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For Grades 5-8 , week of Jan. 30, 2023

1. A Green Comet

Comets are space objects made up of frozen gases, rock, ice and dust. They are familiar to star-gazers for their bright cores and long tails that glow distinctively against the night sky. This month those who love comets are getting a special treat. A comet that hasn’t traveled through our solar system in 50,000 years is now visible from Earth — and it is bright green in color! The comet will be closest for observers on February 2, when it comes within 26.4-million miles of Earth, the New York Times newspaper reports. That’s a distance 110 times greater than the distance to the moon, but it’s close enough for people to see it with the naked eye, binoculars or telescopes. If you want to see the green comet, look north. This week it will be close to Draco — a dragon-shaped constellation that runs between the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. On January 30-31, the comet will reside directly between the Big Dipper’s “cup” and Polaris, the North Star. To see it, follow the two stars on the end of the Big Dipper’s cup toward the North Star. The comet will appear as a green smudge. Scientists study comets to learn more about how the solar system was formed. With a partner, use the newspaper or Internet to find and closely read a story about another mission or effort to help scientists learn more about the solar system. Use what you read to prepare a short oral report telling what the mission seeks to learn, what it has already learned and why that is important to scientists.

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.

2. Fly, Eagles, Fly!

The Philadelphia Eagles have had an incredibly successful season in the National Football League, winning 14 games in the regular season, two in the playoffs and a trip to the Super Bowl. But one of the most satisfying achievements for the team didn’t come on the playing field. Three players recorded a Christmas album to raise money for charity, and they were successful beyond their wildest dreams. The album called “A Philly Special Christmas” featured offensive linemen Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata singing vocals supported by an array of Philadelphia singers and musicians. The album was printed on an Eagles-green vinyl disk and sold for $75 to support the toy drive of the local Children’s Crisis Treatment Center. The players had hoped to raise $30,000 from their effort, but when final figures were added up, they had raised a lot more, the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper reported. They stunned the Crisis Center with a check for $250,000! The money not only covered the 2022 toy drive, but will cover the 2023 toy drive as well, plus a summer camp for “children in crisis.”

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. Panic Attack

The movie “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” made news last week when it was one of five films nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. It’s also making news by realistically showing something many kids and adults experience: a panic attack. A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety. In the movie, in the middle of all the action and adventures, Puss in Boots has such an attack. He slumps against a tree in a forest, huffing and puffing. His heartbeat speeds up and drowns out any other sound. Fear threatens to consume him until his dog Perrito calms him down and he is able to exhale. The scene is drawing attention, because it shows what it feels like to have a panic attack from inside the person experiencing one. “That was one of our big goals — let’s take our audience on a journey that expresses the full range of emotions of life,” director Joel Crawford told CNN News. “Fear, weakness, anxiety — if anybody has ever felt those emotions, which is everybody, we wanted to make sure this scene related to them.” Schools, communities and support groups are paying more and more attention to the mental health and emotional needs of students and young people. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about one group or effort providing such support. Use what you read to create a public service ad for TV or the Internet telling what the group does, why that is important for students and why students should not feel shy about asking for help. Choose images from the newspaper or Internet to illustrate your ad.

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; using drawings or visual displays when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or points.

4. Sweet Victory

Close elections can be fiercely fought, even in the smallest of communities. And the losers don’t like losing. In the Canadian province of British Columbia, for example, a race for mayor was decided by just five votes, and the losing candidate sued to overturn the results because the winner had influenced voters with … cinnamon rolls. Yes, losing candidate Lorraine Michetti claimed in court that winner Danielle Veach had illegally served the rolls at a “Tea and Talk” event in the village of Pouce Coupe, the Washington Post newspaper reports. The free rolls violated Canadian election rules that prohibit candidates from “offer[ing] incentives to an elector to vote or not to vote, or to vote for a particular candidate,” Michetti said. The judge in the case wasn’t buying that sweet talk, however. “I find that Mrs. Veach’s purpose for supplying the very limited refreshments here was simple human decency and politeness, particularly given that it was an early weekend morning gathering,” the judge wrote in his decision. Pouce Coupe, which means “cut thumb” in the French language, is a village of 800 residents, of whom 159 voted in the election won by Veach 84-79. Local elections may not get the attention of national ones, but they are important because they have direct impact on the lives of people. Candidates elected in local elections have to deal with problems that affect students, families, the elderly and others. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about a problem that needs attention in your community. Pretend you are a candidate for local office and write out a “position paper” telling what you would do to address the problem. Share ideas as a class and discuss.

Common Core State Standards: Writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly; responding thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarizing points of agreement and disagreement.

5. Dolphin Rescue

People often do unusual things to help wildlife. In the state of Florida this month people teamed up in a special way to rescue a dolphin that had gotten trapped in a creek. The dolphin had swum into the creek in the city of Clearwater and for two weeks had not been able to figure how to get out. To help the dolphin, wildlife experts and volunteers formed a human chain of people in the water to herd the sea mammal to safety in nearby Tampa Bay, UPI News reported. Since dolphins have keen hearing, the people stood shoulder to shoulder and made lots of noise to force the dolphin through a narrow opening that led back to the bay. Experts had worried that the creek surrounded by homes would prove stressful and unhealthy for the dolphin. “We’re thankful to the residents in the area who worked with us to help protect the animal from harassment and provided access to their property while we monitored and rescued the animal,” the Clearwater Marine Aquarium said on its Facebook page. People have many opportunities to help wildlife or endangered animals and birds. In the newspaper or online, find and study stories and photos about a wildlife species that interests you. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor, outlining ways people could help this species survive or succeed in its environment.

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