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Celebrate the Century: Search the Web for U.S. History of the 1980s

Lesson Planning Channel Search the Web to learn more about the stories behind the stamps that commemorate the people, places, events, and trends of the 1980s. Explore Web sites related to Brian Boitano, the Iran hostage crisis, the Columbia space shuttle, the rise of video games, and more! Included: An Internet scavenger hunt for students!

Earlier this year, the U.S. Postal Service issued 15 new stamps commemorating some of the most memorable trends and triumphs of the 1980s.


The 1980s commemorative stamps, representing the disco decade, are part of the Postal Service's Celebrate the Century program.

"We are delighted that the American public chose the space shuttle program stamp and 14 others to represent the 1980s," said Viki Brennan, Central Florida district manager, Customer Service and Sales, who dedicated the stamps for the Postal Service at a ceremony held at the Kennedy Space Center.

"America's space program and the Postal Service have a lot in common," said Brennan. "Both are national treasures and shining examples of public service institutions that the American people have come to respect and trust."



NASA launched the space shuttle Columbia, the first reusable spacecraft, April 12, 1981. Sandra Day O'Connor became the first female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, and Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. The Iran-Contra hearings made headlines.

Several events signaled the easing of international tensions. In December 1987, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed a nuclear-arms reduction treaty. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 presaged the end of the cold war.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated November 13, 1982. Americans celebrated a new national holiday, Martin Luther King Day, in January 1986.

The growth of cable television, video games, and compact discs had a major impact on home entertainment. Dallas and The Cosby Show topped TV ratings. Hip-hop culture and music videos gain popularity.

New words: yuppie, infomercial , and biodiversity.



The scavenger hunt activity that follows will engage students in exploring Web sites as they search for information related to ten of the 1980s stamps. For each stamp, we pose a question and provide a Web site URL. Challenge students to use the listed Web sites to answer all ten questions. Click here for the answers to the questions.

Be sure to check out other stories in Education World's Celebrate the Century series:



Space shuttles transformed U.S. space exploration. The reusable craft can launch satellites and house labs for scientific experiments. NASA launched Columbia, the first space shuttle, April 12, 1981.

Question 1:
Where did the space shuttle Columbia get its name?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the Shuttle Orbiter Columbia Web page, which is part of the Web site of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).



Based on children's poems by T. S. Eliot, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982. Wildly popular with people of all ages, it was the longest-running show in Broadway history. It closed on September 10, 2000.

Question 2:
Cats was nominated for 12 Tony Awards in 1983. How many Tony Awards did Cats win that year?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the Tony Awards Search Engine. (Hint: Type the word Cats into the Title space on the Tony Awards search engine. Then click SEARCH ; see how many of the nominees won!)



On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking hostages. Following prolonged negotiations, the hostage crisis came to an end after 444 days.

Question 3:
How many people were held hostage until the crisis ended on January 20, 1981?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the Iran Hostage Crisis page in the online Columbia Encyclopedia.



Figure skating gained popularity during the 1980s as fans eagerly followed national and international rivalries. Americans captured nine World Championships, and American men won Olympic gold in 1984 and 1988.

Question 4:
The men's figure skating competition at the 1988 Olympics was known as the "Battle of the Brians." Whom did U.S. skater Brian Boitano defeat in order to win the gold medal at those Olympic Games?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the Figure Skating Biographies Web page.



Designed by Maya Lin and dedicated on November 13, 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., displays the names of the more than 58,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam War or are listed as missing.

Question 5:
Maya Lin was one of many people who submitted designs for the memorial. How many people entered the Vietnam Veterans Memorial design contest?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Web page.



First marketed in the United States in 1983, compact discs (CDs) dramatically changed the music industry. Such features as durability, convenience, and sound quality helped CDs outsell records by the end of the decade.

Question 6:
Consumers bought about 30,000 compact disc players in 1983. That number grew rapidly. How many CD players did people buy in 1986, only three years after the introduction of the device?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the History of the Compact Disc Web page.



Built through the city of Berlin in 1961 to prevent citizens from fleeing communist East Germany to the West, the Berlin Wall symbolized the cold war. When travel restrictions were suddenly lifted November 9, 1989, Germans celebrated the end of Berlin's division.

Question 7:
The Berlin Wall was built in four generations. How high (in feet) was the last generation of the wall?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the Berlin Wall Web page. Click Facts to find the answer.



As video games rose in popularity, Americans spent more than 20 billion quarters and countless hours in arcades in 1981 alone. Home video games, with consoles plugged into TVs, turned living rooms into personal arcades.

Question 8:
The Super Mario Brothers 3 video game debuted in 1989. How many copies of that video game did people in the United States buy?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the Birth of Home Video Games Web page. Click Nintendo Entertainment System (1985).



E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial tells the story of a boy who befriends a stranded space alien and helps him "phone home." Winner of four Academy Awards and one of the most beloved films of all time, E.T. held the record as the top-grossing film for 15 years.

Question 9:
According to one source (Exhibitor Relations), only three movies have earned more money than E.T. has. Which movies are they?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the Top 100 All-Time Films at the USA Box Office list on the Web site.



During the 1980s, personal computers from companies such as Tandy, Commodore, Apple, and IBM revolutionized desktops. Home and office users could run business software, play games, or even write their own programs.

Question 10:
How many computers did people in the United States use in 1986?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the Computer History Timeline Web page.

Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2000 Education World


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