Saturday, November 29, 2008

Using YouTube Videos in the Classroom; Even if the Site is Blocked!

So you've found some useful videos to use in your classroom on YouTube. You can view them fine at home, only to discover that your school district has decided to block YouTube forcing you to go to plan B.

If this happens to you, there are several things you can do.

First you can check out, which is the YouTube for teachers, but there aren't as many good videos to choose from. It's a great idea, but it needs more users to put up some better content. There are a few organizations who have taken to it, and posted some good historical content, but it might be a struggle to find exactly what you're looking for.

And finally you can use Zamzar ( Zamzar is a file conversion website that can convert almost any type of file to the format you desire. In this case, you can input the URL of the YouTube video you desire and convert it into a format that you can save to your computer or your zip disk/thumb drive and access directly from your computer. Sometimes the files are rather large so I don't recommend emailing it, but you can certainly email the URLs of the videos and convert them from your school's computer.

Zamzar is quite simple. Just have it sent to your school email address and save it there. Hopefully you have a network, because the files are quite large, and it would be easier to share with other teachers.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mary Had a Little Lamb... for Thanksgiving.

Sara Hale, author of the famous poem, Mary Had a Little Lamb and one the nation's first woman magazine editors played an instrumental part in making Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Ms. Hale worked tirelessly writing letters to the Presidents because she thought it was a good idea to have a holiday where all Americans could collectively give thanks. Her passionate letters and essays finally caught up with Abraham Lincoln. With a nation divided Lincoln thought the idea was a good one and thus declared the last Thursday in November, as Thanksgiving.

But FDR would later try to move this date up, in an effort to boost the economy and get an extra week for holiday shopping. For one year, 1940, this caused much confusion, so much that America actually had two Thanksgivings that year. Some states recognized FDR's decree, while others still followed Lincoln's last Thursday declaration. Congress eventually agreed to make it the 4th Thursday of the month instead of the last Thursday. You can read about the whole story here.

The first Thanksgiving, the one celebrated in 1621 by Plymouth (or Plimouth) colonists and Wampanoag Indians, didn't have lamb on the menu... but it may have had turkey.

There are only two items historians know for sure were on the menu; venison and wild fowl. These are mentioned in primary sources.

Below is one of the more detailed descriptions of the "First Thanksgiving". It comes from A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, in 1621, by Edward Winslow:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of
our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
For a full list off what might have been on the menu, including eel and lobster, and what was definitely not on the menu... click the link below:

Did You Know That...
According to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers' Association.The cranberry is one of only three fruits that are entirely native to North American soil.

Without cheating, take a guess at what the other two are...

Happy Holidays.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Failures of the Presidents: Book Review

Failures of the Presidents: From the Whiskey Rebellion and War of 1812 to the Bay of Pigs and War in Iraq

The book's interesting cover is enough to grab your attention. But the interest doesn't stop there. Failures of the Presidents is a quick witted, sarcastic, informative and entertaining look at some of the greatest Presidents' not so great moments.

Though many of the vignettes within the book are familiar only to those that study the subject, the authors do a great job of bringing the reader up to speed quickly so that the context of the chapter is not lost. The book is meant to be read by everyone.

The writing style is well suited for a quick, fun read. Filled with clever comparisons and sarcastic wit, Failures of the Presidents brings a sense of humor to what is usually a more serious subject. But don't let the cover or the clever writing fool you... there are some serious issues addressed.

In all, 20 presidents are highlighted... each a story of its own, making this a great book of short reads. But it is much, much more than one of those quick facts, "Did you know?" type of books many of us get suckered into browsing at the book store. This has some meat.
The images in the book make it great for the coffee table, not to mention the conversation piece the cover can become. It's not often that history books give you pictures to ponder while reading... but the coffee table style of this book is a very welcome deviation to the common history book.

If you've read this book, or anything like it, I'd love to hear your thoughts.... I'm currently reading Secret Lives of the US Presidents, which is another good read along the same lines, but with many more textbook like sidebars.

Both books are in my recommended section in the USHistorySite Online Store... click here to see all my recommended items.


Monday, November 17, 2008

"I'm Not a Crook" - Nixon and Watergate

It was on this day, November 18, 1973, before the entire nation, during a televised news conference in response to allegations regarding his involvement in the Watergate scandal that President Richard Nixon declared "I'm not a crook. I earned everything I got. "

This was his attempt at declaring innocence in the whole ordeal.

Nixon continued to deny his involvement in Watergate, even after audio tapes of conversations in the president’s office revealed otherwise. Nixon later resigned from his post as president on August 8, 1974. He resigned shortly after three articles of impeachment were passed. However, Gerald Ford, his successor pardoned him of any wrong doing.

I've always wondered if Nixon really thought he'd be able to talk his way out of it by denying any wrong doing. Did he know they had the tapes on him? And if he did, would he still have said this famous line? Does Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky fiasco fall into the same category? Would admission of guilt from the get-go changed our perception of either of these two ordeals.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thank You Readers!

Dear Readers,

I'd like to take the time to thank all of my loyal readers. I have now hit the milestone of 100 readers. What does this mean? This means 100 people have decided that they like my blog enough to have it fed to them every time I decide to spoon it out. Thanks guys!

Incidentally, the 100th reader came on the 100th post. This is post #101. And although the red button below may not indicate 100 - it was at that number - it just sometimes fluctuates.

If you're interested in getting USHistoryBlog in your RSS feed, click the red button below.

Or if you want to get USHistoryBlog in your email, you can do that too...
Click here to subscribe to the email

I try my best to create quality, insightful commentary that can be enjoyed by both the lay-man and the expert. I do cater towards teachers and education a bit, but why not... I'm a teacher.

What started as a way to give my students an alternative to the same old homework assignment has turned into a hobby, and it appears like people enjoy my hobby. And I appreciate that. has been around since October 29, 2006. Since that time, the blog has received over 42,000 site visits. 33,000 of those visits have come since January 1st of 2008. So the site is growing. So I'll keep doing what I do... and you can keep enjoy it.

What can you do?
For starters, you can spread the word... Tell people about the blog, send them a link, put a link on your website (I'll exchange with you if you'd like).

You can Friend USHistorySite/USHistoryBlog on Facebook, and become a fan of the site... This is a great way to connect and network with like-minded people. Click the image below to do that.

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Comment more often. I love to get comments and hear the opinions of my readers. I'd love to hear from you about topic ideas and discussions. I do give prompts at the end of a lot of the entries, but just a few quick words will help out a lot.

And finally... you can simply keep doing what you've been doing. Read and enjoy the blog.

Thanks again.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day: A Brief History

Originally called Armistice Day, it was proclaimed by Woodrow Wilson to celebrate the first anniversary of the Armistice that was signed to end World War I.

We've all heard the phrase... the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when Germany signed the Armistice, ending The Great War.

It was made a legal holiday in 1938.

Several years later, in 1953, a shopkeeper from Kansas, named Al King had the idea to honor all American veterans on Armistice day and not just those from World War I. King had been very active in supporting all veterans, with the group American War Dads. A congressman from his home town, liked the idea and pushed the idea through Congress. And in 1954, President Eisenhower signed it into law, making the 11th of November officially Veterans Day. A day to honor all veterans of every war.

If there are any veterans you'd like to salute and honor, here is your forum. Please comment below and honor our soldiers.

I'll honor my Grandfather, Joe Vetter, who served in the Army during World War II as an Ordinance Supply Technician. We're fortunate he didn't see any combat action, but he did share a boat with General Patton and was given clean-up duty on Omaha Beach several days after D-Day, in the European theater. I know he's spending today calling all of his army buddies. Unfortunately, each year he makes fewer and fewer phone calls.

He's written a few heartfelt entries on this blog. Here is his take on D-Day, and here are his thoughts on the GI Bill.

Grandpop, I love you and salute you. Thank you.

And finally, for more stories go to, a site dedicated to telling the stories of real American heroes.

In honor of Veteran's Day, ShopPBS is offering 15% off War & Military Titles PLUS Buy More Save More starts today.



Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Congratulations Barrack Obama!

Momentarily, Barrack Obama has become the 44th President of the United States. Above that, he has become the first African-American President of the United States of America. A truly historic event in our nation's ever-unfolding history.

Congratulations to Barrack Obama and everything he represents.

I think the picture of Reverend Jesse Jackson crying is fitting. He has tears of joy, tears of relief, tears of excitement. Tears that reflect the hardships of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Booker T. Washington, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, The Little Rock Nine, Malcolm X, Crispus Attucks, Bill Cosby, Thurgood Marshall and so many others.

To sum up this long civil rights battle, I think Jay-Z said it best at a rally in Philadelphia yesterday...

"Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so Obama could run. Obama's running so we all can fly."

Barrack Obama will be sworn into office during the first month of 2009.
2009 marks the 100th Anniversary of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

Barrack Obama started his political career in Springfield, Illinois. Springfield, Illinois is the birthplace of the NAACP.

Tonight the United States took a giant step forward. It's one step towards change. Towards a friendlier, well respected United States. Get ready for America 2.0.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Election Day: November 4, 2008: Quotes & Votes

With today's election in the balance, I thought these quotes, from past presidents, to be appropriate. I don't care who you vote for... as long as you vote.

Happy Election Day!

"The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter." - Dwight Eisenhower

"The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all."- JFK

"I hope that no American will waste his franchise and throw away his vote by voting either for me or against me solely on account of my religious affiliation. It is not relevant." - JFK

"Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost." - John Quincy Adams

"The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men." - Lyndon Johnson

"Voters quickly forget what a man says." - Richard Nixon

"When a fellow tells me he's bipartisan, I know he's going to vote against me." - Harry Truman


For more quotes from these presidents and others, please visit


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Election Day Lesson Plans

Still struggling with something to do for Monday before the election?

Check out some of these great resources:

The National Constitution Center
The National Constitution Center is proud to feature originally authored lesson plans by educators from across the country. (psst... I helped to edit/finalize one of them)

PBS - By the People
These lesson plans are organized by grade level and topic. All are designed to tie to state and national standards for civics, history, math, and language arts.

A Great Resource Page from PBS

Scholastic Election 2008 Lesson Plans

BrainPOP Election Activities
These are very informative, fun cartoons. Most of these are free, scroll to the bottom to see all the free short movies.

If you've found others (and I know there is plenty more...) Please share them. We may not be able to squeeze them in by Monday, but are still appropriate even after the election.