For Grades 5-8 , week of Jan. 11, 2021

1. Deciding Races

After all the campaigning, TV ads and money spent across the country in the last year, control of the U.S. Senate came down to two races for Senate seats in the state of Georgia. Both were held by Republicans, and the Democratic candidates were considered longshots to win. Yet when the votes were counted in the runoff contests, Democrat Jon Ossoff had defeated Republican David Purdue and Democrat Raphael Warnock had triumphed over Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler. The two runoffs, which were held January 5, were required under Georgia law because no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote on November 3. With Democratic wins in both seats, the Democrats now control the U.S. Senate, even though the two parties are tied in the number of votes each has. Under Senate rules, Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote as president of the Senate and she is a Democrat. The Democratic wins in the Georgia Senate races have changed the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. That will have impact not only for how the Senate conducts business but on how President-Elect Joe Biden conducts business. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about the effect of the Democrats’ wins in Georgia. Use what you read to write a political column detailing what you think will be the most significant effect, or effects.

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. A Different Madness

The “March Madness” tournaments of college basketball are the most exciting events of the year for top men’s and women’s teams. In years past fans packed arenas across the country to cheer on their favorite teams and players. This year, due to the coronavirus epidemic, “March Madness” competition will be much different. Following the lead of the National Basketball Association, the NCAA will hold all the tournament games at one location with limited — or no —fans in the stands. The men’s Division I tournament will be held in the area surrounding Indianapolis, Indiana, with the women’s tournament for Division I expected in the San Antonio, Texas area. Last year’s tournaments were canceled as the coronavirus epidemic spiked nationwide in the month of March. The coronavirus epidemic has forced organizations and businesses to change the way they do things to ensure public safety. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about such changes. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor urging an organization or business to make a change for safety.

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.

3. Tweaking an Anthem

In the southern Pacific nation of Australia, a small change has made a big difference in the nation’s national anthem. The change of one word is being hailed a significant step forward in a long debate on how Australia should acknowledge the history of its indigenous people. The The change came in the first line of the anthem “Advance Australia Fair.” The line that had read “Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free,” now ends with the words “we are one and free.” The change was made to acknowledge the history of Australia’s indigenous people that goes back 60,000 years, CNN News reported. The words “young and free” had been a reference to the arrival of the British fleet in Australia in the year 1788 and the establishment of British colonies. Though the change was hailed by some as an important “first step” for inclusion, supporters of indigenous rights said it was merely a symbolic move and not one of substance. In the United States and other nations, greater attention has been paid to inclusion, diversity, and correcting past injustices involving native peoples, ethnic minorities and Black citizens. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories detailing how communities and institutions have been doing this. Use what you read to write an editorial titled “Goals for 2021” outlining the most important things communities and institutions should do to promote inclusion and diversity and address past injustices.

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.

4. Fun Science

High school senior Ahmed Muhammad has loved science since he was a little boy, and it bothers him when kids don’t like it as much as he does. So while he was locked down due to the coronavirus epidemic, the California high schooler came up with a way to make science fun for younger students. He created a non-profit business that provides kits for easy, at-home science experiments. “What got me into science was those early hands-on activities,” he told CNN News. He approached his teachers with the idea, and asked them to help design science kits that would be appropriate for elementary school students. The results range from experiments for building a kaleidoscope to making a potato battery to creating an electromagnet. “I want kids to know that science is all around us,” he says. “It doesn’t need to be in a super fancy lab, with millions of dollars of equipment.” Science plays a role in many, many activities. Use the newspaper or Internet to make a list of four or five activities that interest you. Create a chart or graphic organizer showing what role science plays in each activity or equipment used in the activity. Follow up by using the Internet to learn other ways science affects each activity. Add this information to your chart and share with family, friends or classmates.

Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; organizing data using concrete objects, pictures, tallies, tables, charts, diagrams and graphs.

5. Pineapple Drones

Around the world, recycling is getting increased interest as a way to reduce waste and re-use materials. In the Southeast Asian nation of Malaysia, scientists have come up with a way to re-use and recycle a large source of agricultural waste in the country. The scientists have developed a process to transform the fiber found in pineapple leaves to make a material that can be used to build the frames for unmanned drone aircraft. In the past, pineapple leaves were discarded after the yearly harvest of pineapple fruit, which is one of the largest domestic crops in Malaysia. Government and scientific leaders say using the leaves to build drones not only could provide additional income for farmers, but provide a new recyclable product, Reuters News reports. They said if the pineapple fiber drones break, they can be buried underground, where they decompose in a matter of weeks. Communities all over the world are coming up with new and creative ways to recycle natural and manmade materials. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about some of these creative approaches. Use what you read to brainstorm an idea for a short film or video detailing different ideas. Write an outline for your film and give it a title that would make students your age want to watch it. Choose a celebrity to narrate your film, if you like, and explain your choice.

Common Core State Standards: Writing narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.