TEACHERS: Get free access to all Lessons and Current Events
Language is complex, but children are natural language learners. Language itself is unique to humans, and many scientists want to know more about how humans are capable of learning language. Some theories suggest humans are born to be able to process and use language; however, a researcher studying language learning in children, thinks differently. He has been studying the sounds, grammar, vocabulary as well as eye movements and brain activity in children, and he has made some discoveries. Listen to learn more about language research that helps to explain why we have language and how we learn it.
A United Nations report in 2014 shows that human activities are changing the planet. The scientists are more confident in their conclusions that humans are causing global warming. There are rising sea levels, higher temperatures and impacts on wildlife. This conversation with a public radio reporter looks at the long term trend in global temperatures and what humans can do to reverse the trend.
The play "Hedda Gabler" by Henrik Ibsen was written in 1891. It features a female protagonist who feels trapped and bored by her loveless marriage and the rules of Victorian society, and relieves her frustration through manipulating others. A play called "Heddatron," is a comedic reinterpretation of "Hedda Gabler." The producers of "Heddatron" updated the play for a 21st century audience by incorporating robots into the cast. As new forms of technology are showing up in unexpected places, the integration of robots in this play challenges our thinking about the role of technology in our culture and our society. Listen to this story to learn why the producers decided to bring robots into a century-old play, and what challenges they faced in bringing their reinterpretation to the stage.
The Tibetan Plateau is one of the highest and coldest places on Earth. Many of the world’s tallest mountains, including Mt. Everest, is on the Tibetan Plateau. For millions of years, animals living in this region have needed to adapt to extremely cold temperatures. When an ice age took over Europe and Asia about 2.5 million years ago, this adaptation may have given animals living on the plateau an evolutionary advantage. Listen to hear about the discovery of the woolly rhino on this plateau and the new theories resulting from the discovery.
In 1969, Lynn Girton fell in love with a woman for the first time ever, not even understanding what homosexuality was. Her adopted daughter Molly is also gay, and despite this commonality has had a very different experience of life. Listen to hear mother and daughter discuss their different experiences of gender, identity, and sexuality.
In 2015, the United States resettled nearly 70,000 refugees as wars and political instability continue to drive people from their home countries. Resettlement isn’t easy for the person coming to a new country. One of those people, Barwaqo Mohamed was born and grew up in Somalia, but came to the U.S. as a political refugee in 2006. In this audio story, Barwaqo talks about her experience as an immigrant with a journalist who volunteered to tutor her in English for over four years. Barwaqo describes herself as a natural at learning languages and that helped her fit in. Listen to the interview to learn how that skill has served her since she came to the U.S.
The United States is a nation of immigrants. European immigrants in the late 1800s populated our nation and were granted citizenship upon entry. The immigration system has changed dramatically since, and America’s borders are no longer open to all. Hostility towards immigrants has led to a crackdown on illegal immigration in various states. Arizona’s “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Acts” commonly known as SB 1070 was passed in 2010 and became the strictest anti-immigration measure in recent history. Listen to learn how this law has impacted Arizona and its immigrants.
Energy and how it converts to power is a never-ending exploration for scientists. The most significant issue concerning energy right now is how to store it, especially for long periods of time. It's possible to get solar energy from the sun, but what happens to the energy when it's not a sunny day? There's also the problem of having enough space to hold all of this energy. Listen to learn how scientists are trying to figure out how energy can be stored long-term to power the things we use every day.
Scarcity is a basic economic problem: people have unlimited wants and needs, but the world has limited resources. Resources in that equation include materials, capital, and labor. A pasta factory in southern Italy faced a very particular sort of labor shortage. The Barilla pasta factory in Foggia, Italy had enough employees to keep up with production schedules, but the employees weren’t showing up to work. The absentee rate among workers threatened the survival of the plant. Listen to the story to learn how bosses and managers changed employees’ attitudes and behavior and solved their scarcity issue.
In the developed world, a lot of money changes hands without anyone actually touching it. That’s because many people get paychecks, do their shopping, and pay their bills electronically. When you put your debit card into an ATM, you assume that the machine is connected to a trusted institution and knows how much is in your account and will, in fact, give you the amount of cash you asked for. In other words, you trust the process and the bank. But what if you couldn’t? Listen to find out how people in Myanmar are trying to adjust to banking electronically in a setting where it’s not always reliable.
The University of Maryland’s Incentive Awards Program celebrated its first group of graduates along with new award winners at a reception in the university president’s backyard. The program awards full scholarships to promising, at-risk, local students who have overcome major obstacles to succeed. The university president who established the program expressed great pride in the success of the program and its students, many of whom are the first in their families to earn a college degree. Listen to hear the stories of several program participants, challenges they faced, personal qualities that helped them succeed, and their aspirations for the future.
In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay in which he predicted that by the time his children were grown up, people would be working just 15 hours a week. Today, in some countries, people do work a bit less than they did fifty years ago, but Keynes’s prediction was essentially wrong. There is a counter-intuitive response to incentives, and that is one factor that keeps people working long hours. According to his descendants, Keynes himself was a workhorse who couldn’t slow down. Listen to this audio story to learn more about Keynes and why making money doesn’t necessarily free us to work less.
The rivalry between India and Pakistan dates back to the partition of the former British colony in 1947. Lines were drawn along religious lines. Pakistan was a region for Muslims and India a region for Hindus. More than 60 years later the relationship remains tense. Listen to hear a story about partition from the perspective of India and learn about recent events in India that have intensified the rivalry. This piece, told from the viewpoint of India, is a companion piece to the audio story at the heart of the lesson Trouble between India and Pakistan Dates Back to Partition which focuses on partition and the Pakistani perspective.
Students in Bellingham, Washington, pushed to introduce composting programs at their high schools and these programs have proved successful. This story follows food from the school cafeteria to the compost site where microorganisms transform it to home gardens and nurseries where compost is applied as fertilizer and mulch. Listen to hear from an insider's view of an industrial scale composting site and how we can learn how to compost.
The novel To Kill a Mockingbird was written more than 50 years ago and yet its themes of racism and civil rights remain relevant today. In this story author James McBride who wrote The Color of Water explains why the book inspired generations of American writers.
Update: This story first aired in 2010. In July 2015, a newly discovered novel written by Harper Lee in the 1950s was published. The novel is called Go Set a Watchman.
Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas was only one of many schools being desegregated in accordance with the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This public radio story describes the attempt by nine black students to integrate Central High School in 1957. But the protests against its desegregation made Central High the symbolic focus of white resistance to civil rights for black Americans.
Google Maps is playing an unexpected role in modern-day disputes over borders, or so called "border wars." In 2010, Nicaragua claimed the Costa Rican island of Isla Calero and defended its actions by pointing out that Google Maps showed the island as Nicaraguan. A year later, the Netherlands complained that Google Maps gave land claimed by the Netherlands around the Ems River to Germany. Google says its Maps tool is only for “entertainment purposes”, and should not be used to make “territorial, political, or military decisions.” This public radio story explores how satellite mapping has changed border disputes.
Recently, Colorado State University (or CSU) proposed changing its policy of allowing students to carry concealed handguns on campus. The change has aroused opposition as well as support. In this public radio story the lawyer for a gun-rights advocacy group and a local sheriff both speak out against the move, with the advocacy lawyer claiming the group will sue the University if it moves forward and the sheriff stating that he will not enforce the law.
It is difficult to conceptualize the magnitude of our solar system but the journey of the Voyager spacecrafts can help. In September 1977 NASA launched the Voyager spacecrafts to gain information about the far off giant planets in our solar system. The spacecrafts and the project endured after studying Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and continued to travel away from earth and through our solar system. Thirty-five years after Voyager 1 left Earth, and over 11 billion miles away, it became the first man-made object to leave our solar system and enter interstellar space. Listen to learn what researchers have been researching from the edge of our solar system.
During the Great Depression, high unemployment affected millions of Americans. In this audio story, people who lived through the depression as young people share their experiences of being out of work and hungry, and depending on relatives or strangers for food. The lack of any government safety net for the unemployed meant that people who could not find work were on their own, and many had to resort to begging to survive.
A new way of looking at live cells is revolutionizing our understanding of how molecular life works. However, it is how how one scientist managed to complete his study despite facing World War II in Japan that makes his discovery so intriguing. By using an old machine gun, Shinya Inoue made a microscope that enabled him to start to see how a cell divides. Listen to learn how Inoue finished his microscope and why it is so important to the science community.
The mascot of a high school in Bucks County Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia, is being challenged. The name ‘Redskins’ accompanied by the image of a Native American warrior has been deemed offensive by a preliminary panel of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. A parent at the high school, who is Native American, complained to the school nearly two years ago that the mascot was an offensive racial slur and was used to discriminate against her son. The school district argues that the mascot is not insulting and is fighting for the right to keep the ‘Redskins’ name, either officially or to use as a nickname. Listen to learn more about the controversy from the Commission, schoolboard, and the students’ perspectives.
On April 15, 1947 African American baseball player Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was an interesting choice for the Dodgers to break the race barrier in baseball because he was an older player and was not seen as the best player in the Negro league at the time. Listen to learn how Robinson’s strong character, as much as his talent, helped to successfully integrate baseball.
James Baldwin’s legacy and words are still very much alive and relevant today. A 2017 Oscar-nominated documentary was inspired by Baldwin’s writing on race, class, and the Civil Rights era in America. The documentary, called "I Am Not Your Negro," examines the lives and work of three Civil Rights leaders: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X. At the same time, it urges audiences to consider how racial tensions and attitudes continue to influence our culture today. Listen to hear more about how James Baldwin and this documentary challenge us to work toward positive change in our communities.
Established in 1607, Jamestown, Virginia, was the first successful English colony in North America. In 2010, scientists discovered four skeletons that had been buried in what was the colony’s first church. The archaeologist working on the site theorized that these must be the remains of members of the colony’s elite. Listen to this story to learn what led to the evidence scientists uncovered to support this theory.
Jane Goodall is a well known advocate for ecological preservation. Her book "Hope for Animals and Their World" is about her experiences rescuing endangered animal species all over the world. She makes the case for not only saving cute animals like chimpanzees but for preventing rare plants and insects from dying out because it’s vital for sustainability and the proliferation of all kinds of life. Listen to learn more about her experiences with species near extinction and preserving entire ecosystems on our planet.
In 2005, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi issued an apology on behalf of the Japanese people for its colonial rule and aggression before and during World War II. The apology came at a time of increased tensions between Japan and its east Asian neighbors, including anger over Japanese textbooks that seemed to downplay the atrocities Koizumi was apologizing for. The story touches upon present day circumstances that can limit the effectiveness of such an apology. The story also raises powerful questions about how societies make meaning of the past, the legacy of oppression, and the degree to which history impacts the present day.
Even beautiful plants can sometimes be detrimental to the environment. This public radio story takes place in Michigan where the sale of Japanese knotweed has been outlawed following unchecked growth of the large ornamental plant. Japanese knotweed is fast-growing, aggressive and hard to control. It can destroy pavement and even houses and it is unlikely to be eradicated any time soon.
Kendo is the name of the centuries old martial art of Japanese fencing. It’s still being practiced today. This audio story describes the popularity of kendo. The college tournament, held annually at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the largest intercollegiate kendo competition in the United States, and it reflects the growing popularity of this sport.
Thomas Jefferson’s vegetable garden at Monticello contains over 300 varieties of more than 90 different plants, demonstrating the diversity of Earth’s ecosystem. The former President and founding father prided himself on his diversified and rare collection of plants. And he never failed to record his gardening achievements in his famed “garden book”. Listen to learn more about the history of Jefferson’s garden and it’s current state following restoration.
Children of immigrants can often feel like they’re never completely accepted either in their adopted home country or their parents’ country of origin. The author Jhumpa Lahiri was born to Indian parents in London and raised in Rhode Island. She is an author of many books, including "The Namesake" and "The Interpreter of Maladies." But she says she’s struggled to feel like she belonged in America. Mixed feelings about identity form a central theme in her work. Listen to hear how Jhumpa Lahiri has dealt with the difficulties of immigration and the struggles of tradition and how these themes have influenced her writing.
In 1939 Marian Anderson an African-American opera singer was prevented from singing to an integrated audience at Constitution Hall. At the time, Washington DC was a segregated city but didn't have the "Whites Only" signs familiar in the South. Anderson instead performed an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial. This audio story describes the controversy over a recent children’s book about Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial that showed “Colored Only” signs in public places. You'll hear from people living in the capital at the time talk about when the de facto racial segregation that did exist in the city was exposed when Marian Anderson was not allowed to sing in Constitution Hall.
Joan of Arc is famous for believing she received visions from saints, successfully leading armies into battle, and, ultimately burning at the stake. She has been portrayed in a variety of books, movies, and paintings. A new play takes a different perspective on the teenager’s life: her mother’s. Listen to learn about the role Isabelle played in her prominent daughter’s life from the well-known actress who now portrays her.
Joan of Arc was an uneducated girl who followed the voices of angels and worked to free France from England’s domination. When she was captured by the English, she was burned at the stake. Later she was pronounced a Catholic Saint. Listen to learn how her religious and political legacy still inspire French politicians today.
John Calvin, one of the central figures in the Protestant reformation more than 500 years ago, has left an indelible mark on American culture. Though we think of his theology as representing the most joyless version of Protestantism possible, some of what we think about him now isn’t particularly accurate to who the man was and what he believed. Listen to find out how one historian views Calvin’s legacy, and what more we can learn from his example.
When American author John Irving was 14 years old, he read "Great Expectations," by Charles Dickens and it changed his life forever. That book played a pivotal role in shaping Irving’s success as a writer. Now the author of more than a dozen narratives and an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Irving continues to base his works on similar themes and ideas found throughout the novels of his literary mentor. Listen to the audio story as Irving explains the ways that Dickens impacted his accomplishments and which one book remains for Irving to read when he can no longer write.
The book "Into the Wild" chronicled the journey of twenty-four year old Christopher McCandless who died in April of 1992 after attempting to survive alone and virtually unaided on a remote Alaskan hiking trail. While McCandless’ official cause of death has been recorded as starvation, author Jon Krakauer has evidence suggesting otherwise. Krakauer, who wrote "Into the Wild," has conducted extensive research on McCandless’ death even after he first published the book chronicling McCandless’ experiences. His findings have led him to believe that McCandless’ death may have been caused by the ingestion of a poisonous potato seed that is only deadly if you are malnourished. Listen to hear what evidence led Krakauer to this conclusion.
Writer Joyce Carol Oates is the successful author of more than 50 novels and even more works of non-fiction, poetry, plays and short stories. Her writing, known for its high quality, is filled with ideas, themes and subjects across multiple genres. Many readers and fans of her work are aware of the violent, dark nature of some of her stories, but may not realize that many of these themes are based on events she experienced in her early years. Oates shares these stories in her recent memoir, “The Lost Landscape.” Listen to hear Oates explore how her early life shaped her not only as a person, but as a writer.
Senator Joseph McCarthy led a crusade against Soviet spies he believed were operating in the United States government. He called Democrats "soft" on the war on communism. This audio story describes why the American public's view of Republican Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist campaign in the early 1950s continues to be sharply divided.
Julia Alvarez is a Dominican-American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her novels include “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents” and “In the Time of the Butterflies.“ Growing up in the Dominican Republic, she learned about the massacre of over 20,000 Haitians living in the Dominican Republic in 1937. She was consistently presented with negative stereotypes of her Haitian neighbors. For these reasons, Alvarez felt too ashamed and even afraid to visit Haiti. But she made the trip and then visited again to attend a wedding after the 2010 earthquake. Listen to learn more about how Alvarez needed to cross many borders—internal, historical, cultural—that stood in her way.