Hypnosis isn’t just some pseudo-science. It’s named after the god of sleep.

Documentary that gives a deeper understanding of how the Greek myths came into being. Recommended: grades 7 and up.

Participating in the NME is pretty straightforward – and it’s an opportunity open to homeschoolers! Simply send in your registration form by January 15. Read the stories. Do some fun activities to help your kids remember their facts. And then, take the test in the last week of February or the first week of March.

The test is multiple choice. Kids fill in bubbles on a scan-tron answer sheet. You mail the answer sheets in and they’re scored. Everyone receives a certificate of participation. High scoring kids may also received a bronze, silver, or gold medal!

Older kids are required to complete more portions of the tests than younger students. But, hey, if your 3rd grader has read the required books from the Iliad and they want to take that part of the test, too, they can. NME is cool like that. The minimum ages are guidelines. A kindergartener can participate, if they can take the test independently.

NME exam topics change every year. Some years, kids study Jason and the Argonauts in-depth. Other years there’s a focus on mythological monsters. Really motivated kids can also study Native American, African, and Norse myths, also. High school students will be required to read a selection from either Homer’s The Iliad, The Odyssey, or The Aeneid.

Check out the 7-year topic rotation to see what’s up for this year.

How you prepare for the National Mythology Exam is completely up to you. There’s all kinds of resources you can use for free or purchase. Some things we’ve done over the years include:

  • Make your own Mythology trading cards. This free site lets you design cards using a
    template that looks like Magic cards. You provide your own text and image – either drawn by the kids or found online using a google image search. You can use these cards for matching and recall games.
  • Draw a Greek geneaology tree. The D’Aulaires’ book has one that you can use as a model on the 1st page.
  • Make a stick puppet play. We did this with Herakles, because it helped us remember all the different tasks he had to complete.
  • Make a monster encyclopedia about the origins of Cyclopes, Medusa, Typhon, and others.
  • If you prefer a games-based approach to learning, you can find some of the mythology review games I created for my guys and for the mythology summer camp I used to teach at the community college.

I’d love to hear how you learn about mythology with your kids!

Election Day

U.S. Presidential Election

Schoolhouse Rock: Electoral College

Explore the U.S. Presidential Elections

  1. Presidential – Election Day Logic Puzzles
    Ages 10-14. Set the stage for exploring the history of US Presidential elections and inaugurations with five table logic puzzles. These brainteasers blend critical thinking skills with your government studies.
    The Teacher Notes let you know what facts kids should be familiar with before they start – like FDR was the only President to be elected four times. From there, kids use deducive reasoning to learn fun new Presidential facts.
  2. Ben’s Guide to Electing the President
    Ages 9-12. Find out more about the electoral process from a totally non-partisan point of view. This link is very text “heavy”, but it’s excellent information written for kids and published by the federal government.
  3. BBC’s Election Guide on Presidential Key Issues
    Ages 10+. You can get any more non-partisan than this – an election guide published in Great Britain. Find out Obama and Romney’s positions on nine key issues.

  4. Library of Congress: Elections in America

    Image source:
    Library of Congress: Elections in America
    Ages 10-14. Explore the history of Presidential elections in America by delving into Candidates, Voters, Party System, Election Process, and the Issues. Your study comes alive with loads of links to digitized primary sources and fun activities.
  5. 2012 Electoral College Map
    Ages 9-18. Download a free color Electoral College map from CNN. You can also download free lessons that explore the pros and cons of the electoral college system; activities that use the map; and how the Electoral College is connected to the Constitution.
    Image source:
    CNN Special Offers

Share Your Ideas
What are you doing today to learn about the Election?

2012 Nobel Peace Prize Winner: The EU

On October 12, the European Union was announced as the winner of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. The EU became the 20th organization to receive this honor since 1901.

Alfred Nobel

Image source:
Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist and inventor, created the set of five prizes that bear his name when he wrote his will in 1895. Best known for inventing dynamite, much of Nobel’s work fueled the creation of armaments used by countries at war. In contrast, Nobel’s legacy celebrates the work of those who promote peace. In addition to the Peace prize, the Nobel committee awards annual prizes to significant contributions in the field of Physics, Chemistry, Medicine or Physiology, and Literature.

Nobel spent most of his youth in St. Petersburg, Russia where his father worked for the czar and invented sea mines. Nobel and his three brothers were educated at home by private tutors. By the time he was 18, Nobel could speak Swedish, Russian, French, English, and German fluently.

As a lifelong bachelor, Nobel met a woman by the name of Bertha Kinsky von Chinic und Tettau. He hired Bertha as his housekeeper and personal secretary in 1876. While she didn’t stay employed with Nobel long, the two wrote letters to one another for the rest of Nobel’s life. Bertha was a peace activist and she tried to encourage Nobel to become involved in her work. He donated money to her cause but did little more to become actively involved.

“Justice is to be found only in the imagination.” – Alfred Nobel

Most scientists and inventors living in the 19th century did not necessarily believe they had a responsibility for how their inventions would ultimately be used. From what we know of Alfred Nobel, he did not work to invent things that could be used for killing and warfare. Instead, Nobel assumed the destructive nature of his inventions, like dynamite, would deter people from using them in times of war.

Over the course of his lifetime, Nobel registered more than 350 patents for his various inventions. He owned 90 factories across Europe and America. And, he was an investor in his brothers’ oil venture in Russia. At the time of his death, Nobel left the vast majority of his fortune to fund the Nobel Prizes.

Explore the Nobel Peace Prize

  1. 2012 Nobel Peace Prize Learning Packet
    The Nobel Peace Prize Activities packet is geared towards 9th and 10th grade students studying World History. It can also be used with advanced 7th and 8th graders. The activities are designed to supplement a world history curriculum. The packet contains general outlines for implementing four learning activities and suggestions for three additional extension ideas. A mapping exercise introduces the European Union to students. A timeline activity allows the teacher to recap significant events in EU history. A debating activity develops critical thinking skills that evaluate significant contributions made by Nobel Laureates. And finally, a 1-page writing assignment allows students to identify with a range of Nobel Laureates based on gender, race, religion, or ethnicity.


  2. Alfred Nobel: Video Biography


  3. BBC Nobel Peace Prize Quiz
    See how much you know about the history of the Nobel Peace Prize by taking this high school level quiz.


  4. Conflict Map

    This interactive map traces more than 100 years of wars across the world. Scroll through the decades to find out more about each conflict. Additionally, you’ll be able to see who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize at the same time.


Share Your Ideas
What are you doing today to learn about the Nobel Peace Prize?

Boston Marathon

Background: The first Boston Marathon was run on April 19, 1897, a year after the 1st modern Olympics. Runners traveled a 24.5 mile path through the city. The distance was changed to 26.2 miles in 1908.

The marathon was held on the 19th, which also happened to be Patriot’s Day – a regional holiday marking the start of the Revolutionary War.

In 1966, the first woman unofficially ran the Boston Marathon, but only after hiding in the bushes and starting after the race began. The following year, a woman entered the race by using initials on her entry form to hide her gender. Race officials tried to remove her from the race, but friends and other runners protected her from the physical assaults. Marathon officials finally allowed women to enter the race in 1972.

How You Can Explore the Day:

  1. Physical Education and Diversity:
    In 1975, the Boston Marathon allowed wheelchair racers to join. The first person to win this division completed the marathon in two hours, 58 minutes. The fastest foot running time of 2 hours 3 minutes 2 seconds was set by Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya in 2011.

    Measure a reasonable distance, grab a stopwatch (your cellphone has one) and a clipboard and set up your own track meet to compare race times. How fast can your kids run the distance? What’s the time difference if they use a scooter or a bike to race, instead? Make a chart to organize your information. Get your friends to join the fun and then you can average out times for different age groups and make a bar chart to compare who is the speediest.

  2. Physical Education and Coping Skills:

    Read the Tortoise and the Hare, the folktale that talks about speed versus endurance. After taking a rest break and rehydrating from your previous foot race, measure a longer distance to run. Talk about why pacing yourself is important if you want to make it to the end.

    Other topics to talk about include: When is racing through a task a good idea? What is confidence and why is too much confidence not a good thing? What is the difference between taking your time and dawdling?

  3. History and Civic Responsibility:
    Roberta Gibb tells her story about why she sneaked her way into the Boston Marathon in 1966. Katherine Switzer was the first woman to officially run in the Boston Marathon. You can read a bit about her life and how she went from a wannabe cheerleader to an athletic icon at the age of 20.

    Both of these women present a powerful example of what happens when you decide to break a rule that you think is unfair. Talk with your kids about rules and laws in the home and in the community. What rules apply only to children? Are they fair? What can kids do if they think they’re being treated unfairly? What about accepting consequences when they break a rule on purpose?

  4. Geography:
    Look at a map and/or a globe and locate Boston. What state is it in? Locate your home state. Talk about the differences between the two locations.

    Take a look at the picture above. It was taken in mid-April. What clues can you find in the picture about the type of weather Boston usually has in April? How is that weather different from the state where you live? Why do you think the weather is different?

Share Your Ideas
What are you doing today to learn about the Boston Marathon?