Focus on Social Studies Software

This month we'll check out some promising new releases ranging from American government to European geography to Canadian history. A substantial upgrade to one of the most unique atlases around is also highlighted. Read on...

Are you trying to get your students interested in the U.S. Constitution, only to run up against ignorance-induced apathy? Well Bill Maher, host of TV's "Politically Incorrect," may be just the ticket to spark their interest in the Constitution's modern-day relevancy. In History Hot Off the Press, from Cambridge Educational, Maher draws examples from current events and pop culture to illustrate the Constitution's "living" nature. Using a witty approach reminiscent of his comedic delivery, Maher demonstrates that history is a continuous process happening every day, and that the Constitution can guide every American through these sometimes confusing times.

While interacting with the software, students must answer questions correctly to proceed to subsequent segments. If they answer incorrectly, the program quickly reviews the segment where the information was covered. For $89, History Hot Off the Press will give your class a lighthearted yet in-depth look at the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Cambridge Educational also offers the Branches of Government series, covering the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the United States government.

Another title appropriate for American government studies is The American Presidency, from Grolier Interactive. This disc lets students experience a historical view of presidents, presidential politics and the executive branch, through 800 biographies, general interest articles and a wealth of related materials. It also includes the full text of each inaugural address, rare A/V clips, speeches, photos and online access to pre-screened Web sites with up-to-date information on political parties and more.

The CD's extensive database is organized by reading level and hierarchy of information, promoting ease of use for a variety of grades and interest levels. In addition to various methods of exploring the disc and its content, it also includes extensive biographical information on each president, first lady and vice president.

A title highlighting the history of our great neighbor to the north, Canadian Treasures will capture your students' imagination (and probably yours, too). Beautifully presented media from the Canadian National Archives blends seamlessly with a plethora of photos and TV, newsreel and radio clips. Each province and territory is studied, along with the stories of people vital to the shaping of the Canadian nation. A section on government helps students develop a "timeline" of important events and people. Canadian Treasures, from VR Didatech, uses the analogy of a child collecting personal memorabilia to show the link between a student's personal collecting and national collecting of memorabilia and history. Single copies cost around $60; lab packs and site licenses are also available.

GlobaLearn - Black Sea Nations Expedition, from Pierian Spring Software, teaches the history of another country or, in this case, several Eastern European countries. Priced at $20, this program lets students investigate the historical, cultural and physical features of the Black Sea region. Brimming with photographs and A/V highlights taken by the GlobaLearn team during their voyage around the Black Sea, the program features student hosts from Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and the Ukraine. As an aid for related studies, all of the media files on the disc can be used with any authoring program, letting teachers and students create presentations or homework assignments.

A New Look at Geography

While CD-ROM-based atlases and geography programs have been around for quite some time, we are starting to see more specialized versions. These tend to focus on a specific area of the planet, or highlight a specific way of looking at the planet. For example, WorldLink's Interactive Earth contains the most complete set of satellite and space shuttle images assembled for an education-specific program. The program basically re-maps the world with real imagery, focusing on geographical patterns and relationships rather than political boundaries and national statistics.

Interactive Earth includes a comprehensive curriculum guide with 25 inquiry-based learning activities focusing on such topics as Scale and Structure, Planetary Stewardship, Human/Environment Relationship and more. The images on the CD are amazing, with one particular image presenting one of the most detailed, cloud-free, whole-planet portraits ever seen. Warning: Once students try this program, it may be difficult getting them to stop!

Tom Snyder Productions has recently released Europe Inspirer 4.0, a program that takes students in grades 5-12 on a cooperative learning scavenger hunt across Europe's new political landscape. Working in teams, students compete against each other while planning a route, collecting resources and visiting countries. In the course of their journey, they must interpret maps, recognize geographic patterns and use real transportation routes -- all while working together to plan a successful expedition. Europe Inspirer 4.0 teaches students about the 48 countries of Europe, the different geographic characteristics of European regions and the locations of many important natural resources, while strengthening map-reading skills and enhancing collaborative decision making.

When Creative Wonders' 3D Atlas was first released it offered a unique way of looking at the earth. Now, 3D Atlas '98 adds detailed maps of over 200 of earth's largest cities; more video clips; full-text searches; more than double the amount of text that can be copied and pasted; and the ability to navigate the globe at nine levels of detail. Students have access to thousands of satellite images; narrated video documentaries; statistics from the World Resources Institute; complete profiles on every country in the world; a geography trivia game and much more. Atlases can be upgraded by downloading new information from the 3D Atlas Web site.

Rescue Geo 1, from Houghton Mifflin Company, teaches students in grades 3-6 about United States geography. In an exciting adventure scenario, students must repair Geo 1, a geography computer, by answering geography questions to defend against computer bugs and viruses. Geo 1's six data banks -- each representing one of the six essential elements that frame the National Geography Standards -- are malfunctioning and can only be fixed with students' correct answers.

The program's text and supporting audio are available in both English and Spanish, and provide self-pacing structures for students requiring additional time for learning. Rescue Geo 1 complements Houghton Mifflin's new K-6 social studies series We the People, but can also be used with any social studies program.

All titles are available for Windows and Macintosh unless noted.


Cambridge Educational    
(800) 468-4227    
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Grolier Interactive, Inc.    
(800) 285-4534    
Write 402 on Inquiry Card    

VR Didatech    
(800) 665-0667    
Write 403 on Inquiry Card    

Pierian Spring Software    
(800) 472-8578    
Write 404 on Inquiry Card    

(415) 931-6952    
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Tom Snyder Productions    
(800) 342-0236    
Write 406 on Inquiry Card    

Creative Wonders    
(800) 505-6133    
Write 407 on Inquiry Card    

Houghton Mifflin Co.    
(800) 758-6762    
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This article originally appeared in the 11/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.