For Grades 5-8 , week of Sep. 23, 2019

1. A Really Helpful Text

When people text the wrong number on their cell phones, they’re often greeted with rudeness or ridicule by the person contacted by mistake. Not so in the city of Phoenix, Arizona. A text message that was off by one digit not only led to a friendly conversation — it called attention to the needs of a sick boy. The chain of events began when Abby Fink texted friends whose 4-year-old son Noah was in the hospital, Phoenix Metro News reported. She was texting to tell them she would be bringing over dinner. But instead of her friends, she got a man named Bill Clayten, who jokingly asked what he was getting to eat. Realizing her mistake, Fink explained that her friends’ son was in intensive care after suffering complications from a seizure. She was stunned when Clayten immediately asked “How can I help?” Since then he has urged friends on Facebook to send gifts and cards to Noah, organized donations for the family and even contacted a local charity that now wants to help. “We were just really touched,” said Noah’s mother. “All he knew was that a little boy was in the ICU and he just wanted to jump into action. … A total stranger.” Strangers often step up to help people they don’t know. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about someone doing this. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor, discussing how communities would be better places if more people did this.

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

2. Winter Sports Threat

Global warming and climate change are having an effect on natural environments all over the world. They are affecting wildlife and sea levels, and in the not too distant future they could affect sports as well. Especially winter sports that rely on cold temperatures, snow, ice and natural settings like mountains. Stars of winter sports gathered in Washington, D.C. this month to outline their concerns about the future of their sports for a special U.S. Senate committee looking at climate change. While sports like ice hockey can be played indoors, the athletes testified that warming is eroding the conditions needed for outdoor sports like skiing and snowboarding, shortening the winter season in many places and having a negative effect on businesses like ski resorts that depend on winter weather and conditions. It also is reducing opportunities for low-key neighborhood recreation for children. “When I see a pond melt, I know the lost opportunity for this generation to experience this wonderful game that I was able to grow up with,” said former pro hockey star Mike Richter. Climate change is affecting many outdoor activities, not just winter sports. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about an outdoor activity that climate change is affecting, or could affect in the future. Use what you read to write a short editorial examining how the loss of this activity could affect the community, and what could be done to protect it.

Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.

3. Beautiful, Awful Bug

The spotted lantern-fly is a beautiful bug, with a reddish body, black-spotted outer wings and bright red inner wings that are visible when it flies. Lantern-flies also are hugely destructive bugs, feeding on trees, fruits, vegetables and shrubs and leaving a mess with their droppings. Native to the Asian nations of China, India and Vietnam, spotted lantern-flies were first observed in the United States in 2014 and now are a full-blown invasive species in eastern states like Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Virginia. They have taken over whole parks, and freaked out residents so much they are calling the police for help. The problem got so bad in the Pennsylvania city of Philadelphia recently that police issued an announcement: “Please do NOT call 911,” police asked those worried about the invasive pest. “While they are a nuisance, they are not a police issue.” They may cause a lot of plant damage, but they do not bite or pose a threat to humans. Spotted lantern-flies are the latest invasive species to make news in the United States. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about another invasive species that is causing problems. Use what you read to write an environmental column, examining the damage the invasive species is causing and what can be done about it.

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

4. Fun Speed Gun

Sometimes it takes creative thinking to solve a community problem. Consider the case of grandmother Patti Baumgartner, who wanted to stop cars from speeding down her street in Polson, Montana. She was worried for the safety of her grandchildren, so she decided to do something about it. With a hair dryer. Her white hair dryer looked like the speed guns police use, so she took it outside and sat by the side of the road. Every time she saw a car going too fast she pointed her dryer to get the driver’s attention. Soon it had gotten the attention of the Montana State Police as well. Baumgartner’s son took a picture of her with the hair dryer and tweeted it to Highway Patrol Trooper Noah Pesola. “I thought it was hilarious,” Pesola told local TV station KPAX. “I thought it was a great creative idea for the public to try and combat [a problem] without making people too upset.” To thank Baumgartner, Pesola made her an “Honorary Montana Trooper” and sent her a trooper’s hat to make her look more official. Patti Baumgartner’s use of a hair dryer to slow down speeders is an example of a community member taking action to deal with a problem. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about another community member taking individual action to deal with an issue. Use what you read to create a TV news report telling how the person took action and whether the effort was successful. Write text for your report and list images you would show, and why.

Common Core State Standards: Writing narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events; using drawings or visual displays when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or points.

5. Toilet on the Move

In the European nation of England, thieves have given the phrase “Porta-Potty” a whole new meaning. They broke into a famous palace and made off with solid-gold toilet worth $5-million or more. The toilet was actually an artwork on display at Blenheim Palace, and stealing it was quite an undertaking. It was not just something to look at — it actually worked and was hooked up to the palace’s plumbing system. Designed by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, the toilet is called “America” to reflect the artist’s view that Americans are obsessed with luxury goods and wealth. It previously was on display in a public bathroom at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, where museum-goers lined up for hours for a chance to use it. Artists often use their works to get people to think about things in new ways. In the newspaper or online, find and study photos of artists doing that. Then find a photo or story involving a person, event or issue in the news. Think like an artist and create an original drawing or cartoon to get people to think about the subject in a new way. Give your drawing a title and discuss with the class.

Common Core State Standards: Using drawings or visual displays when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or points; responding thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarizing points of agreement and disagreement.