For Grades 5-8 , week of Sep. 21, 2020

1. Life on Venus?

The search for life in our solar system or the universe is a top goal for America’s NASA space agency. Up to now great attention has been focused on Mars, the planet next out from Earth in the solar system, because it is considered the most like Earth among the planets. Now a new discovery is turning scientists’ heads toward Venus, the planet next IN from Earth in the solar system. Close observations of Venus’s thick atmosphere have detected significant amounts of phosphine, a chemical that is produced by bacteria on Earth and is considered a “biosignature” material for the existence of life. In a paper published this month, scientists made clear that the discovery is not direct proof of life. But they also noted that they could find no non-biological reason for the phosphine to exist in the clouds above Venus. That could cause NASA and other space agencies to direct new attention to Venus, which has incredibly hot surface temperatures that would not allow life to exist as it does on Earth. At the least, the discovery would suggest the need for further study of the Venus atmosphere, either by telescopes or future space missions. Many space missions are searching for signs of life in the solar system or universe. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about one such mission. Use what you read to write a letter to a friend detailing what the mission seeks to find, what it has found and why that is important to scientists.

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

2. High-Tech Tribes

In the Amazon jungles of South America, native peoples rely on natural resources for food, shelter and even medicine. Those resources are threatened, however, by illegal logging and fires set by developers seeking to clear the land in the world’s largest rain forest. To combat illegal activities that threaten the jungle, native tribes are banding together — and turning to an unexpected high-tech tool. With the help of the World Wildlife Fund and other environmental groups, the tribes are learning to operate drone aircraft that can survey and keep an eye on activity in jungle areas. The drones allow tribes to keep tabs on much greater areas than they could do on foot, and avoid confrontations with illegal loggers or developers. The drones can create images, video and GPS mapping data that can be used as evidence when reporting illegal activities to authorities, CNN News reports. “Nature is everything to us,” said one tribal spokesman. “It is our life, our lungs, our hearts. We don’t want to see the jungle chopped down.” Drones are being use more and more to perform useful tasks for people. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about different ways drones are being used. Use what you read to create the home page for a website showing new ways drones are being used. Decide which uses to feature and pick an image to illustrate each. Then write headlines and text blocks to explain each category.

Common Core State Standards: Using drawings or visual displays when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or points; integrating information presented in different media or formats to develop a coherent understanding of a topic.

3. ‘Ya Fav Trashman’

A lot of people like to talk trash in life and online, but few like to talk ABOUT trash. Except for a sanitation worker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who created an Instagram account to do just that. Terrill Haigler first created the site called “Ya Fav Trashman” to answer questions about pickup delays during the coronavirus shutdown. Then he realized it could have greater clout. He used it to raise more than $32,000 to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies for his colleagues to keep them safe during the virus shutdown. Now he’s using it to push for a national law designating sanitation workers as essential workers and qualifying them for hazard pay in situations like the coronavirus emergency. “I want to use my platform to really revolutionize sanitation,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. “It didn’t start off as that, but as the platform grows the goals have to grow.” Many people use Instagram or other social media platforms to educate people about issues, raise money or offer opinions. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about people using social media to do these things. Use what you read to create a model of a social media account commenting on how important social media has become for communicating ideas and getting people to take action. Discuss with family, friends and classmates.

Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly; engaging effectively in a range of collaborative discussions.

4. Historic Dollar

Old coins are not just money used in earlier times. They also tell the history of those times. A prime example is a 1794 U.S. silver dollar that will be put up for sale at an auction early next month. The dollar was one of the first ever made by the United States of America. It was produced by the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, which had been established just two years earlier by the U.S. Congress. The nation had decided that the dollar would be the foundation of its money system, and the 1794 coin was the first design. It features an eagle on one side and a portrait of Lady Liberty with flowing hair on the other. Because of her hair, the coin is known as the “Flowing Hair” dollar. Not many of the coins were produced because they were intended to be used as souvenirs for dignitaries such as members of Congress. Just 130-140 of the coins are still in existence. Because of their rarity they are very valuable. The coin going up for sale next month was last sold in 2013 — and went for a record $10-million. It is expected to sell for more than that this time. Coins and other items from the past can often teach people about our history. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about an item that can help people better understand history. Use what you read to prepare an oral report for a younger student explaining how this item connects with history. Make sure you use language that a younger student would understand.

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. Walk On

A man from the state of Massachusetts has walked around the world. Not literally, but he’s covered the same distance. And when he walks the last mile of his 24,901-mile journey, he’ll do it for charity. Brad Hathaway started walking in his 50s when his doctor told him he needed to deal with diabetes and heart problems by getting exercise. He started walking three miles a day and worked his way up to as many as 10 miles. Now 88, he’s still walking, though more slowly and with the help of a walker, UPI News reported. He needs one more mile to hit the 24,901-mile mark, which is the circumference of the Earth at the equator. Right from the start he kept a log of how many miles he covered on his daily walks. Recently he added up all those miles and realized he was within a mile of the Earth’s circumference. He decided to turn the last mile into a fund-raiser for a local land trust that protects the environment. Many people accomplish achievements that take a long time to complete. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about one person who has done this. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor describing the personal or character traits this person needed to achieve something over a long period of time.

Common Core State Standards: Citing specIfic textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions; reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.