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For Grades 5-8 , week of May 15, 2023

1. Cell Phone Restrictions

During the coronavirus epidemic, students relied more and more on cell phones to stay connected from home, do research and keep up with school work. When they returned to schools for in-person learning, however, their cell phone habits became a distraction not a benefit, many schools reported. Students were constantly on their phones in class, as they had been when learning at home, and that made it harder to pay attention and focus on lessons and discussions with other students. To address the distraction of cell phones, schools in Ohio, Colorado, Maryland, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia, California and others have taken steps to ban the devices, the Washington Post newspaper reports. Some have invested in ways to lock up phones during school hours. Others have forced students to keep them hidden away — with strict penalties for violations. Still others have invested in high-tech Yondr pouches that seal phones in locked bags that students can only open by tapping against a magnetic device as they leave. Many students — who use their phones to arrange rides, check on assignments or keep in touch with parents or coaches — are unhappy with the crackdowns, while parents have divided opinions. Safety is a big concern. “I’m afraid that if something happens, I won’t be able to contact anyone … to tell people I’m okay or I’m not,” one eighth grader said. Cell phones are important to students of all ages. They also can be a distraction. In teams, use the newspaper and Internet to find and closely read stories about efforts to restrict cell phone use in schools. Stage a class debate, with one side favoring restrictions and another opposing restrictions. Be sure to use evidence from your reading and research to support your points and opinions.

Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

2. Condor Setback

California condors have struggled to survive in the wild due to loss of habitat, dangers from electrical power lines and poisoning from lead bullets used by hunters. All these threats are connected to human activities, but a new one has nothing to do with humans. In a little more than a month, 21 critically endangered California condors have died of avian flu, a naturally occurring disease that can kill birds. The dead birds were found in northern Arizona, among the birds’ Southwest flock on the Arizona-Utah border. Avian flu has not yet been confirmed among any condors in California. The condors, which are one of the world’s largest birds with a wingspan of 9.5 feet, almost went extinct in the 1980s, CNN News reports. In the late 1980s the condors living in the wild were captured and placed in a captive breeding program. In 1992 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began releasing captive-born condors into the wild, and the population now numbers about 400. With such a small population, any losses are hugely significant, wildlife officials say. The 21 recent deaths have likely set conservation efforts back by 10 years or more, according to the group that manages the Southwest flock. That’s because “the condor is slow to mature, taking up to eight years before they can produce young, and with an average of just one young every other year” after that, one official said. Many species of wild birds and animals are facing threats to their existence in their natural habitats. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about one species facing new or ongoing threats. Use what you read to brainstorm an idea for a documentary movie about the species and the threats it faces. Write an outline for your movie, including images you would use. Then write the script for the opening scene. Share with the class and explain your choices.

Common Core State Standards: Writing narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.

3. Home Run Heat

Climate change and global warming are affecting the world in many ways. They are causing glaciers to melt, oceans to rise and record heat waves and droughts. Now scientists have found another effect of global warming: It may be causing more home runs in baseball. A new study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has found that air made thinner by warmer conditions accounted for 1 percent of home runs on average from 2010-2019, NPR Radio reports. That small percentage is expected to grow to up to 10 percent by the year 2100, researchers predict. The researchers reached their conclusions by looking at some 60 years of baseball data in combination with daily temperatures. They looked specifically at the days that were unseasonably warm and cold for the time of year. “Warmer air is less dense than cooler air,” one researcher explained. This means there’s “more space between the air molecules, and so a ball is just going to encounter less air resistance and it’s going to fly farther.” Since 2010, more than 500 home runs can be chalked up to warmer temperatures, the researchers say, and if temperatures continue to rise, there will be hundreds more. Climate change and global warming are having great impact all over the world. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about one way that warming is having an impact. Use what you read to write a short editorial describing the impact, what caused it, and what people or governments could do to address 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.

4. Books and Buttercups

When people face personal tragedy, they react in different ways. Some withdraw and focus on dealing with those directly involved. Others pledge to do something positive to ensure that good can come out of a bad situation. Emily Bhatnagar, who lives in the state of Maryland outside Washington, DC, is accentuating the positive. When her dad was diagnosed with cancer when she was 17, she launched a neighborhood book drive to honor him. Her goal was to donate the books to children in hospitals who were also facing health challenges. “I thought to myself, I’m only a teenager. What can I do?” she told CNN News. “… I was drowning in sadness when my dad was diagnosed. Thinking of these little children going through the same thing as my dad was unimaginable.” At first, her goal was to collect books just for cancer patients, but she since has expanded it to all patients under 18. In less than two years, her nonprofit called For Love and Buttercups has collected and delivered more than 15,000 children’s books to Washington-area hospitals. She chose the Buttercup name because it is her favorite flower, but also because “Buttercup flowers represent childlike innocence and playfulness that a lot of these kids don’t get to experience. … It’s what I hope they feel, even for a few seconds, when they open my books.” Emily Bhatnagar chose to do something positive in response to a personal tragedy and family setback. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about people who have done positive things in response to setbacks. Pretend you are a news reporter about to interview this person. Write out five questions you would ask, and why you would want to hear answers to them.

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.

5. Woof! A Winning Ticket

In states all over the nation, people love to play lottery games. People also love dogs. So what would happen if you combined those two loves? Lottery officials in the state of South Carolina have decided to do it and they feel it’s going to be a real winning ticket. Lottery officials this month announced they are holding a contest for dog owners who would like to see photos of their pets on a special scratch-off game coming for the winter holiday season. The Lottery said it is seeking five dogs to appear on $2 “Happy Pawlidays” tickets that will start being sold in October, UPI News reported. Five photogenic dogs will be chosen, and their owners each will receive a $100 gift card to the website for pet supplies. That’s not all, of course. They’ll also get the fame of having their pets pictured on Lottery tickets that will be bought by thousands of people. Lottery officials are always looking for clever ideas or themes to get people to play lottery games. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about games and promotions used by different lotteries to interest players. Then think like a lottery official and brainstorm a theme you think would be popular with players and the public. Stretch your thinking: No idea is too wild or unusual. Write a proposal your idea or theme, telling why it would be popular, what emotions it would appeal to and why it would make people want to try the game.

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