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NIESpecial Report


Science Behind the News

NBC Learn, in partnership with he National Science Foundation, explores the science, technology, engineering and math found in current events. This 7-week series helps connect fundamental STEM topics to real-world news stories.

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The National Wildlife Federation lesson plans are designed to introduce students to life science, ecology, wildlife biology, scientific identification and observation. All lesson plans are aligned to the National Science Education Standards and organized by grade level.

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For Grades K-4 , week of Nov. 24, 2014

1. Robot Penguin Chick

Researchers studying animals in the wild often cause the creatures to stress out, and don’t get a true picture of behavior. Now scientists studying the king penguin in the South Pole region of Antarctica have found a solution. They have built a wheeled robot that looks like a fuzzy penguin chick, and the real birds let it get close to them. The penguins used to move away from people, but with the robot they move less than three inches, enabling scientists to get a close look at their behavior. Scientists study wildlife species to see how they interact, raise their young, find food and survive in their habitat. In the newspaper, find a species of wildlife that interests you. Pretend you are a scientist and brainstorm something you would like to study about the species. Then draw a series of comic strips showing your study and what you might find out.

Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; using drawings or visual displays when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or points.

2. French Fries Exhibit

French fries are French fries, right? Not necessarily, people learned at a pop-up exhibit of 100 different varieties early this month in New York City. The exhibit titled “Fries of New York” featured French fries from a variety of New York restaurants and was designed “to show the diversity of these things … and how they have changed” with new approaches by restaurant chefs. The exhibit was sponsored by Sir Kensington’s, a manufacturer of food condiments like ketchup and mustard. What are your favorite foods? In the newspaper, find an ad or picture of one food you like. Think about this food and write a poem, rap or rhyme explaining why you like it. Include an adjective describing this food in each line of your poem or rhyme. Share poems as a class.

Common Core State Standards: Demonstrating understanding of figurative language; applying knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts.

3. ‘Raining’ Money

It was “raining” money on Interstate 270 in the state of Maryland recently, and many drivers stopped to grab some of the bills that were flying though the air. The money came from an armored truck when a door sprung open and a money bag fell on the highway near the town of Urbana. Emergency vehicles quickly arrived and helped the driver recover what he could of the cash, but all but a few hundred dollars remained missing. Authorities warned drivers who took cash to return it to state police or face possible charges of theft. Unusual events often are in the news. As a class, find examples in the newspaper or online. In teams, brainstorm ideas for turning one story into a cartoon or short movie. Write a summary of a plot based on the news item. Then outline what might happen in the first scene.

Common Core State Standards: Engaging effectively in a range of collaborative discussions; writing narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.

4. Lava Spares Family Plot

As lava from a volcano got closer and closer, Aiko Sato assumed she was visiting her family’s burial plot in Hawaii for the last time. The lava kept coming and coming, burying the Pahoa Japanese Cemetery in the U.S. state. Then it stopped, and the Sato headstone was still standing in a sea of black lava. Aiko Sato called it a “miracle,” and expressed deep thanks because the plot holds urns containing her grandparents’ ashes, and the remains of an aunt and uncle who died as infants. Volcano eruptions are a natural event that can have great effect on people. In the newspaper or online, find a story about another natural event affecting people. Write a summary of the event, how people were affected and what will happen next.

Common Core State Standards: Writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

5. Detergent Packet Dangers

Small, colorful, single-load packets of detergent may help families do their laundry, but they can be a danger to children. More than 17,000 children younger than age 6 have eaten or inhaled the contents or squirted the liquid into their eyes, according to new research. Because some of the brightly colored packets resemble candy or a teething toy, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested they might be “an emerging public health concern.” Scientists write in the health journal called Pediatrics that there may actually be more accidental poisonings than estimated because reporting such incidents is voluntary. Health issues that affect children and families are often in the news. As a class, use the newspaper or Internet to find a story about one of these issues. Read the story closely as a class. Then write a paragraph explaining why the story is important to children and families.

Common Core State Standards: Producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.