Northern Lights

Northern Lights Blog

Resources and updates about the Northern Lights curriculum


Northern Lights is a comprehensive curriculum for teaching Minnesota Studies at 6th grade. This blog highlights resources, opportunities and teaching tips related to Northern Lights.

All MNHS Blogs

Subscribe by e-mail:

 Subscribe in a reader

Johnny Buskowiak's footlocker

By: Shana Crosson | Resources | May 8, 2017
Screenshot of Johnny Buskowiak's Trunk interactive

It's back! A long-time favorite of teachers and students, Johnny Buskowiak's footlocker is back! It has been updated so it now works on iPads and browsers.

This footlocker was used by Johnny Buskowiak's during his time serving in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Explore it and see what Johnny carried with him.

Stories of Minnesota's Greatest Generation

By: Shana Crosson | Resources | May 1, 2017
The Depression from Minnesota's Greatest Generation

History is all about telling people’s stories, and is especially powerful when people tell their own stories. We are happy to bring back a site that tells stories of Minnesota’s Greatest Generation.

Stories of Minnesota’s Greatest Generation” features stories from people who were part of this generation. They grew up in the Depression, participated in WWII and prospered in the post-War era. These stories are told in their own words, from memoirs, diaries, oral histories and letters. Stories are divided between the Depression, the War and the Boom. Primary sources, including images, objects and recorded oral histories, help tell the story.

Here are some great stories to get started. Explore them all.


World War II


A Wild-Goose Chase

By: Matt Horstman | Roadtrips | March 10, 2017

Minnesota history is full of great stories, many of which are in our home towns. Sometimes it requires looking around a little bit and being curious about the history of our own place.

My work with the Minnesota Historical Society takes me to towns and cities around the state. One place that I visited last fall was Browns Valley, in far western Minnesota (at the tip of the bump that sticks out). Northern Lights (2013) mentions Browns Valley in the timeline for chapter 2, and in the Ancient Life in Minnesota chart on p.16 (in print) / 2.06 (in the Interactive eBook). I figured that Browns Valley was probably named after someone with the last name Brown. I was right, learning that it was named after Major James Brown, who established the village in 1866.

After visiting Browns Valley Schools to share our resources, I drove down to the the Samuel J. Brown State Monument. Sam Brown is the son of Major Brown. Sam is famous locally for his “...epic ride the night of April 19, 1866 (which he later called ‘a wild-goose chase’), when he rode on horseback from Fort Wadsworth 55 miles west to Elm River to warn other scouts and settlers of what was thought to be an impending Indian attack.”

Sam Brown Memorial Park
A Plaque honoring Sam Brown

Upon arriving at Elm River, he learned that there was no attack coming. He mounted a fresh horse and rode back to Fort Wadsworth to try to stop a letter that he had written to St. Paul asking for reinforcements. A spring blizzard came up, he got lost, but kept riding, eventually making it back to the fort. Unfortunately, his feet had frozen and had to be amputated, thus leaving him wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. Despite his disability, he continued to work in the community, eventually settling in Browns Valley, working as the postmaster for many years.

While writing this blog post, I searched for Samuel J. Brown online and found some other resources, learning more about him in the process.

  • A finding aid on the Minnesota Historical Society’s web-site gave me a nice overview of some of his activities during later years of his life.
  • A page on told me that he was an interpreter during treaty negotiations of 1858 and participated in events at Camp Release during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

Is there local history that you, or your students, could learn more about? An old building downtown? The history of a nearby state park? Dig deeper on something you learned in Northern Lights? The options are limitless!

Telling Stories with Maps

By: Shana Crosson | Tech Tips | March 7, 2017

Maps are a fantastic tool to tell stories. Their visual storytelling style works so well for students and it teaches map reading skills at the same time. ESRI's Story Maps Gallery is a great place to find Story Maps. Explore two of our favorites:

Screenshot of the Interesting Facts about Minnesota Story Map

Check out the Minnesota Facts Map Journal for maps and text showing many aspects of the state, from the Mall of America to the watershed districts.

screenshot of Justice Deferred, a Story Map about Japanese Internment Camps

'Justice Deferred' explores Executive Order 9066 and the Japanese Internment Camps during WWII. See how geography and map exploration help answer questions about historic events.

Immigration Resources Online

By: Shana Crosson | Tech Tips | January 31, 2017

Are you looking for resources about immigration?  The theme of immigration runs through Northern Lights, from the fur traders in Chapter 5, the Swedish farmers in Chapter 7, the Finns to the Iron Range in Chapter 12 to current immigration trends in Chapter 20. 

Here are a few places to find additional online resources about this topic.

Screenshot of Animated Map Shows History of Immigration to the US

13 Maps and Charts

Geoawesomeness compiled a series of maps and charts that visualize the history of immigration into the United States over time. Data includes country of origin, unemployment rates, jobs and more.

Screenshot of The Uprooted

The Uprooted

The Uprooted is a site with integrated maps, charts and visuals about the current refugee crisis.

Screenshot of Immigration Syllabus


The University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center launched the #ImmigrationSyllabus with resources to “help the public understand the deep historical roots of today’s immigration debates.” While many of the resources are not at a 6th grade reading level, there are some excellent interactive web resources and primary source depositories listed in the Multimedia sections.

Screenshot of Two Centuries of Immigration

Two Centuries of American Immigration

Watch 200 years of American immigration history in an animated map. Each colored dot represents 10,000 people.

Using Google Sheets to make Maps

By: Shana Crosson | Tech Tips | January 27, 2017

Here’s a fun Google trick to get your students using maps to show data. (Hat tip to Geoawesomeness for this idea.)

  • Start with a Google spreadsheet  
  • Enter your data. This works best with states, countries and cities. You must use a numerical value. I tried two types of data: one for the status of the states in the Civil War and one showing country of origin for immigrants in 1890 (page 12.04 in the eBook).
  • Select the data to map.
  • Under the Insert menu, select “Chart.”
  • Under Type of Chart, scroll down to Map. Select the type of map you want to use.
  • Use the Customization tab to designate map view and colors.
  • Click Insert. The map will appear in your spreadsheet. You can copy it to use elsewhere.
States during the Civil War

Map of states during the Civil War. To create data for this map, I assigned a numerical value to each category:  Union=1, Confederate=3 and Border=2. I did not assign a value to states that were not yet admitted to the United States.

Map of Immigration Data from 1890

Mapping the numbers of immigrants from certain countries in 1890. Data from Northern Lights, page 242. The size of the dot reflects how many people immigrated from each country.

Teachers Like You Made NL Way Better: Here’s How, Part 2

By: Suzi Hunn | Resources | December 8, 2016

When the Northern Lights staff brainstormed topics for this blog, I knew right away what I wanted to write about. I love celebrating Northern Lights teachers, and I also enjoy inviting you behind the scenes. Putting together the Revised Second Edition was a massive undertaking that took four years (including upfront research). Many teachers influenced the process by providing feedback at various stages. But did you know we hired some teachers to do writing and editing as well? Here are stories of two of our most involved teachers.

Kara Cisco teaching a class

Kara Cisco

Kara Cisco, Ramsey Middle School, Minneapolis

If you enjoy the Immigrant Communities map in Ch. 7 (p. 136 of the print book), you have Kara and other focus group participants to thank.

When reviewing the previous version of this map, Kara pointed out that “since students are prompted to guess the origin of each town. . . the map should be more student friendly with some color and excitement.” Hearing how she uses this map prompted us to add the homelands segment of the map.

If you--like us editors--have learned something about the circular flow model or human capital, you can tip your hat to Kara again. She identified places where topical sidebars would fit, then wrote related drafts. I especially appreciate her refrain, “Anytime you have people, you have human capital! You can find it anywhere in the book!”

Kara is now a high school teacher in St. Louis Park. We miss her and wish her well! 

Ryan Olson

Ryan Olson

Ryan Olson, Anthony Middle School, Minneapolis

In addition to getting advice from the Learning, Law, & Democracy Foundation, we worked closely with Ryan Olson for civic and government connections. Based on activities he does in class, Ryan suggested countless ways for us to highlight standards related to chapter stories. Like Kara, he also recommended teacher’s guide additions, tweaks to investigations, and even digital instructional ideas.

At one point along the way, we noticed many of our sidebars often introduced controversies, but historic and current. We weren’t sure whether mentioning these in such a short format might pose a problem in the classroom, if teachers might not have time to address them. We sent a survey to teachers asking about this, and their response was universal and impassioned: Do *not* avoid discussing controversies! They’re often the meat of instruction, and middle school education would be meaningless without them.

Thanks to Ryan, the curriculum contains a host of real-world civics controversies to dig into. He wrote drafts of sidebars throughout the Student Edition, and provided student-friendly examples of sovereignty (fishing rights), federalism (education), and government regulation (food safety labels)--just to name a few. He asked students powerful questions such as, “Who controls your school? There’s no easy answer. Who do you think should have that power?”

Suzi Hunn

Suzi Hunn worked on Northern Lights  for almost 15 years. 

Thanks for Everything, Wonderful Teachers

I greatly enjoyed serving as a content editor on this project. In the end we solicited and reviewed feedback from more than 110 contributors, including historians, Ojibwe and Dakota scholars and educators, designers, reading specialists, professors, industry professionals, fact-checkers, and more. I’d be remiss if I did specifically call out the teachers, though!

This post is one of the last things I’ll write in my role here at MNHS. After 14.5 years working with Northern Lights, I’ve accepted another position and will be leaving the Society. Working with all of you has been one of my favorite parts of the job. None of our work means anything without you do! You are so valued and valuable. Thanks for everything you do to bring Northern Lights alive in the classroom, and best of luck in the future!

Teachers Like You Made NL Way Better: Here’s How, Part 1

By: Suzi Hunn | Resources | December 6, 2016
Cover of Northern Lights Teacher's Edition

The Northern Lights Annotated Teachers Edition includes many features requested by teachers.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Our work developing Northern Lights means nothing without what you do in the classroom. You’re the ones who bring the curriculum’s stories to life for students every day. You’re the ones who inspire deep insights about history one moment, then follow the next with statements like, “Okay, but what happened to the pencil I just gave you?”

So when it came time to create NL’s Revised Second Edition, we reached out to our audience. Teachers like you were a critical part of every step of the revision, and the curriculum’s better because of it. (Did you know this process took four years? That’s counting the pre-research we did.)

Before writing a single word of the new edition, you let us know what you wanted to see changed. More than 100 of you took our very first survey, and 26 attended the NL-revision focus groups, held in 5 cities statewide. This was just the beginning of what would become an active advisory process.

Chapter 14's So What Sidebar

The Chapter 14 "So What?" sidebar was suggested by teacher Eric Salverda. 

Chapter 14

Have you ever wondered which parts of NL exist because teachers made them so? I’m happy to share a few of my fave examples with you. The next time you turn to the Ch. 14 Investigation, “Selling a War,” be sure to appreciate the work of Eric Salverda, St. Paul Academy.

Sal, as he’s known to his students, pored through countless propaganda posters to select the ones used here. He wrote the activity, then worked with us to tinker with the section order, till we all agreed we’d gotten the flow just right. Especially for new sections of NL, each sentence went through many rounds of writing, review, rewriting, and repeats. Thank goodness Mr. Salverda has the patience of a sixth-grade teacher!

Sal also suggested the topic for Ch. 14’s “So What?” sidebar, which probes students to think deeply about just what, exactly, being a patriot means. Encouraging relatable critical thinking is typical of his teaching style, which is why I reached out to him for support on drafting this new kind of sidebar, designed to make history relate to students’ lives today. 

His ideas appeared in sidebars throughout the book, on topics such as the Constitution, the G.I. Bill, and more. Sal was one of the first teachers I met when I started working with Northern Lights 14 years ago, and it was a joy to work with him on this project!

Blogging Northern Lights . . . And More!

By: Jennifer Cadwel... | Resources | November 16, 2016
Screen shot of the Northern Lights Teachers Resources page

The Northern Lights Teacher Resources include a Facebook group, Resources by Chapter, Tips for the eBook and more!

Welcome to the brand new Northern Lights blog. We are thrilled you found it and hope you will find it helpful and interesting. Expect to see about one blog post a week during the school year on a variety of topics connected to education and Northern Lights, including:

Resources from MNHS & other organizations related to Minnesota Studies

Fascinating content tidbits & curious primary sources

  • Travels of Northern Lights staff around the state meeting teachers and observing classrooms
  • Featured educators & activity ideas
  • Relevant current events stories
  • Ed tech trends & educational best practices

The new blog is only one of several recently launched Northern Lights resources/programs. We now have  Northern Lights teacher resources that link to the following (and more):

Bookmark the teacher resources web page, join the Facebook Group and subscribe to the blog to stay connected!

What’s new with the Northern Lights Interactive eBook for this year?

By: Shana Crosson | Tech Tips | November 11, 2016

If you use the Northern Lights Interactive eBook, you’ll notice a few things new this year. We’ve been listening to the issues with the eBook, and are trying to make it work better for you. Fortunately, our eBook vendor (Adobe) has introduced a new platform that makes it easy for us to address a few issues.

The Same

Don’t worry - the content is exactly the same. We haven’t changed anything there. We’ve just updated the interface and improved some of the functionality. Your login remains the same username and password.


Browser Version

  • Fresh design
  • The pages flow vertically, like a website.
  • Login from the home page or from a chapter page
  • Links open in new browser tabs, making it easier to keep your place
  • Easy access to the Page Number Correlation Chart that lets you see how the print pages align with the eBook pages
  • Easy access to the Annotated Teacher’s Edition (if your school purchased it) through the Teacher login
  • Content is broken down into smaller chunks, so you don’t have to scroll through four chapters at a time

iPad App version

  • Content can be streamed through the app, like a website. You no longer need to download those big units!
  • Content is broken down into smaller chunks, so you don’t have to scroll through four chapters at a time
  • You can still download the chapters or four-chapter units if you want.

As always, let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

Filed Under: