Category Archives: Social Studies Enrichment

Social Studies Mini-Spark #37: Constitution Day!


Constitution Day, also known as Citizenship Day, is observed every year on September 17th to commemorate the signing of the US Constitution. The constitution was created more than 200 years ago in 1787,  and contains the highest rules and laws for the United States. Do you know how many people signed the US Constitution? See if you can find out and add the number in the comments below!

Go here to learn more about the US Constitution!

Watch this awesome Schoolhouse Rock video about the Constitution to celebrate Constitution Day!

Social Studies Mini-Spark #36: Alexander Hamilton – Washington’s Right-Hand Man

If you watched “Hamilton” on Disney+, or are lucky enough to have seen it in-person, you know that Alexander Hamilton was an important founding father who probably doesn’t get enough credit for his role in our history.

Go to this link and watch 2 short videos to learn more about how Hamilton and George Washington’s relationship became key  to the American victory in the Revolutionary War. Then, in the comments section, answer the following question:

How did Alexander Hamilton and George Washington benefit each other in their relationship during the Revolutionary War?

Social Studies Mini-Spark #35: The History of Pandemics

The word “Pandemic” is a pretty scary word. It almost seems like we’re going through something that no one else ever has before.

But, that isn’t true. Pandemics have existed throughout history.

A group of mask-wearing citizens, Locust Avenue, California, during the flu pandemic of 1918. Photograph: Raymond Coyne/Courtesy of Lucretia Little History Room, Mill Valley Public Library. © The Annual Dipsea Race.

To learn about the history of pandemics, read the Time For Kids article linked below:

Then, in the comments below, write the one thing you feel has changed the most for you during this particular Covid-19 pandemic.

Social Studies Mini-Spark #34: The San Diego Zoo

Do you know where San Diego, California is? It’s waaaaaaay at the bottom of California – check it out on the map below:

San Diego has an incredible zoo, and they have a website full of animals and activities to check out! You can meet and learn about just about any animal!

Visit the San Diego Zoo!

There are cool videos and even live cams of the animals!

This website can even help you earn an EY digital badge!

Check out Save the Animals or Roaring Keynote!

Social Studies Mini-Spark #33: MLK, Jr. and the passage of the Civil Rights Act


Many of you know that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a crusader for Civil Rights. He had a dream. In some ways, that dream became a reality through the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


The Declaration of Independence declared that “All men are created equal.” However, when the country was first formed this quote didn’t apply to everyone, only to wealthy white landowners. Over time, things did improve. The slaves were set free after the Civil War and both women and non-white people were given the right to vote with the 15th and the 19th amendments.

Despite these changes, however, there were still people who were being denied their basic civil rights. Jim Crow laws in the south allowed for racial segregation, and discrimination based on gender, race, and religion was legal. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for the civil rights of all people. Events such as the March on Washington, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the Birmingham Campaign brought these issues to the forefront of American politics. A new law was needed to protect the civil rights of all people.

President John F. Kennedy

On June 11, 1963 President John F. Kennedy gave a speech calling for a civil rights law that would give “all Americans the right to be served in facilities that are open to the public” and would offer “greater protection for the right to vote.” President Kennedy began to work with Congress to create a new civil rights bill. However, Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 and President Lyndon Johnson took over.

Signed into Law

President Johnson also wanted a new civil rights bill to be passed. He made the bill one of his top priorities. After working the bill through the House and the Senate, President Johnson signed the bill into law on July 2, 1964. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended the official signing-in of the law by President Johnson.

Main Points of the Law

The law was divided up into 11 sections called titles.

  • Title I – The voting requirements must be the same for all people.
  • Title II – Outlawed discrimination in all public places such as hotels, restaurants, and theatres.
  • Title III – Access to public facilities could not be denied based on race, religion, or national origin.
  • Title IV – Required that public schools no longer be segregated.
  • Title V – Gave more powers to the Civil Rights Commission.
  • Title VI – Outlawed discrimination by government agencies.
  • Title VII – Outlawed discrimination by employers based on race, gender, religion, or national origin.
  • Title VIII – Required that voter data and registration information be provided to the government.
  • Title IX – Allowed civil rights lawsuits to be moved from local courts to federal courts.
  • Title X – Established the Community Relations Service.
  • Title XI – Miscellaneous.

Voting Rights Act

A year after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, another law called the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. This law was meant to insure that the right to vote was not denied any person “on account of race or color.”

Take a quiz to test what you learned about the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Social Studies Mini-Spark #32: People vs. Snow: A Love-Hate History

The Beginning:  Paleolithic Era – Skiing for Survival

Today, skiing is a fun activity winter-lovers can’t wait to take advantage of at the first sight of freshly fallen snow, but it was originally invented thousands of years ago as a means of survival. The first use of skis can be found in a cave painting dating back to the Paleolithic Era’s final Ice Age. The sticks that were used as the first prototype were not only helpful for traveling over frozen terrain, but also for hunting prey.

1565: Snowscapes in Paintings

Commonly seen as the first winter landscape painting, Pieter Bruegel the Elder painted “Hunters in the Snow” during the brutal winter of 1564-65. It was the longest and most severe winter Europe had seen in more than a century, kicking off what some called the “Little Ice Age.” If you can’t beat them, join them, right? After his first snow-scape Bruegel couldn’t stop painting ice and snow—he also painted the first scene with falling snow, as well as the first nativity scene with snow—and his work started a winter-themed trend among Dutch painters that lasted for some 150 years.

1717: “The Great Snow”

Events occurred either before or after “The Great Snow” of 1717 for generations of New Englanders. Starting in late February of that year, a series of storms dumped up to six feet throughout the region, with drifts as high as 25 feet! New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut got the worst of it: Entire houses were completely covered with snow, livestock perished and even Boston Puritans canceled church services for two weeks. But one intrepid postman refused to lose the battle, reportedly leaving his horse behind and donning a pair of snow shoes to make the arduous trip from Boston to New York.

Early 19th century: A New Word is Born—Blizzard

The exact origins of “blizzard” are unclear, but it appears to have emerged as a non-snow-related noun. An 1829 article in the Virginia Literary Museum, a weekly journal published at the University of Virginia, defined the word as “a violent blow, perhaps from blitz (German: lightning).” In his 1834 memoir, Davy Crockett himself used the term to mean a burst of speech: “A gentleman at dinner asked me for a toast; and supposing he meant to have some fun at my expense, I concluded to go ahead, and give him and his likes a blizzard.” The first use of the word in reference to a severe snowstorm apparently came later. Eytmologist and lexicographer Allen Walker Read believes the earliest such usage of “blizzard” was in an April 1870 issue of the Northern Vindicator, a newspaper in Estherville, Iowa.

1862: The Rise of the Snow Plow

Today snow can mean long delays and canceled flights, but it used to be a positive thing for travel. When the main mode of transportation was the horse-drawn carriage, having packed snow on the roads made things easier, switching out their carriage’s wheels for ski-like runners when the snow piled up. Foot traffic was a different story, however, and by the mid-1800s several different inventors had patented their version of a horse-drawn snow plow to clear the alleys and walkways of America’s cities. In 1862, Milwaukee became the first major city to use such a plow, and its popularity spread quickly throughout the Snow Belt (the area stretching across the Great Lakes from Minnesota to Maine).

1878: Shakin’ It Up—The Snow Globe

Indicative of the winter wonderland that fills the hearts of many each holiday season, the snow globe was first seen in France at the 1878 Paris Universal Exposition. The trinket gained little attention, however, and only found its way into the hearts and minds of holiday holiday-goers thanks to Edwin Perzy I. The mechanic accidentally created a snow globe in 1900, when he was asked to fix a dim light bulb. After noticing that water-filled glass globes would fill the entire room with light when placed in front of candle, he tried the same technique with a lightbulb but didn’t get the same results. Next he filled the globe with semolina flakes with the hope that they would help reflect the light, but instead it inspired him in a totally different way—the flakes reminded him of snow. Perzy patented the snow globe and the novelty caught on like wildfire.

1888: The Blizzard That Ate the Big Apple

Paralyzing the Northeast for over three days with snow, wind and freezing temperatures, horse-drawn plows stood no chance against the Blizzard of 1888. New York City was inundated with 50 inches of snow, along with high winds causing drifts of up to 40 feet—it was as snow-pocalypse. The city’s elevated railways—usually the only transport option during storms—were blocked leaving travelers stranded for days. The 1888 blizzard claimed 400 victims. It also did some good, however, by prompting cities to improve their snow removal procedures, including hiring more plows, assigning routes and starting the plowing process in the early phases of storms.

1920s: Snow Removal Goes Mobile

When automobiles replaced horse-drawn carriages on the roads, clearing the roads of snow became a big priority. Mechanized salt-spreaders helped, but weren’t sufficient. As early as 1913, some cities had started using motorized dump trucks and plows to remove snow. Chicago took it one step further in the 1920s, debuting a contraption called the “snowloader.” Equipped with a giant scoop and a conveyor belt, the device forced plowed snow up the scoop, onto the belt and into a chute that dropped it into a dump truck parked beneath. The snowloader revolutionized urban snow removal, making it a lot less labor-and time-intensive.

1952: Introducing Your Very Own Snow Blower

Snow blowing got personal in the early 1950s, when a Canadian company called Toro released the first human-powered snow blower. Other companies produced their own models during the 1960s, ushering in the age of modern snow removal. Around the same time, satellite weather technology was making it easier than ever to predict and prepare for storms, and widespread use of TV and radio helped keep the public aware of impending hazards caused by snow and wind.

Today: An Ode to the Humble Snow Shovel

Odds are the snow removal tool most people are familiar with is also the one that’s been around the longest—the shovel. Thought to date back some 6,000 years, the old-fashioned snow shovel remains one of the most effective tools for digging out of a blizzard, no matter where you live. Since the 1870s, more than 100 patents have been granted for snow shovel designs, as various people try their hand at improving on the time-honored classic.


Social Studies Mini-Spark #31: Jack-O’-Lanterns! Did you know the tradition came from Ireland?

I’ll bet many of you out there carved into a pumpkin this week!  I just learned today that the tradition of carving Jack-O’-Lanterns comes from Ireland! (Should’ve guessed that – O’-Lantern!)

Did you know that they didn’t use pumpkins? When the tradition first originated, in the 1400s, they used turnips or potatoes!

The name jack-o’-lantern comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack.

According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form.

Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack-o’-lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns.

Did you carve a jack-o’-lantern this year? If you did, share a picture of it in the comments section!




Social Studies Mini-Spark #30: Fifty Stars!

We’ve all heard the legend of Betsy Ross. But, who created and designed our current American flag?

Believe it or not, the designer was a 17-year-old boy from Lancaster, Ohio, who did it for a school assignment!

Yep, the year was 1958, and at that time, there were only 48 states. Robert G. Heft was riding the bus home from school one day that year. He was thinking about the assignment his history teacher, Mr. Pratt, had given the class—a project that demonstrated their interest in history. Something visual. Something original. By Monday.

As Robert rode through downtown Lancaster, he saw the flag on top of Lancaster city hall. “That’s what convinced me,” he said. “I would design a new flag.”

Robert was interested in politics. He knew that Alaska was likely to soon become the 49th state. “But I knew that Alaska was heavily Democrat,” he says. “The Senate would have to approve the addition, and it was dominated by Republicans at the time. Everyone was saying that they would be adding another state to balance it out.” He had a hunch that then-Republican Hawaii would soon become the 50th state.

At home that night he sketched out a grid for 50 stars. “I couldn’t just throw them in anywhere.” So he came up with a design. Five rows of six stars with four alternating rows of five stars. He even went so far as to sew a flag with the new design!

You would think he earned an “A”!  “Not on your life,” he said. “My teacher, Mr. Pratt, was a taskmaster. He looked at what I’d done and said it wasn’t the real flag. Not with 50 stars. I explained my reasoning, and he still just barely gave me a passing grade, so for the first time I really spoke out. I told him I deserved better. I had a friend who’d done a collage of leaves and got an A. What I’d done showed a lot more imagination. Mr. Pratt looked at me coolly and declared, ‘If you don’t like the grade, go get the flag accepted in Washington!'”

And that’s exactly what Robert Heft set out to do. He biked over to the home of his congressman, Walter Moeller, knocked on the door, gave him the flag and explained what it was for.

“I asked him if he would take my flag to Washington, and if there were ever a contest to determine the design for a 50-star flag, would he present mine? He was so bowled over that he agreed, probably just to get rid of me.”

Two years went by. In January 1959 President Eisenhower signed a proclamation announcing the admission of Alaska as the 49th state. As with all new states, the star would be added on the following July 4th.

That 49-star flag—seven rows of seven stars—was almost immediately obsolete. Because in August 1959, just as Robert had expected, Hawaii became the 50th state.

He’d already graduated from high school by then, the woeful grade still in Mr. Pratt’s book. Robert was working as a draftsman for an industrial firm and going to college at night. Whatever happened to my flag design? he wondered.

He’d heard that thousands of new designs had been submitted. A special commission of congressmen was screening them and choosing five for submission to President Eisenhower.

In early June, Congressman Moeller called Robert and said,  “Son, I’m proud to tell you that President Eisenhower has selected your design for our nation’s new flag. Congratulations.”

Robert flew to Washington to see his flag flown over the Capitol for the first time. Thousands of others had submitted the same design, but Robert Heft’s had been the first. Moreover it wasn’t just a sketch. It was an actual flag. That was a big plus.

What did his high school teacher, Mr. Pratt, think? “The day I returned from Washington, Mr. Pratt changed my grade. But you know,” Robert mused, “if I hadn’t gotten that bad grade in the first place I wouldn’t have given the flag to Congressman Moeller. And if I hadn’t done that, I never would have gone to Washington….”

For more than 40 years, longer than any other, his design has been the one we know. “But I’ve got a good design for fifty-one,” he said, “in case we add another.”

It’s good to be reminded that Old Glory is a work-in-progress. Always has been, I guess. From the 13 original Stars and Stripes to the star-spangled banner of today, long may it wave.

Your task: There has long been talk of adding another state – Puerto Rico.

Draw a design for an American flag that would include Puerto Rico with 51 stars.

Take a picture of your design and email it, or turn it into your EY teacher.



Social Studies Mini-Spark #29: The NEW Seven Wonders of the World

NEW Wonders of the World? Does that mean they were built in the last few years? NO! It just means they’re different from the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. The new Wonders could be anything built before the year 2000!

So, what ARE the NEW Wonders of the World? WONDEROPOLIS knows!

Read the article (click on the Wonderopolis link above) and then test your knowledge by taking Wonderopolis’s quiz – report your score down below in the comments section, along with the most interesting thing you learned from the article!


Social Studies Mini-Spark #28: School Now vs. School in the 1800s


Summer break is coming up for most students in the United States, but did you ever wonder what summer break looked like for kids in the 1800s?  There are so many differences between school now and school in the 1800s! This blog post will explore those differences, and it may just convince you how much tougher it could be – and just how good you’ve got it!

  • In the 19th and early 20th centuries, one room schoolhouses were the norm in rural areas. A single teacher taught grades one through eight together. The youngest students—called Abecedarians, because they would learn their ABCs—sat in the front, while the oldest sat in the back. The room was heated by a single wood stove.
  • Most of the time, there was no transportation to get to school. Most schoolhouses were built to serve students living within 4 or 5 miles, which was considered close enough for them to walk. So when your Grandpa says, “I used to walk 5 miles to school”, he might not be exaggerating.
  • The school year was much shorter back then! When the Department of Education first began gathering data on the subject in the 1869-70 school year, students attended school for about 132 days (the standard school year these days is 180) depending on when they were needed to help their families harvest crops. Attendance was just 59 percent. School days typically started at 9am and wrapped up at 2pm or 4pm, depending on the area; there was one hour for recess and lunch, which was called“nooning.”
  • Forget iPads and gel pens—there were no fancy school supplies in the 19th and early-20th centuries. Students made do with just a slate and some chalk.
  • Lessons were quite different than they are today. Teachers taught subjects including reading, writing, arithmetic, history, grammar, rhetoric, and geography. Students would memorize their lessons, and the teacher would bring them to the front of the room as a class to recite what they’d learned—so the teacher could correct them on things like pronunciation on the spot—while the other students continued to work behind them.
  • Teachers sometimes lived with their students’ families. According to Michael Day at the Country School Association of America, this practice was called “boarding round,” and it often involved the teacher moving from one students’ house to the next as often as every week. One Wisconsin teacher wrote of boarding with families in 1851, “I found it very unpleasant, especially during the winter and spring terms, for one week I would board where I would have a comfortable room; the next week my room would be so open that the snow would blow in, and sometimes I would find it on my bed, and also in it. A part of the places where I boarded I had flannel sheets to sleep in; and the others cotton. But the most unpleasant part was being obliged to walk through the snow and water. I suffered much from colds and a cough.”
  • Discipline was very strict. Sure, stepping out of line in the 1800s and early 1900s could result in detention, suspension, or expulsion, but it could also result in a lashing. According to a document outlining student and teacher rules created by the Board of Education in Franklin, Ohio, from 1883, “Pupils may be detained at any recess or not exceeding fifteen minutes after the hour for closing the afternoon session, when the teacher deems such detention necessary, for the commitment of lessons or for the enforcement of discipline. … Whenever it shall become necessary for teachers to resort to corporal punishment, the same shall not be inflicted upon head or hands of the pupil.” Not all places had such a rule, though; in other areas, teachers could use a ruler or pointer to lash a student’s knuckles or palms. Other punishments included holding a heavy book for more than an hour and writing “I will not…” do a certain activity on the blackboard 100 times.
  • No lunch was provided by the school, even if families had the money for it; kids brought their lunches to school in metal pails. Every student drank water from a bucket filled by the older boys using the same tin cup.  GROSS!!
  • For many, education ended after just eighth grade; in order to graduate, students would have to pass a final exam. You can see a sample of a typical 8th grade exam in Nebraska circa 1895 in this PDF. It includes questions like “Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications,” “A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?,” and “What are elementary sounds? How classified?”

Try the test yourself and let us know how you did in the comments!