For Grades 5-8 , week of Mar. 02, 2020

1. Refugee Art

When war, famine or natural disasters strike, people all over the world leave their countries as refugees. The U.S. state of Minnesota has opened its doors to thousands of them, and now has the highest number of refugees per capita of any state in the nation. To honor refugees making a new start in Minnesota, the Minneapolis Institute of Art is hosting an exhibit called “When Home Won’t Let You Stay” and has transformed the outside of its building in an unusual and eye-catching way. A colorful art installation has covered the columns at the entrance to the museum with lifejackets actually used by refugees traveling between the European countries of Turkey and Greece. The installation, called “Safe Passage,” was created by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei using 2,400 lifejackets collected in Lesbos, Greece from refugees trying to get to Europe by boat, CNN News reports. Its appearance in Minnesota is its first in the United States. It has been installed as a companion to the “Home Won’t Let You Stay” exhibit, which highlights artistic responses to migration, immigration and forced displacement. Around the world, thousands of refugees have been forced to leave their home countries and are seeking permission to settle in other countries. Many of those countries fear that accepting too many refugees will overwhelm services they have to offer. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about one country that is struggling with how to handle refugees seeking to enter. Use what you read to write a short editorial analyzing the situation and outlining how the country should respond.

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

2. Wheel-Ability

It’s often said that you can’t truly understand someone until you “walk a mile in their shoes.” In the state of Tennessee, lawmakers were challenged to do just that last month. But instead of shoes they were challenged to “Spend a Day in My Wheels” by an eighth grader who uses a wheelchair. Alex Johnson has been in a wheelchair since he was a little boy, and came up with the challenge “to raise awareness” about people who need to use mobility devices to get around. “My hope is that through my challenge we can make the world more accessible,” he said. Ten lawmakers took Alex up on his challenge, and agreed to use wheelchairs for a day at the office at the state capitol. “I expected it to be difficult, but I had no idea how frustrating it could be to just simply get around,” State Representative Clark Boyd said. “It’s really been an eye-opening experience.” Alex was pleased that the experience left an impression on the legislators who took part. “They can influence things,” he told a local TV station. “They can help people achieve more independence.” People with special needs face challenges that others do not have. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about people with special needs and the challenges they face in public places. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor detailing the challenges and what can be done to make them less severe.

Common Core State Standards: Producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.

3. Arrest for a Rapper?

In the Middle East nation of Saudi Arabia, women have far fewer freedoms than women in the United States and other nations. Saudis follow a strict form of Wahhabi Islam which places numerous restrictions on women based on religious beliefs. Those restrictions were in the news again recently when Saudi authorities ordered the arrest of female rapper from the city of Mecca for releasing a music video officials said “offends the customs and traditions” of Islam’s holiest city. Rapper Ayasel Slay’s video “Mecca Girl” celebrates female empowerment, but it has drawn sharp criticism from religious and political leaders who have called it “obscene” and a “blasphemy” against the teachings of Islam. Women in many countries do not have the rights that women enjoy in the United States. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about women seeking to obtain rights in other countries. Use what you read to write a paragraph or short paper exploring how the United States and other nations could help women in other countries achieve or expand their rights.

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.

4. Pipe Power

Hydroelectric power harnesses the energy of moving water to generate electricity. In most places that involves building dams on streams and rivers, which can pose risks to fish and other wildlife. In the city of Portland, Oregon, a new program is generating hydro power with no risks to wildlife. The city has installed turbines that generate electricity inside the pipes that deliver water to homes and businesses. The turbines generate electricity as water flows through the pipes, but pose no threat to the outside environment. “This is inside a pipe, so no fish or endangered species are impacted,” said a spokesman for the company that designed the system. “That’s what’s exciting.” More and more businesses and communities are using alternative energy sources like hydroelectric, solar and wind power to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to global warming. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about a business or community that is doing this. Use what you read to write a business or consumer column outlining why the business/community decided to use alternative energy and what benefits it hopes to achieve.

Common Core State Standards: Reading closely what written and visual texts say and to making logical inferences from them; citing textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

5. One Smart Dog

People who have dogs as pets often boast how smart they are. But few may be smarter than a Border collie in the European nation of Norway. The collie named Whisky not only can identify nearly 100 toys by name, but she can identify them by groups, or categories. Whisky had no special training to learn to identify her toys. She picked up the skill by simply playing fetch games with her owners. In the process she learned not only to identify “the red ball” or “the small Frisbee” by name, but also balls and Frisbees in general. “It is really, really unusual,” said an animal behavior expert who observed Whisky in action. “It is really difficult to teach object names to dogs.” Animals can learn many skills and can be trained to do useful things for people. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about an animal that has been trained to do something useful for people. Use what you read and additional research to write a paragraph or short paper detailing how the animal was trained, how long it took and how people benefited from the animal having this skill.

Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task.