The Most Disgusting Mosquito Repellant Ever!

As promised, I am blogging about my game-creation process. When I start my research, I like to begin with resources that give me the big picture, so that when I read more detailed accounts and primary sources, I know how they fit with the whole.

Today I finished a few sources. First:

This had a wealth of details about the voyageurs, who were the traveling traders that formed the backbone of the fur trade. Basically, they loaded their canoes with European goods, paddled like madmen for weeks, made it to a western fort, traded the goods for furs caught by the local Native Americans, and paddled home with the furs. Here are a few of my favorite details from this source:

  • The voyageurs had to be short (because there wasn’t much room in the canoe), but very strong.
  • They had to paddle 50 strokes a minute for an average of 14 hours a day. They also had to be able to carry two 55 kilogram packs when walking between waterways. That’s over 240 pounds! Not surprisingly, compressed spines and hernias were common injuries.
  • Voyageur mosquito repellant (because, you know, Great Lakes in the summer) was made of bear grease and skunk urine. Yum!

Then I read an article from:

There I figured out one of the decisions I’ll have company men make – where to put your fort. One of the consequences, because of the war with the Iroquois, was that Fort Frontenac ran out of food and 93 men died of scurvy. Yargh!

That, naturally, led me to read this: 

Which includes this fantastic picture: and this delightful description:

The Most Disgusting Mosquito Repellant Ever!| The weird and fascinatingly gross things I discovered today while researching my new game about the Great Lakes fur trade and the lives of voyageurs. Click through to learn more about why short people are better, the worst mosquito repellant recipe ever, and what it's really like to have terminal scurvy.


Robert Falcon Scott’s 1903 and 1911 expeditions were both struck with

the disease. His description: “The symptoms of scurvy do not

necessarily occur in a regular order, but generally the first sign is an

inflamed, swollen condition of the gums. The whitish pink tinge next

the teeth is replaced by an angry red; as the disease gains ground the

gums become more spongy and turn to a purplish colour, the teeth

become loose and the gums sore. Spots appear on the legs, and pain is

felt in old wounds and bruises; later, from a slight oedema, the legs, and

then the arms, swell to a great size and become blackened behind the

joints. After this the patient is soon incapacitated, and the last horrible

stages of the disease set in, from which death is a merciful release.“


So what do you think? Would you smear on some bear grease and skunk urine, or would you rather get eaten alive by mosquitoes?

The Hidden Gap

As a 5th grade teacher, every year we did the explorers unit – you know, Cabot, Drake, Hudson, Magellan, etc. And then we’d hit the 13 Colonies. Sound familiar?

Here’s the question I didn’t even think to ask: What happened between the explorers and the 13 Colonies?

Why don’t we teach that? It’s not even hinted at in the books. Odd, right?

Now that, as I explained yesterday, a teacher in Michigan has drawn my attention to the really important events at the Straits of Mackinac between 1670-1760, I am planning a new game. This way teachers and students will have a fun and easy way to get the essential context they need to understand what was going on elsewhere in North America while the colonists were busy making rum and enjoying religious freedom. Otherwise we’re just missing the whole background to the French and Indian War and the events leading up to the American Revolution.

I’m in the planning process for my new game. I thought you might be curious to see what goes on behind the scenes, and I decided to document the journey for you. Today I’m sharing my big plan for what I hope to accomplish over the next few months, and why.

I like to tweak every new game, tailoring it to meet teacher and student needs. This game will have two brand-new elements, based on teacher and student feedback.

  1. Different story lines for different characters

High school students, while playing the Cuban Missile Crisis game, said it was fun and engaging, but they wished that different characters had different story lines. So this new game will have that feature – four different jobs, and each one has its own decisions, consequences, and experiences. You might even be able to shift tracks during the game – if you go bankrupt, for example, and have to go to work as a trapper.

2.  Reading lessons that work with the game

Teachers have requested a book of short stories as a companion piece for the game, which they can use for reading instruction. More and more, teachers have to teach reading during social studies (or vice versa.) I am planning to write a book of short stories, in which each story features a different character with a unique perspective. Ideally, I’ll offer a mid-to-high reading level and a below-grade reading level version, so the whole class can read and discuss the same book together.

SO, putting that all together, here’s my plan:

  1. Begin research Monday, and continue at least until August, finding out about the lives of everyone involved in the fur trade – identifying people, details of daily life, decisions, consequences, and experiences. I’ll blog about resources as I read them, so you can follow along if you like.
  2. I have a call into the Nokomis Center near Lansing, Michigan. I am hoping to visit their museum about Ojibway and Odawa lives before and after Europeans came, and to interview one of their historians. (On camera if I can raise enough money for a videographer. To contribute, you can go here:
  3. For the game itself: there will be both male and female identities, and four job/storylines, where you can explore, adventure, make choices, and experience the consequences – company man, Native American, voyageurs, and trappers. As always, it will be full of detail, reflect accurate history, and include primary sources.
  4. For the book: this will be a collection of short stories, further exploring the people, places, and experiences from a variety of perspectives.
  5. Travel to Michigan in early August, to visit the Nokomis center and Colonial Michilimackinac to gather more information, take pictures, and possibly make a video.
  6. Eventually publish the online game and book.

It’s a lot to do, and I expect it to take many months to complete. Will I be able to do everything? Keep tuned to find out.

What have you tried lately that’s outside your comfort zone?

From Revulsion to Excitement

A few months ago, a teacher in Michigan contacted me. She’d found my free Mountain Men lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers. “I LOVE your game!” she told me. “It’s exactly the kind of thing I want to use in my classroom. Is there any way I could modify it for the Great Lakes region?”

That started a conversation about me creating a new game about the French-Canadian fur trade in the Great Lakes area.

Yeah, I know. I had the same reaction initially. First of all, though I have friends who are hunters, I am not one, and the concept of the fur trade has an ick factor for me. Second of all, why on earth should I care about the French-Canadian fur trade? Sounds both boring and irrelevant. Right?

So I started looking into it, and what I found amazed me. Actually, the French-Canadian fur trade in the Great Lakes region between 1670-1760 is enormously important to understanding early American history. Who knew?

Why? A number of reasons. One of the major motivations for so many European countries to send people to North America (which required a very dangerous and months-long sea voyage) was to get furs. Furs were big business, and that meant big money. Most of Europe at the time was pretty settled, and fur-bearing animals were thin on the ground. But North America, with its vast wilderness, was teeming with wild life. Furs harvested in America were shipped not only to Europe, but to as far away as China! So here we have an early international trade that depends on furs from America.

This led explorers and traveling traders to not only come to North America, but to travel deep into the interior. Look how far the fur trade went! This thing is HUGE!

Source: Great-West Life School Program at Festival du Voyageur.

This means Europeans traveling across the continent, meeting a wide variety of Native American groups, making trades, bringing new ideas and products, and in many cases, marrying into families. All that activity led directly to several things that are central to American history, such as:

  1. Early exploration and settlement
  2. The contrast between French/Native American and British/Native American relationships, which is central to understanding the French and Indian war of 1754-1763 (which led directly to the American Revolution. If you want to know more about that, get my Causes of the American Revolution Game. *wink*)
  3. The impact of Europeans on the lives of Native Americans
  4. What was the early economy like, when people were not using money?

If that’s not significant enough (though it really should be), there’s also this question of the role waterways played in early transportation systems. It’s not by accident that most major early cities, in America and certainly across Europe (London and Paris, just to name two) are located on rivers. The Great Lakes fur trade is an excellent example of rivers and lakes allowing people to travel deep into the interior of the continent.

Source: The Fur Trade, by Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project Booklet Series, no. 2 from Western Michigan University

After learning all this (and mind you, I’m only BEGINNING my research), I came to understand that far from being boring and irrelevant, actually this topic is foundational to understanding American history. Yet how many people (outside of Michigan) learn about it in school? Having taught 5th grade for many years, I can tell you that we learned about explorers, mostly in the 16th century, and then skipped directly to the 13 colonies.

Tune in tomorrow to hear about my early plans for creating this unit. Same bat time, same bat channel!

Funny Pages

I miss getting the Sunday paper, with the colorful funny pages. Here are some history comics that made me smile.



All the rest are from

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Nixon’s Pickle

It’s that time again – I’m deep in research mode as I create my new game about the Bay of Pigs. This means I’m just bursting with odd little historical tidbits that strike me as funny or interesting, which may or may not make it into the final product. While my family is managing (barely) to not roll their eyes when I come out with yet another Bay of Pigs story, I think they’d appreciate me finding another outlet. So here you go! You’re welcome!

In the 1960 presidential election, Eisenhower’s VP Nixon was up against Kennedy. Nixon knew all about  – and approved of – the CIA’s top-secret plans to land a group of Cuban exiles on Cuba and thereby start a counter-revolution and get rid of Castro. Kennedy, being merely a candidate, was not in the loop.

As an election ploy, Nixon started attacking Kennedy as soft on communism – a serious charge for the times, and one that played well in presidential debates. Kennedy fought back, claiming it was important for America to support Cuban exiles – “fighters for freedom” – who could rally anti-Batista Cubans and overthrow Castro’s government.

Now Nixon was in a pickle. To distinguish himself in the campaign, he had to go against what he actually believed. Gritting his teeth, he said Kennedy was being reckless, that “American backing for the exiles would not work, would be condemned by the UN, and amounted to an invitation for Russian involvement in Latin America.”*

In the end, Kennedy won the election, and decided to reluctantly go ahead with the Bay of Pigs plan.

The ironic part? Nixon’s campaign predictions were right.

Source: Prados, John. Safe for democracy: the secret wars of the CIA. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Inc, 2009. Print.

*IBID p. 240


2017 CCIRA Conference

I was honored to be selected as a presenter at this year’s CCIRA conference. My presentation was on using game-based learning in social studies to help students engage with non-fiction texts.

We had so much fun! We talked about creating a need to learn in students, and the advantages of games as a learning tool. Then we played Mountain Men together (which was a blast, and only one person died!) Finally, using Mountain Men as an example, we talked about the four core principles of classroom game design and three types of games teachers could try in their classroom.

The room was filled with my favorite sound – the buzz of excited conversation (although the nervous gasps as people roll dice is nearly as good.)

In the end, all my evaluations looked pretty much like this one:


So, success! Hooray!

Thanks, CCIRA, for the chance to connect with more teachers.

How Busyness Makes Us Less Productive

paperwork image

One of the hardest things about being a classroom teacher today is the constant demands on our time. There’s always so much to do, and not enough time to do it in.

Add to that constant interruptions, and we can feel like that pile of ungraded papers is just sitting there, mocking us.

New brain research suggests the best way to be more productive and effective at work.

For more, click here:

Stop being busy and become more productive



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