For Grades 5-8 THE WEEK OF July 19, 2021

1. Milestone Speller

Fourteen-year-old Zaila Avant-garde won this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, and in doing so she did something no one had done in the event’s 96-year history. She became the first Black American to win the prestigious competition. To win the event, Zaila correctly spelled the word “murraya,” an obscure scientific word referring to a category of Asian and Australian trees. Zaila, who lives in Harvey, Louisiana outside the city of New Orleans, was not familiar with her winning word but spelled it correctly by breaking it down and asking about its language of origin (Latin from a Swedish name). For winning she received a $50,000 prize and a giant trophy. Unlike other competitors, Zaila has only been competing in spelling bees for two years. She has drawn international attention for other things, though. She holds three Guinness World Records for dribbling, bouncing and juggling multiple basketballs and has appeared in a TV ad showing her skills with NBA star Steph Curry. Zaila got her unusual last name from her father, who changed her surname from Heard to Avant-garde in honor to the jazz great John Coltrane. “Avant-garde” is a French term meaning “innovative” or “ground-breaking.” In winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Zaila Avant-garde did something no one had ever done. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about someone else who has done something no one has done before. Use what you read to write a letter to a friend, telling what the person did, how they did it, and what skills and personal qualities were needed for the achievement.

Common Core State Standards: Producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task; reading closely what written and visual texts say and to making logical inferences from them.

2. The New Olympics

The Summer Olympics are set to begin July 23 in the Asian nation of Japan, and officials are working overtime to make them safe from the coronavirus epidemic. Most significantly, to prevent the spread of the Covid 19 virus or its Delta variant, there will be no spectators at any of the Olympic events at stadiums in the city of Tokyo. Athletes will be asked to wear masks at all times when not competing and to observe social distancing. And now the medal awards ceremonies will become “self-serve.” Olympic officials have announced that winners and other top finishers will hang their medals around their necks themselves instead of having Olympic officials do it. “They will be presented to the athlete on a tray and then the athlete will take the medal him- or herself,” an official said. As a further precaution, hugs, high fives and fist bumps will be prohibited. The Summer Olympics begin this week in Tokyo, Japan. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about the ceremonies and competition of athletes. Pretend you are a sportswriter assigned to cover the opening days of the Olympics. Pick one or two things you find interesting and write a column or story explaining why they stand out.

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.

3. Record Space Donation

Billionaire Jeff Bezos loves space so much he founded the Blue Origin space travel company and will take a flight into space this week on one of its rockets. Now Bezos has shown his love of space in another way: He is donating $200-million to the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The gift is the largest to the Smithsonian since its founding in 1846. The money will be used in two ways: $70-million will support renovation of the Space Museum and $130-million will be used to establish an education center called the Bezos Learning Center. Bezos is the founder of the Amazon online shopping network and recently stepped down as its chief executive officer to pursue other interests. One of those will be his blastoff this Tuesday on the New Shepard rocket in Blue Origin’s first passenger flight. The New Shepard is named for Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, and Tuesday is the 52nd anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon my U.S. astronauts. Two-thirds of Jeff Bezos’s $200-million gift to the National Air and Space Museum will be used to fund an education center to teach about space exploration and other topics. In the newspaper or online find and closely read stories about space topics that you think the new Bezos Learning Center should teach or explore. Use what you read to write a proposal for a course or field of study you think the center should offer. Your course can focus on space missions, types of space transportation or the science, math and engineering that make space missions possible.

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. Golden Hoops Court

In the Asian nation of Japan, the art of “kintsugi” is used to repair broken pottery or other artifacts — by filling the cracks with gold! In the California city of Los Angeles, artist Victor Solomon has taken that technique to new levels. He has repaired a crumbling basketball court in South Los Angeles with gold filling that makes the court just gleam in the sun. Solomon didn’t use pure gold to create Kintsugi Court, choosing instead to use a gold-dusted resin. But the effect is the same by making the court more beautiful than it was in its original form. Artists often do unusual things to create new art forms. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about artists who are doing this. Pick one or two and write an art review of their work, analyzing their approaches and how you think viewers would respond to them. State which you like better, and why.

Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.

5. Manatee Die-Off

Manatees are among the most popular water creatures in the state of Florida, attracting tourists and wildlife lovers from all over the world. This year has not been a good year for Florida’s manatees, however. More manatees have died in the first half of 2021 than in any other year in Florida's history, according to wildlife officials. Between January 1 and July 2, at least 841 manatees have died, topping the previous record of 830 manatee deaths in 2013 for the six-month period, CNN News reports. More troubling, the number of deaths in the first six months of 2021 is greater than the total for the entire year in 2020, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Prime cause of the increased death toll is starvation due to a die-off of sea grasses, which the manatees eat. Nearly 60 percent of seagrasses have died due to pollution and algae blooms in manatee feeding areas like the Indian River Lagoon, wildlife officials said. Wildlife face many threats to survival, from pollution to human activities to global warming. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about a wildlife species that is facing such threats. Use what you read to create a multi-media presentation detailing what threats the species face, the source of those threats and what people or communities can do to help or protect the species.

Common Core State Standards: Integrating information presented in different media or formats to develop a coherent understanding of a topic; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.