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For Grades 5-8 , week of July 18, 2016

1. Senator Will Be Democrat

In the state of California, voters this year will be voting to pick a replacement for U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, who is retiring. But unlike most elections, it’s already certain the winner will be a Democrat. That’s because California has an open primary system, and the two candidates drawing the most votes face each other in the general election in November — no matter what their party. In the primary voting June 7, the two top candidates were both Democrats — state Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep Loretta Sanchez. Two Republicans were in the crowded primary field, but neither placed high enough to make the ballot in the fall election. The unusual primary marks the first time since California approved nonpartisan primaries in 2010 that there will be no Republican candidate for a seat. The state’s other U.S. senator, Diana Feinstein, is also a Democrat. The 2016 election is making news from the presidential race to U.S. Senate and House races to state and local contests. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about one political race. Use what you read and additional research to write a short editorial giving your view on “Questions We Would Ask” the candidates in the race.

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.

2. Desert Art Vandalized

A towering new artwork that recently opened in the desert outside Las Vegas, Nevada, was vandalized with spray-painted graffiti almost immediately and had to be closed. The artwork, called “Seven Magic Mountains,” featured stacked, Day-Glo-colored limestone boulders and was inspired by natural rock formations nearby. It was created by artist Ugo Rondinone with the help of the Nevada Museum of Art and the New York-based Art Production Fund. The vandals wrote slurs against women and obscene drawings on the boulders. Because the stones had been coated with a clear protective layer, however, they could be cleaned rather than having to be repainted. Public art prompts interest and discussion in many communities. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about an artwork that is sparking discussion. Or read about an artwork in your community that people have strong feelings about. Use what you read to write a short paragraph or essay summarizing the kind of reaction the art is getting, and why the discussion is good for the community.

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.

3. Pregnant Anchor to Skip Olympics

NBC-TV will broadcast the summer Olympics, but “Today” show co-anchor Savannah Guthrie will not be with the team on the ground in the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. That’s because she’s pregnant, and does not want to be exposed to the Zika virus, which has been known to cause birth defects. Zika, which is spread by mosquitoes, is a threat throughout Brazil and other South American nations. Guthrie still will be part of Olympic programming August 5-21, but will “hold down the fort” at NBC’s studios in New York City instead of being on site. Guthrie’s baby — her second — is not due until December, so by “a lucky coincidence,” her boss said, she will be on hand for November’s presidential election. The Zika virus is a public health problem that many nations are trying to address. In the newspaper or online find and closely read stories about steps that are being taken to protect people from Zika. Use what you read to design a poster or newspaper ad, outlining key points people should know about Zika, and how they can protect themselves.

Common Core State Standards: Reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; 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. GMOs Safe to Eat, but …

Genetically modified crops (GMOs) are as safe to eat as their conventional counterparts, according to a new study, and they have not been proven to have a negative impact on the environment. However, the controversial growing technology has not increased crop yields, as proponents claim. The two-year study released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine left open the debate over whether genetically engineered foods — officially known as genetically modified organisms — should be prominently labeled. “It’s not possible to make sweeping generalizations about the benefits and risks” of these crops, the lead researcher acknowledged, but the study should “open up a conversation about the information that’s there and what the evidence is.” GMOs are an example science and technology being used to change things people use. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about another way science and technology are changing items people use. Write a paragraph summarizing the good and bad aspects of the change that has been brought by technology. Discuss your findings with family or friends.

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; engaging effectively in a range of collaborative discussions.

5. Coral Dying Worldwide

Severe weather events, compounded by climate change, are threatening the world’s coral reefs. That is a big problem for the Earth’s oceans, because reefs provide food and shelter to a quarter of the planet’s marine species, including fish stocks that support more than a billion people. The coral are dying due to a condition called bleaching, which causes the living reefs to turn white. The worldwide mass bleaching is only the third on record, and possibly the worst, scientists say. An estimated 30 million small-scale fishermen and women depend on reefs for their livelihood, more than a million just in the Philippine Islands in the Southern Pacific Ocean. The situation has been described as “a huge, looming planetary crisis” and will have wide effects on human activities worldwide. In the newspaper or online read more about the problem. Then brainstorm an idea for a short fictional story that would illustrate the problem. Write an outline for your story, and then write the opening scene. Give your story a title that would make people want to read your story.

Common Core State Standards: Writing narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.