Steam Locomotives – How do they work?

steam_engine_21The book‘s explanation of a steam locomotive reads like something I’d read to my 3 year old nephew, not a 3rd grader.

“The steam presses on pipes inside the locomotive. It moves a special part that turns the wheels.”

So I found a video that explains it all in proper terms: piston, valve, etc.

So after watching the video, we can read the slightly less childish text on page 215 that describes the job of a fireman and the engineer.

Discussion Questions:

  • How is the fireman on a train different than a fireman in our neighborhood?  How are they the same?
  • What is the engineer’s job?
  • What kind of problems might an engineer see on the tracks ahead?
  • What movie can you think of where an engineer saw a problem on the tracks ahead?

Links for more information:
How the Steam Engine of the Locomotive Works

Animated Engines
Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum

Gold Rush of 1849

goldInstead of devoting a lot of time to this, as the book does, I just mentioned as the ending of the Mexican-American war.  We talked about how this is where the NFL team the San Fransisco 49’ers get their name, since we had just watched them beat Green Bay yesterday, this was a neat tie-in with current events.  Then I played parts of a documentary I found online.  There are 5 parts.  Enjoy.

You might also enjoy these other resources.

Influence of the Gold Rush on American Language

Mexico’s Independence, Texas Sovereignty, and More War

None of these things were explained in the Heritage Series 3 book.  The Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 got scarcely 3 sentences before the text moved on & spent 3 pages discussing the gold rush of 1849.  Not a single mention of the Alamo, or the Texas Revolution, or even Davy Crockett to be seen.  While that is just fine for a textbook written with one of its biggest customers, California, in mind – it doesn’t cut it for my standards.  So instead, I gave my kids a brief run down of the history.

In order to understand the reasons behind the Mexican-American War, we need to go back to the Texas Revolution, which has its roots in the War for Mexican Independence.  PBS has a great resource for all of this here.

In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain, but was flat broke. So they enticed American settlers into the Texas area with promises of tax breaks and land. A few years later, those promises were rescinded, which prompted trouble between the American settlers and the Mexican government.  The conflict came broke loose in October 1835.  The Texans won, and won often, against Mexican President Santa Ana’s brother-in-law, General Martin Cos.  By December 11, 1835, General Cos was forced to surrender and leave Texas.  The Texans thought it was over, after all, they had won!

alamo_small1Davy Crockett arrived in Texas in January 1836.  Unlike today’s celebrities (I’m looking at you Alec Baldwin!), Crockett had kept his promise to leave the country if Martin Van Buren was elected President.  He signed up with the Texas Militia on the promise of land (he was hoping to bring his family to Texas as soon as he a place for them), and was sent to the Alamo.  He arrived at the Alamo on February 8, 1836.  15 days later, Santa Ana surrounded the Alamo, and began his 13-day siege.

Ultimately Santa Ana killed everyone at the Alamo, except for a handful of women, including Susanna Dickinson, and a slave named Joe.  The few that had tried to surrender were executed.  Dickinson & Joe were allowed to return to the Americans, to spread the word of Santa Ana’s vast army.  Soon after, Santa Ana’s army massacred American forces at Goliad.  Instead of instilling fear, as Santa Ana wanted, these actions only served to deepen the resolve of the Texans.

Sam Houston led the Army in the “Runaway Scrape.”  Houston knew he needed help, and that the Americans wouldn’t send it.  He hoped to draw Santa Ana across the border into Louisiana.  If he could get Santa Ana to attack him on American soil, his friends in New Orleans would be able to help him out.  The civilians fled in front of Houston’s Army, and Houston burned everything behind him to keep Santa Ana from getting the supplies.

The Texans managed to stay hidden for a long time.  Eventually, Santa Ana split his force again, and rode out to look for them.  At that point, Houston broke off from his runaway strategy and attacked Santa Ana.  Defeated, Santa Ana signed a peace treaty, and was forced to go to Washington DC for his own protection.  While he was gone, the Mexican government deposed him & refused to ratify his treaty.  They continued to provoke the Texans, who had declared their sovereignty after the treaty was signed.

64961-004-0FCD63B1The Texans knew they needed help.  They appealed to the American government.  Finally, after several tries, the United States Congress accepted Texas’s request for statehood in 1845 – an act that triggered the Mexican-American War. The Americans rolled in, and didn’t just kick the Mexicans out of Texas, we took California, Nevada, Arizona, & New Mexico too.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in February 1948.  The Americans had won a decisive victory, and gained a lot of territory for Western Expansion.  A short time later, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Fort, and the 1849 Gold Rush was triggered.  But that’s for another post.

More about the War of 1812

The textbook says that British Sailors were hiding on American ships, and that the Americans got upset when the Brits started searching our ships.  Then it glosses over the whole war, mentioning only the Battle of Ft. McHenry & the writing of the Star Spangled Banner.  However that’s not even half the story.  The War of 1812 is interesting because three countries were involved, and all three claim victory!

Britain and France were at war, again.  England’s King George 3 had gone crazy, his son, George 4 was now in charge.  In France, Napoleon Bonaparte was like a Hitler without the mass genocide – he wanted to dominate ALL of Europe.  England was trying to stop him.  America had declared our neutrality, in part because we couldn’t afford to get involved, and also because there was a lot of money to be made by supplying both sides.  Neither France nor Britain were happy about that, the French because they felt we owed them for their help in the American Revolution, and the Brits because they felt that stopping Napoleon was good for the world, and everyone else should be on their side.

The Brits had the world’s best Navy at the time, but they needed sailors and money.  So the Brits did two things:  First, any ship sailing to a French port must first dock in Britain and pay a fee, otherwise you would be considered the enemy and attacked as such, regardless of the colors flying on your mast.  Second, they began boarding American ships and forcing Americans to serve in the British Navy.  President Madison, the Father of the Constitution, knew that Congress had to authorize a war, so he asked, and they approved.

America felt they couldn’t take Britain on the seas, so they decided to attack British Canada.  It did not go well. One entry point to Canada was Detroit.  A woman named Lydia Bacon was there with her husband, and she left a diary (available online for free!) of her time there.   From her diary entries, it seems that Mrs. Bacon had more courage and fortitude than General Hull, who surrendered the Fort with very little fight.

Every attempt by the Americans to conquer Canada failed.  It was only at sea, of all places, that America had any victories.  The USS Constitution, AKA Ol’ Ironsides, beat two British frigates, & the privateers gave the Brits fits.  By 1813, however, the Brits had blockaded the Eastern Seaboard & the invasion from Canada was all the way down to Ohio.  It wasn’t until 1814 that the Americans started to have some victories – mostly because they got rid of many of the American Revolution has-beens, and brought in younger, fresher, more creative leaders, who formed the army into an actual army instead of a patchwork of militias.

Gary Foreman/Native Son Productions Via the NYTimes

Gary Foreman/Native Son Productions Via the NYTimes

In 1814, the Brits made their way by sea to Washington DC, and burned the White House.  Thanks to First Lady Dolley Madison’s quick thinking, several important papers and the portrait of George Washington were saved.  The Brits moved on to Baltimore next, because that was the home port of most of the privateers.  On September 14, 1814, the bombing of Ft. McHenry began.  Francis Scott Key was on board a British ship, and watched through the night.  In the morning he penned the words that became our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.

The Treaty of Ghent was signed before the Battle of New Orleans, but because the news reached America after the news of Andrew Jackson’s win in New Orleans, many thought the Treaty was a result of Jackson’s win.

In the end, the Americans claimed victory because the Brits capitulated.  The Brits claimed victory because the borders remained unchanged.  The Canadians claimed victory because Canadians, not British regulars, had held off the Americans in two battles.  So everyone involved thought they were the winners, but really, everyone lost.  There were lives lost on all sides for what amounted to a draw.  With that thought, I leave you with this completely inaccurate, but hilariously funny Canadian song:

War of 1812

Gary Foreman/Native Son Productions Via the NYTimes

Gary Foreman/Native Son Productions Via the NYTimes

The Heritage Studies 3 book contains very little of the War of 1812, and much of what they spend time on is inaccurate. So I went online.  I found an awesome 2 hour documentary on Youtube.


Other Resources:

Mr. Nussbaum’s interactive website

More about Lydia Bacon

Lydia Bacon’s Biography – available for free online at

Laura Secord

Shadrach Byfield

American Frontier Life

James P. Beckwourth, from a daguerreotype c. 1855

James P. Beckwourth, from a daguerreotype c. 1855

We finished Chapter 3 of the Heritage Studies 3 book.  I can’t post the test I made for this, because I wound up using one of BJU’s maps in the test, and therefore don’t have the permission to share.  Sorry.

Anyway, the first 2 lessons in Chapter 4 are about American Frontier life.  The book has a few pages about long hunters – Folks like Daniel Boone & Davy Crockett.  To satisfy my Diva, I reminded her that while the men were out on their long hunting trips, it was the women who were back at home, tending the garden/farm, caring for the kids, defending against Indian attacks, and so much more.  I also found a few resources about what women’s lives were like in the Frontier times.  Enjoy:

Dangerous Life of Frontier Women

Frontier Women of the American West

Also, we read the story of James Beckwourth, the African-American man who found a pass over the Rocky mountains.


The second day, we read a story about a little boy named Daniel Drake.  I’m not sure if the boy in the story in the book is supposed to be Dr. Daniel Drake, but it seems highly likely considering the Daniel in the book moved to Kentucky as a young boy.  However, neither the student text, nor the teacher’s text elaborates on Daniel Drake.

clothing.Par.51166.Image.-1.-1.1.gifTo accommodate my darling Diva, I found info about 1800’s clothing:

1800’s Women’s Clothing

Women’s Fashion in the 1800’s

1800’s Pioneer Dress Clothing for Women

Two Weeks In…

Here we are two weeks into our current school year, so what have I learned?

— My Diva wants to learn cursive.  This will be hard considering I HATE cursive and haven’t used it in years.  Guess I’d better remember quick. Good thing I’ve got the internet.  There are plenty of resources, freely available, including fonts.  The best resource, however, is likely Donna Young’s Cursive Handwriting.  Lots of worksheets, animations, and more.

— Diva hates our current history curriculum because there aren’t enough females taught about in the text.  So, Google to rescue again! I’ve been supplementing the book with research about females from the era.  Luckily we are headed into the Exploration/Frontier life era.  I just happen to own all the Little House on the Prairie books.  Thank you Laura Ingalls Wilder!

— After a week of spelling, I’ve learned that while my youngest boy is doing a decent job learning to read, his spelling is atrocious. Then I found (via a friend on facebook) this article about good readers who spell horribly, and realized…  I need to take my boy back to phonemes.  We need to try to intervene in these neural pathways and make sure they being formed properly.

— After the above breakthrough, I had another breakthrough with my youngest.  It seems that his vision is all sorts of wonky again.  He’s seeing everything, but it’s off to the right and down from where it’s actually printed. IE:


So apparently spelling is the least of his worries.  We’ve got to get those eyes back on track.  Sigh.  Guess it’s time to visit Dr. Wescott again.

— Capt 740 is doing well, and learning how to do all this stuff on his own.  It’s kind of a relief to finally have one old enough to work on his own primarily.


Post Revolution Napoleonic France

After the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte took over in France.  Here are some resources we used.


Biography channel has the full episode online here –

Plenty of interesting stuff at

And for the girls, some interesting tidbits about the effects of the French Revolution on Fashion.

Lafayette & the French Revolution

“I go to defend Liberty as a friend. The happiness of America is intimately tied to the happiness of all mankind. One day she will become the safe haven of tolerance, equality and peaceful liberty.” – The Marquis De Layfette, in a letter to his wife explaining why he wanted to go to America.



The French had helped us win the Revolution, but now their people were in trouble.  They had been taxed so much by their kings, kings who had borrowed way too much from foreign countries, that they were tapped out.  They saw what had happened in America. The ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood took root.  Before long, the commoners had stormed the Bastille, and demanded the king give up much of his power and influence. The Marquis De Lafayette played a big role in the French Revolution. With a little help from his good friend Thomas Jefferson, Lafayette drafted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, which became the French version of the American Declaration of Independence.

Later, Lafayette would be forced to flee France when Robispierre took over and delcared The Marquis to be an instrument of the royalty.  Eventually the new Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, got Lafayette out of jail in Austria and allowed him back in France.  This did NOT win Lafayette’s loyalty. To the contrary, Lafayette was opposed to Bonaparte’s rule, and helped overthrow him.


Lafayette Thanks Citizens Who Stormed the Bastille

The Marquis sent the key to the Bastille to Gen. George Washington.

Bio of Lafayette


My boys loved this one by Horrible Histories:

My Diva loved this one:

Nobody liked this one, but I’ll include it here anyway: