Credit, Then and Now

The 1920s saw the birth of consumer credit, with charge accounts at stores, credit cards, and installment loans. Today it’s hard to imagine modern life without these kinds of credit. Yet in both eras, families often found themselves in severe financial hardship due to overusing easy credit and then not being able to pay their bills.


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Warbling Wineglasses

Ben Franklin was an inventor, composer, and musician who lived from 1706 to 1790. He created the glass armonica, which was a popular musical instrument of the time made of glasses mounted on a revolving spindle, played with a moistened fingertip. Where did Franklin find the inspiration for the glass armonica? At a musical performance in London, the performer’s instruments were wineglasses of. . . MORE


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Kinetoscope

The kinetoscope was a wooden box used to look at images made on a kinetograph. A kinetograph took many quick pictures in a row. People paid a nickel to look through a slit in the box to see the images in motion. You can make your own kinetoscope and motion picture.


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Swim Paddles

Even at a young age, Ben was a good observer and inventor. When he was swimming, he saw that some kids could swim faster than others. Ben decided to experiment with ways to make himself go faster both on the surface and under the water. He believed that the size of a swimmer’s hands and feet might be the difference, so when he was around 10 years old, he invented swim paddles. Now you have a. . . MORE


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Egg Bungee Drop

Zip your egg in a clear pouch and see if it can survive a wild ride. if it can’t, use trial-and-error to make adjustments—and try, try again!


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Make a Manga-style Sketchbook

Hokusai made his own sketchbooks and filled them with drawings of what he saw each day. Make your own manga-style sketchbook with staples, glue, and paper.


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Make Your Own Compass

Before to the compass, sailors used landmarks and the position of the sun and stars to tell them which direction to sail. They often kept within sight of land, in case it became foggy or cloudy. The invention of the compass allowed sailors to navigate safely away from land. A compass’s magnetized needle aligns itself with the lines of the earth’s magnetic field. When the compass is level,. . . MORE


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Invisible Ink

One way to send secret messages during the Revolutionary War was to use invisible ink.


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Lean-to Shelter

If you don’t have access to a backyard full of branches, you can use any sort of stick or pole such as broom or rake handles, ski poles, or garden stakes. You could build your lean-to up against the wall of a building. If you decide to do this, you may want some other stabilizing sticks in order to hold it up. If you want to build your lean-to inside, build it against a bed, couch, or other. . . MORE


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Ring and Pin Game

Native Americans played many games. The games varied by tribe, and many were based on physical skills. The point of many of the games was to help improve hunting skills. Foot races improved speed, hideand- seek games were good practice for being silent, and archery games sharpened a hunter’s aim. Are you surprised that Native Americans of long ago played the same types of games that you still. . . MORE


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Covered Wagon

Covered wagons were about 10 feet long and 4 feet wide. They were covered by canvas laid over the top of a wooden hoop frame. A team of oxen usually pulled the wagon, which held most of a family’s food and supplies for the 4- or 5-month journey. They could hold up to 2,500 pounds of supplies. Some families traveled with more than one wagon. Covered wagons were often called prairie schooners. . . MORE


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Make Your Own Victory Banner

During World War II, families made patriotic banners called victory banners or sons-in-service flags to show their support for their sons, fathers, and brothers battling far away on the front lines. Banners were hung from a window or door at the front of the house where everyone could see them. The banners were white rectangles with a red border, and featured a blue star for every family member. . . MORE


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Build a Miniature Bullboat

Native Americans living in the Great Plains, including the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes of the upper Missouri River area, weren’t just hunters. They also fished in the many rivers that wind through the Plains. Some of these rivers, like the Missouri and Knife Rivers, are so big that Native Americans needed boats to cross them. It should be no surprise that bison were used in making these boats,. . . MORE


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Make Your Own Sundial

Shadows change direction depending on the time of day. As the earth rotates and the sun moves across the sky, shadows also move. In the morning, your shadow will stretch out behind you to the west, but in the evening it will stretch to the east. The shadow on your sundial does the same thing.


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Knitting Spool

Before the power loom was invented, weaving and knitting were slow, tedious tasks. Try hand weaving with your own knitting spool. With a few simple items and some yarn, you can create a knitted tube that you could use as a bracelet, belt, or skinny scarf!


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Make Your Own Soap Boat

The colonists’ trip to America took two or three months by sea on large ships. The ships could be about 100 feet long. These ships had to carry enough supplies for the long journey. Some of those supplies were food and water, clothing, guns and gun powder, tools and candles. The colonists brought the things they would need for their new lives with them. In this activity you can make your own. . . MORE


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Make Your Own Longhouse

The Iroquois men built their longhouses in the spring when the trees were young and flexible. Longhouses were large enough for 20 or more families to live in. Native Americans used materials that they found in nature. They believed that nothing should go to waste. Build a longhouse using as many natural resources as you can find, including dried weeds, straw, and twigs.


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Signal Lantern

Robert Newman was the caretaker of the Old North Church. On the night of April 18, 1775, he climbed the tall steeple in total darkness. When he reached the top, he lit two lanterns and held them to the window. This signaled to the patriots on the other side of the river that British troops had taken the water route to Concord.

. . . MORE

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Who's In Charge?

What would your life be like if you were ruled by someone who didn’t follow the rules or made up their own rules? Here’s your chance to find out!


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Compare the Decades

In 2008, a recession took place in the United States that seemed to echo the Great Depression of the 1930s. Called the Great Recession, it was a time when unemployment spiked in 2008 and 2009 and many people lost their homes. How was this recession similar to the Great Depression?


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Explore Different Types of Government

Every form of government has key features and characteristics that define it. For example, in a democracy, the citizens vote on laws and policies, but in a totalitarian country, the ruling party makes all decisions about public and private life. In this activity, you will explore how different forms of government would impact your classroom or family.


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Cook a Hoe Cake

The simple cornmeal pancake has long roots in America. It was George Washington’s favorite breakfast. The dish gets its name from a flat pan called a hoe griddle. Enslaved people did not have this type of griddle. Instead, they baked their corn cakes on garden hoes in fires near the fields where they worked. Try your hand at cooking this staple of a slave’s diet.


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Paint the Oregon Trail

In the nineteenth century, many artists used the American West as a canvas for artistic expression—George Catlin, Frederick Remington, and Charles Marion Russell are some of the most well known. Art of the American West presented the artist’s perspective of specific events and or locations. Whether the subject was a cowboy, Native American, or a landscape, the paintings often conveyed. . . MORE


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The Statistics of Slaughter

The casualty rate is a number that refers to military personnel removed from service because of death, wounds, sickness, capture, or because they are missing in action or have deserted. The Civil War had the largest casualty rate of all American wars. Do the math to evaluate the human toll this conflict took on a generation of Americans. 


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The Nuclear Debate

President Truman’s use of nuclear weapons has always generated controversy. There was little public debate at the time, however. Do you think President Truman’s decision to use nuclear weapons was justifiable, either militarily or morally? Stage a debate among your classmates or friends in which you argue for or against Truman’s decision.


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