For Grades 5-8 THE WEEK OF Nov. 09, 2020

1. Electoral College (Again)

The Electoral College was set up by the nation’s founders as part of the U.S. Constitution, and every four years it pops back into the news as part of the race for president. The College isn’t a college at all, but a group of “electors” who cast ballots on behalf of their state based on the results of the popular vote. The number of electors each state gets is equal to the size of its congressional delegation — the number of U.S. Senators added with the number of U.S. Representatives. The nation’s founders set up the Electoral College as a way to protect the integrity of the vote for president, but over the years it has generated controversy for doing the opposite. Under the system, it is possible in close elections for a candidate to lose the popular vote but carry enough states to amass the 270 votes needed in the Electoral College to win the presidency. That has happened several times in U.S history, most recently in 2016 when President Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3-million ballots but won enough states to collect the 270 electoral votes needed to win. As challenges are filed against the vote counting and totals in key states, there will be much discussion this week about how those challenges could affect the Electoral College vote totals of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden. In the newspaper or online find and closely read stories about the challenges and their effect on the Electoral College totals. Use what you read to write a political column analyzing how the challenges could shape the outcome of the presidential race.

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.

2. Real-Life Wakanda

The rhythm and blues singer known as Akon is a Senegalese-American songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and actor. Now the 47-year-old entertainer is adding a new chapter to his biography. He wants to found a futuristic city in the African nation of Senegal that will be a real-life version of Wakanda, the high-tech country from the movie “Black Panther.” This fall Akon broke ground for a $6-billion project to construct Akon City 60 miles outside Senegal’s capital of Dakar and said work would begin next year. The singer, who split time between the United States and Senegal as a child, has the support of the Senegalese government for the project, CNN News reported. It will be built with a mix of government and private money. Akon has been a top-selling performer in the United States and around the world. He has been nominated for five Grammy music awards and is the first solo artist to hold both the Number One and Number Two spots at once on the Billboard magazine Hot 100 chart. He has achieved that honor two times. Starting a city from scratch would be a great challenge; it also could be great fun. In the newspaper or online find and closely read stories about special features or buildings cities are adding to become more interesting or successful. Keep a log or scrapbook of different ideas. Then think like a city planner and outline a plan for a city as if you were starting from scratch. What features would you want? What attractions? Where would people live and work? Draw an illustrated map of your city showing features you would like to include. Explain your drawing to family, friends or classmates.

Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; using drawings or visual displays when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or points; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

3. More Treat Than Trick

Halloween has come and gone, and for retail stores it was more treat than trick this year. That was a pleasant surprise, since store owners had feared the coronavirus epidemic would ruin sales because people were cutting back Halloween parties and other events. When they added up the numbers, however, sales were unexpectedly strong for costumes, treats and decorations, virus or no virus. Faced with canceling Halloween fun, many neighborhoods simply moved activities outside and practiced social distancing. Inflatable decorations ranging from dragons to giant cats sold well, along with traditional home decorations like cobwebs and skeletons. “We have sold more decorations, more animated props than we ever have in the history of our company,” one supplier told the New York Times, noting that people were “dressing up the house much more.” As for costumes, inflatable outfits of dinosaurs and other figures were popular, along with coronavirus themes of things like hand sanitizer or toilet paper. Overall Halloween spending totaled about $8-billion nationwide, down from last year’s $8.8-billion but better than expected. Halloween kicks off the end-of-year holiday shopping season. Stores are already decorated for Christmas and the winter holidays and they are advertising special sales and early “Black Friday” events. In the newspaper or online, find and study stories and ads showcasing holiday shopping and trends for this year. Use what you find to write a consumer column making a prediction on how strong the holiday shopping season will be, items that will be top sellers and how stores and shoppers will adjust to the coronavirus epidemic.

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.

4. Lasagna Love

With layers of meat, cheese, vegetables and noodles, baked lasagna is one of the world’s favorite “comfort foods.” A California woman in the city of San Diego is using her love of lasagna to spread a special kind of comfort to families in need — and her efforts are having nationwide impact. Rhiannon Menn founded a group called Lasagna Love to help people in the city of San Diego, but after word got out through social media she has attracted support from volunteers in all 50 U.S. states. The goal of Lasagna Love is simple: Volunteers bake lasagnas and deliver them for free to families facing a food shortage due to loss of jobs or isolation caused by the coronavirus epidemic. Menn and the volunteers she calls her “lasagna mamas and papas” have now helped more than 4,000 families nationwide, the Washington Post newspaper reports, and have even drawn the attention of the national “Today” show on television. “We’ll be here for as long as people need support,” Menn said. From the time the coronavirus epidemic first hit America, individuals have been doing unusual things to help others and their communities. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about people doing this. Use what you read to write a short editorial urging people in your community to find ways to help others. Discuss your ideas with family and friends.

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

5. ‘Baby Shark Dance’

The song “Baby Shark” (doo-doo doo-doo-doo-doo) is one of the most popular in the world for little children. And one of the most annoying for older listeners. Now it has become a world record holder as the most viewed video in the history of the YouTube Internet site. The Guinness World Records organization, which tracks records great and small, has announced that the video of “Baby Shark Dance” by Pinkfong has amassed more than 7,042,967,886 views since its original posting on June 17, 2016, breaking the previous record set by Luis Fonsi’s pop song “Despacito.” “Baby Shark Dance” has received more than 22-million likes on YouTube and also 10-million dislikes — both records for the site. “Baby Shark” is the kind of song that is referred to as an “earworm.” When people hear it, they often can’t get it out of their heads for hours. With family or friends, talk about “earworm” songs you have heard and whether you liked or disliked them. Think like a music critic and write a review for the newspaper of several “earworm” songs and why they have such lasting effect on listeners.

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.