Social Studies for Kids


 February 11, 2003

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Dave White

Fisher-Price to Emphasize Learning

Like a big fish jumping into an ever-growing pond, Fisher-Price has jumped with both feet into the educational toy market with its PowerTouch Learning System. Coming soon to you: Ernie and Bert toys teach you what your parents' generation learned only on TV.

Seriously, Fisher-Price's entry into an exploding market must make more than one executive at LeapFrog, currently the industry leader, take notice. And it's not like Fisher-Price hasn't been there before. Remember the See 'n Say? That toy had you pull a string and then it said things that taught you the alphabet and sounds. And Fisher-Price also makes Kasey the Kinderbot, an interactive electronic learning robot that helps prepare preschoolers for kindergarten.

But the PowerTouch Learning System is designed for children ages 3 to 8. Kids can activate PowerTouch using their fingers, and they can learn reading, numbers and basic skills. By comparison, LeapFrog's LeapPad offers the same basic instruction topics but uses a pen as an activation device.

Fisher-Price can also call on a wide variety of already recognizable characters to help promote the PowerTouch, including the Berenstain Bears, Blue's Clues, and the entire Sesame Street family.

Fisher-Price is owned by Mattel, which is probably better known for making toys of every other variety, including cars and buildings and other such items that are normally considered non-educational, in a strict sense. Still, Mattel is a giant company, with a lot of name recognition that it can bring to the table. Whether it cracks the market in a big enough way to stick around is a different question.

LeapFrog is a good example of going from nowhere to to the top. Unheard of a few years ago, Leap?Frog is now the industry leader, based largely on the phenomenal success of its LeapPad. The company also offers educational products for kids of other ages, all the way up through the teen years.

Is this good for the market? Many industry observers say that yes, such competition brings only better products in the end. And Fisher-Price, with Mattel behind it, might just be able to make itself known as a learning company as well. And the fact that one of the world's leading toy manufacturers is willing to gamble its good name on a learning toy means that the educational toy movement is likely here to stay for a good long time yet.

Teacher of Year
Contest Begins

Wal-Mart Stores and Phi Delta Kappa International are again hooking up for the Teacher of the Year Award. For the seventh year in a row, the two organizations are seeking nominations of outstanding educators from around the country. Wal-Mart will donate $3.5 million to local schools with winning teachers.

You can nominate an outstanding teacher by visiting your Wal-Mart store, Supercenter, Neighborhood Market or SAM'S CLUB. You can also get an application from the Phi Delta Kappa web site and turn in at any store or club.

Nominations will be accepted through March 7. Winners can also apply for the state and national Teacher of the Year honors.

Since it began in 1995, the Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year program has recognized more than 14,000 teachers around the country and given more than $10.5 million to those schools.


The Nuclear Card: Still the Trump?

Now it's Iran who can be seen to be threatening to build a nuclear bomb. After weeks and weeks of hearing how many people that Iraq's Saddam Hussein covets a nuclear bomb, Iran comes right out and admits that it has begun work on a plant to enrich uranium, the first crucial step in building an atomic bomb.

Coupled with North Korea's surprised disclosure and continued recalcitrance, the issue of nuclear proliferation suddenly has new life, after decades of lurking in the shadows, behind the specter of "winnable war" discussions of a Cold War cataclysm.

The atomic bomb, especially after the world saw the horrors of it in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, used to be the ultimate playing card, the most devastating bullet any gun ever could offer to fire. Just the threat of having nuclear bombs raining down on a country made that country's leader(s) sit up and take notice that their posturing and weapons-running could really get them noticed in the history books--in a bad way. No more. Now, pursuing The Bomb has become a status symbol, a goal of countries around the world, a ways and means to an end of increasing stature throughout an increasingly frightened global community.

Perhaps President Bush's speechwriters knew more than they were letting on at the time when spoke of an "axis of evil." Remember that line in his speech so many months ago? The three countries he named were Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Their commonality, at least in this one significant way, it would seem, is the desire to have a nuclear bomb trump card to be able to play if things aren't going their way.

Still, the fact that these "smaller" nations have the desire to build a nuclear bomb and the means of getting it suggests that a deed that was considered so demanding of time, money, and intelligence is now just another thing that can be bought and sold, like a commodity, like always buying a better rifle. There used to be such a stigma attached to the nuclear bomb, because of the horrors it caused for untold generations of Japanese and because it exuded such a powerful threat of annihilation in both the United States and the Soviet Union because those two countries had so many nuclear bombs. And, the theory went, they wouldn't stop at just one.

Countries like Iran aren't likely to stop at just one, either, but they are likely to build one at a time, not having the economic capacity to churn out a large handful every few months. And that one-at-a-time can add up over time, just like the the two that North Korea supposedly already has.

The effects of a nuclear bomb's explosion are so devastating that the wielders of such a weapon immediately command new respect and even awe, in their own neighborhood and certainly in the international community. Yes, the nuclear card is still the trump. The trouble now is that the trump card is being bought and sold by nations that profess to have ambitions greater than keeping the peace.

Teaching Resources

Click on each description above for more info. 


Nelson Mandela Released from Prison

More on This Subject

The Story of Nelson Mandela
The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela

It happened this week in 1990. Nelson Mandela was released from prison, after serving a harsh sentence for speaking his mind on the racial policies of his country's government.

He arrived on Robben Island in 1964. He was forced into a small cell, in which was only a bucket. (He slept on the floor.) He was allowed to write and receive one letter every six months. He could have only one a visitor a year, for a total time of 30 minutes.

He served 18 of his 27 years of prison term on Robben Island. During that time, his followers were forbidden from speaking his name or displaying his image. For those who didn't know him very well, it seemed like the end of the line.

It was a line that began in his tribal upbringing, tracing through his vocalist days in the 1950s (during which he was arrested and imprisoned) and his incognito days of the 1960s (when the African National Congress was banned). Indeed, he was called "The Black Pimpernel" for his ability to evade capture.

But 1964 saw him forced into imprisonment. Rather than dwell on his fate, Mandela helped his fellow prisoners to educate themselves and resist cruelty with dignity. In quiet moments, when they weren't working, the inmates studied many subjects, including the arts. They even put on plays.

Mandela's example was a symbol of dignity and faith in humankind. Partly because of his example and partly because of the weight of world opinion, Mandela began negotiating with South African President F.W. deKlerk in 1990. They discussed Mandela's release and the dismantling of apartheid, the system that had kept Mandela and his fellow Black Africans oppressed for so long.

And on February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela emerged a free man.

Since that time, he has served as president of South Africa, an occupation that he hardly dared hope to have 30 years before. Apartheid is no more in South Africa, thanks in large part to the efforts of Nelson Mandela.

Place of the Week 

The Giza Pyramids


More on This Place

• Pyramids: The Inside Story
The Great Pyramid of Giza

The Pyramids at Giza are some of the largest and most impressive ever built. No one still knows for certain the hows or the whys of the Pyramids. They remain a mystery thousands of years after their construction.

We do know that they were meant to be burial chambers for the pharaohs, the ancient god-kings of the civilization on the Nile. The tombs were filled with gold, gifts, and other things to accompany the ruler's ascension to the next life.

Why were the pyramids built so high? The Egyptians believed that the rulers' spirits would be higher to the gods that way.

Why were so many passages hidden inside? We still don't know. A likely explanation is to allow the pharaoh's spirit places to wander, but that explanation isn't held by every Egyptologist.

Why were the pyramids built facing a certain direction? The ancient Egyptians believed in the power of Ra, the sun god. They wanted to welcome his power and presence into not only their daily lives but also the afterlives of the pharaohs.

How were the pyramids constructed? Nobody STILL knows for sure. Two theories that have received the most credibility are two competing versions of a Ramp Theory, which states that the master-driven slaves of ancient Egypt carried the heavy stones up ramps built on the side of the pyramid.

The one-ramp theory says that one ramp was built on each side. The ramp would have been built along with the rest of the pyramid and then, presumably, dismantled afterward.

The many-ramps theory says that the ramps were built in a sort of surrounding fashion, so that the workers could walk up to different levels.

Both of these theories have their proponents and have both been tested using models and simulations.

How were the pyramids built? We may never know.

Black History Month

Harriet Tubman: Guiding Light to Freedom
She was called the "Moses" of her people. She delivered more than 300 slaves to freedom. Learn more about this most famous Conductor on the
Underground Railroad.


The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Article tracing the life, acts, and fame of the famous civil rights leader. Includes links to his
"I Have a Dream" speech, to general links about him, biographies of other famous African-Americans, and to African-Americans in general.

Benjamin Banneker
This free African-American thrived and became famous in 19th Century America. He published a scientifically accurate annual almanac and designed Washington, D.C.

 In Fond Memory of Columbia


Columbia Remembered
President Bush spoke at a memorial attended by thousands at Mission Control in Houston. Read what he said and also what people around the world said in honor of Columbia's crew.

Columbia: The Investigation
Get the latest details on how NASA and other officials are working hard to find out what caused the explosion.

Columbia's Last Flight
Get the latest details on what happened to the space shuttle.

Columbia's Last Crew
See snapshots and read profiles of the seven astronauts who lost their lives.

How Does a Space Shuttle Launch?
How much fuel does it take? What is all that white smoke? Where does the fire go? This articles answers these questions and more in easy-to-understand language.

How Does a Space Shuttle Land?
The space shuttle is like an airplane, and it's different from an airplane. Find out how the shuttle lands.

Social Studies for Kids Forum
Read what kids and adults have been saying about the Columbia tragedy.

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