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For Grades 5-8 , week of Jan. 16, 2023

1. Fighting Misinformation

At a time when people use the Internet as a main source of information, critical thinking is a skill more important than ever. On the Internet, everything looks “official” on websites and social media, so how do people guard against misinformation, bias or propaganda disguised as news? In the state of New Jersey, students soon will learning how to answer that question through classes starting in kindergarten and running all the way through high school. The state has become the first in the nation to require media literacy classes for all students in an effort to combat misinformation by strengthening critical thinking skills. Under a law signed by Governor Phil Murphy, students will learn how to determine whether information found on websites, social media and news sites is credible, truthful and based on fact. “Our democracy remains under sustained attack through the proliferation of disinformation that is eroding the role of truth in our political and civic discourse,” Murphy said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to ensure our nation’s future leaders are equipped with the tools necessary to identify fact from fiction.” As a class, discuss ways to check the value of information on websites, and how Googling the name of a website can reveal what others think of it. Talk about things to look for that would reveal who is behind a website, and what biases or point of view they may have. Use the newspaper and Internet to do further research and write an editorial offering ways to practice “Critical Thinking on the Internet.”

Common Core State Standards: Responding thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarizing points of agreement and disagreement; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

2. Hot, Hot, Hot

With extreme summer temperatures across the United States, Europe and Asia, global warming continues to have severe impact on environments, wildlife and people around the world. According to new statistics, the year 2022 was the fifth hottest year on record, and all eight of the world’s warmest years have occurred in the last eight years, the New York Times newspaper reports. (The year 2016 remains the hottest year ever.) Overall, the world is now 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than it was in the second half of the 19th century, scientists from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service reported. Scientists have warned that warming of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit could cause irreversible, worldwide climate damage. “The rare event now would be to see a really cold year,” a spokesman for the Copernicus service said. Rising temperatures due to global warming are having significant effects around the world. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about the effects in one nation or region. Use what you read to prepare a multi-media or PowerPoint presentation detailing the effects of warming in this region and why they are important in the long- and short-term.

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.

3. NFL Playoffs

The NFL playoffs are under way, and this weekend the two top-ranked teams will be in action for the first time. The Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs earned a week off from the competition last weekend because they had the two best records in pro football’s regular season. The Eagles won 14 games in the National Football Conference, with just 3 losses, and the Chiefs attained the same 14-3 record in the American Football Conference. The Eagles and Chiefs will play the winners of “super wildcard” games played last weekend, and their coaches are sure to be reminding them that the teams with the best records don’t always win in the playoffs. Under the NFL format, a single loss knocks a team out of the playoff picture. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about Philadelphia, Kansas City or another NFL team you like. Use what you read to write a sports column discussing what could be the biggest challenge this team will face from its playoff opponent this weekend.

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. Save the Bees

Honeybees play a hugely important role for farmers who grow fruits and vegetables. The bees spread pollen from flower to flower, which allows the fruits and vegetables to develop. To protect bees that help agriculture, beekeepers need to make sure they do not become infected with a bacteria with the nasty name “foulbrood.” And a new vaccine may help them. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved the first vaccine ever to prevent foulbrood, which can destroy honeybee colonies. Unlike other vaccines, the honeybee vaccine isn’t injected with a needle, CNN News reports. Instead, it’s mixed into food that worker bees process for the queen bee in each colony. When the queen bee consumes the food, her baby larva bees will be born with immunity to the foulbrood disease. “We hope the availability of this product will aid in the prevention and/or treatment of … American foulbrood in honeybees given their central role in American agriculture (through pollination),” the Agriculture Department said. Agriculture scientists and experts are always looking for new ways to aid farming and ranching. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about a new approach designed to protect fruits, vegetables and livestock on farms. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor detailing how this new approach will aid farmers and consumers of farm products.

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.

5. I Have a Dream

This week the nation honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with the Martin Luther King Day holiday and day of service. Dr. King, who would have turned 94 on January 15, was America’s most respected and revered civil rights leader. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and was the son of a Baptist minister. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College and a doctorate in theology from Boston University. He helped launch America’s civil rights movement based on Mohandas Gandhi’s idea of achieving change through non-violent protest. He helped lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and led the March on Washington in 1963, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1964 he won the Nobel Peace Prize. During that year, the civil rights movement achieved one of its greatest accomplishments in the United States: the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about civil rights leaders past or present who have sought to bring change to America. Write a summary of one article, telling what the person is or was trying to change and why that is important.

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.

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