For Grades 9-12 , week of Nov. 17, 2014

1. Law Aimed at ‘Cop Killer’

The Pennsylvania Legislature has unanimously enacted a law designed to curb what Governor Tom Corbett calls the “obscene celebrity” obtained by convicts at the expense of victims. The law was prompted by a New England college’s invitation to Mumia Abu-Jamal to be its commencement speaker. Abu-Jamal is serving a life sentence after conviction for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer. Abu-Jamal, who claims that he is the victim of a racist justice system, has attracted supporters the world over. Some protested outside the Philadelphia building where the governor signed the bill into law while calling Abu-Jamal an “unrepentant cop killer.” As a class, review the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and what it says about freedom of speech. Then discuss the latest developments of the Abu-Jamal case and how the First Amendment figures into different aspects. Write a short editorial from the discussion and take a position on the new Pennsylvania law.

Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; engaging effectively in a range of collaborative discussions; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

2. Video Game Suit

From his Panama prison, disgraced former dictator Manuel Noriega filed a lawsuit against an American video game manufacturer for using his likeness in a game that depicted him as a killer and enemy of the state. Now a Los Angeles judge has dismissed the suit, saying using his image is protected in the United States by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Noriega, 80, is serving a 60-year sentence for murder, embezzlement and corruption. The video game, created by Activision Blizzard Inc., is “Call to Duty: Black Ops II.” Video games remain hugely popular with teens, pre-teens and young adults. In groups or as a class, discuss video games that are popular with students your age. Then pick one you have played or read about and write a review of it, in the style of a newspaper reviewer. Give your review a headline that will make people want to read it.

Common Core State Standards: Engaging effectively in a range of collaborative discussions; responding thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarizing points of agreement and disagreement; writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.

3. Lions Facing Extinction

The King of Beasts is in trouble — big trouble. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended listing the African lion as an endangered species, because it’s facing extinction due to loss of habitat, human conflict and poaching. As recently as 1980, the population of African lions was estimated at 76,000 in the wild; now, it’s believed to be 30,000. If the species is added to the endangered list, selling products related to the hunting of lions will become a criminal activity in the United States, where sports hunting is very popular, and hunters import the remains of lions as trophies. Protecting endangered species is a concern all over the world. In the newspaper or online, find a species that is threatened or endangered. Read about the species and brainstorm an idea for a public service or documentary video seeking to protect the species. Write an outline for your video, detailing points you would make and images you would use. Pick a well-known narrator for your video if you like, and explain the choice.

Common Core State Standards: Integrating information presented in different media or formats to develop a coherent understanding of a topic; writing narrative s to develop real or imagined experiences or events; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.

4. Heating Bills

Heating bills should be lower this winter, the U.S. Energy Department predicts, because the deep freeze that chilled much of the nation last year is unlikely to return. Not only will temperatures be milder, the department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) notes, but propane and heating oil should be less costly. Using forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the EIA predicts the number of heating degree days (a measure of demand) will fall 12 percent. Some customers, it speculates, could save nearly $800 on heating bills this year. All over the country, people are preparing for winter. In the ads of the newspaper, find five products people could need to deal with winter weather or conditions. Write a complete sentence for each one, explaining why people could need it.

Common Core State Standards: Writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.

5. We’re Living Longer, but …

Americans are living longer than ever before, according to a new government report. Rates have been falling or holding steady for nearly all causes of death except suicide, which is at its highest point in 25 years. According to the report, U.S. life expectancy for a child born in 2012 was 78 years and more than nine months, a record. The 10 leading causes of death remained the same as in the past, with heart disease and cancer topping the list. Suicide, which has risen more than 2 percent, is now ranked 10th as a cause of death. Suicide prevention is an issue important in every community. As a class, discuss possible causes for the increase in the nation’s rate of suicides and ways the problem could be addressed. Then write a letter to the editor, recommending a step the community could take to reduce the number of suicides.

Common Core State Standards: Engaging effectively in a range of collaborative discussions; producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task.

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