For Grades 5-8 , week of Aug. 23, 2021

1. The Cost of War

With the withdrawal of U.S. troops, America’s war in Afghanistan is over. The extremist Muslim group the Taliban has taken over the country in south central Asia — the same group that controlled the nation when the United States launched the war 20 years ago. The cost of the war to the United States has been enormous: 2,500 U.S. military deaths, nearly 4,000 deaths of U.S. civilian contractors and more than $2-trillion in money to fund the Afghan army and government. The Forbes money magazine calculated the cost of the war in different ways. Spread over 20 years, $2-trillion amounts to $300-million a day, every day. It equals $50,000 for each of Afghanistan's 40-million people. It is more than the wealth of Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and the 30 richest billionaires in America combined. In news stories about wars or government spending, amounts of money in the trillions of dollars are often mentioned. How much is a trillion? Written out in numerals, $2-trillion is a 2 followed by 12 zeroes: $2,000,000,000,000. If you counted one dollar per second, how many seconds would it take to count that amount? How many minutes? (Use a calculator to divide the amount by 60 because there are 60 seconds in a minute). How many hours? How many days? How many years? In the news, find another amount in the trillions or billions. Repeat the exercise to better understand that amount.

Common Core State Standards: Representing and solving problems involving addition, subtraction, multiplication and division; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.

2. Mars Sweet Home

Have you ever dreamed of living on another planet? Many people have, and applications are now open for them to participate as a crew member in NASA’s first one-year simulation of living on Mars. If they succeed, they’ll be one of four people living and working in a habitat called Mars Dune Alpha at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, CNN News reports. Applications are open through September 17, and the mission is slated to begin in the fall of 2022. Not everyone will qualify for the mission. NASA is following the same type of requirements it uses when it chooses astronauts. Candidates must be U.S. citizens between 30 and 55 years old who are healthy and nonsmokers. A master’s degree in a STEM field such as engineering, mathematics, biological, physical or computer science from an accredited institution is required. Candidates also must have a minimum of 1,000 hours piloting an aircraft. America’s NASA space agency is conducting many experiments to prepare for extended living in space. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about one experiment or mission doing this. Use what you read to prepare an oral report for family or friends telling how the experiment will help NASA plan for astronauts living in space for extended periods of time.

Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

3. A Warning from a Great

Brett Favre is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League and a member of the Football Hall of Fame. Yet he has some words of caution for kids who want to play youth football before high school: Don’t do it. Favre, who won three straight Most Valuable Player awards while playing for the Green Bay Packers, has issued a public service announcement declaring that “Having kids play tackle football before high school is just not worth the risk.” The 51-year-old Favre issued the warning in an effort to reduce the number of concussion head injuries sustained by young players. Concussions are a major factor in football players developing the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The disease can cause memory loss, depression and even violent swings in behavior. Favre sustained numerous concussions himself in his NFL career and has said in interviews that his short-term memory and ability to recall basic vocabulary have “gotten a lot worse” as he has gotten older. Scientists are learning more and more about the effects of concussions and head injuries on football players and other athletes. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about some of the latest findings. Use what you read to write a short editorial highlighting some of the most important findings people should know about.

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.

4. 1 Case = Lockdown!

The Southern Pacific nation of New Zealand has taken great pride in the way it has controlled the spread of the coronavirus. Just 26 people have died in a population of 5-million and just 3,000 infected. So when a new case was reported in the country’s largest city of Auckland, the nation took dramatic action in the fear it was the new Delta variant of the Covid 19 virus. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered a nationwide lockdown requiring residents to stay home and businesses to close for three days. New Zealand had not had a locally generated case since February and with neighboring Australia struggling to contain the Delta variant, Ardern felt strong, immediate action was called for. “Delta has been called a gamechanger — and it is,” she said at a news conference. “It means we need to again go hard and early to stop the spread. We have seen what can happen elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it.” Controlling the Covid 19 coronavirus and the Delta variant have become an ongoing challenge for the United States and other nations. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about steps being taken at the national, state or local levels. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor highlighting what you think are the most important steps to be taken.

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.

5. ‘PlaySmart’ Prevention

All over the world, video games are popular entertainments for teens and pre-teens. A doctor from world famous Yale University hopes they can also be used to educate kids about the dangers of opioid drug use and the importance of making good choices. And she has already created one. Like other video games, the game “PlaySmart” is a cartoon choose-your-own-adventure game in which players are placed into various situations, and shown the consequences of choices they make. In a twist, players are then allowed to “go back in time” and see what might have happened if they had made a different choice, the Washington Post newspaper reports. “The more you know that something is dangerous, the less likely you are to do it,” said “PlaySmart” developer Lynn Fiellin, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine and founder the play2PREVENT video game development lab. Video games can be used to present valuable information as well as entertainment. With a partner, use the newspaper and Internet to read about an issue you think needs more attention. Use what you read to brainstorm an idea for a video game that could convey information about the issue. Write a business plan outlining how the game would be played. Give your game an eye catching name that would appeal to people your age.

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