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for Grades 5-8

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For Grades 5-8 , week of Jan. 22, 2018

1. Health Mystery Solved?

In the nation of Mexico, a mysterious and deadly disease wiped out 80 percent of the population in the years between 1545 and 1548. For years, scientists have been looking to find the cause, and whether it could be traced to the Spanish “conquistadors” who came to the region from the continent of Europe. A new study of skeleton teeth from victims of the epidemic may have found the answer: a pathogen known as Salmonella enterica, which causes enteric or typhoid fever. The study examined the teeth of 29 skeletons of people touched by the epidemic with a new computer program that can analyze ancient genetic DNA. The program found traces of Salmonella enterica in 10 of the skeletons, raising the likelihood that the pathogen was the cause of the epidemic. Scientists said the findings also increased the possibility the disease had been brought from Europe, because a similar strain of the pathogen existed in the European nation of Norway before the Mexican outbreak. Advances in DNA testing have transformed research in fields ranging from archaeology to medicine to law enforcement. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about DNA testing being used in a new or effective way. Use what you read to write a paragraph or short paper, detailing how DNA testing improves research in this field.

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.

2. Milestone for Women

In a first for the state of Virginia, newly elected Governor Ralph Northam has assembled a cabinet of advisors that includes more women than men. Eight of the 15 cabinet posts will be held by women, according to an announcement from Northam, a Democrat who won election in November. “Our commonwealth’s diversity is our strength, which is why I made a commitment to building a cabinet that reflects it,” Northam said. In addition to a history-making governor’s cabinet, Virginia will have a record number of women in the state legislature. After the November election the legislature will have 29 women, up from 17 last term. Women are making advances in many fields, and women’s issues have gotten increased attention in recent months. In the newspaper or online find and closely read stories about women achieving new success or raising awareness about issues. Use what you read to write an editorial on the topic “A Time for Women,” and analyze what issues or people will be most important for women in the year 2018.

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. Voicemail Humor

Are voicemail messages funny? They can be if they come from a professional comedian. And they may be even funnier if put together into a comedy album where people can hear them all at once. That’s what a Pennsylvania man from outside the city of Philadelphia is hoping anyway. Blake Wexler has just compiled 12 years’ worth of voicemail messages from his friendship with comic Todd Glass and released them as an album. He admits it’s an oddball idea, which he started by saving messages he got from Glass as a teenage fan. He had seen Glass perform locally, and because they had gone to the same high school he reached out. To his surprise, Glass responded by leaving phone messages. Many were funny and unguarded, and several years ago Wexler realized they would make a great comedy album. The title even sounds like a joke, beginning “12 Years of Voicemails …” Friends often joke around with each other, or make jokes about people or events in the news. In the newspaper or online, find and read five stories about topics you or your friends like. Pretend you are going to leave a joking voicemail about each for a good friend. Write out what you would say in your voicemails in a way that your friend would find funny. Share voicemails as a class.

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.

4. Birds Are Stressed!

It’s well known stress can affect the health of people. Now scientists have found that it can affect birds as well. A new study of wild bird nesting sites has found that stress caused by noise pollution increased stress hormones in the birds’ blood, weakened their overall health and negatively affected the growth of their offspring. Researchers said the physical reactions of the birds to the noise pollution were similar to those demonstrated by soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in a war zone. “Noise is causing birds to be in a situation where they're chronically stressed .?.?. and that has really huge health consequences for birds and their offspring,” said a lead researcher on the study. Researchers said the study showed a “clear connection” between noise pollution, abnormal levels of stress hormones and lower survival rates. Stress in people’s lives can come from many different sources — and they deal with it in many different ways. In the newspaper or online find and closely read a story about someone experiencing stress. Use what you read to write an advice column for the newspaper, suggesting ways this person could deal with this stress and reduce its impact.

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

5. Ice on Mars

Scientists long have wondered how much ice is on the planet Mars, because ice could provide water that human explorers would need. New findings indicate there may be more ice than previously thought. Images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter circling the planet have revealed at least eight huge sheets of ice in cliff-like formations known as scarps. Some of the ice may be 300 feet deep, researchers say. Previous Mars missions have determined that as much as a third of the Martian surface contains shallow ice, but the scarps provide “rare peeks into the subsurface of Mars,” one scientist said. “It’s a fantastic find!” America’s NASA space agency has spent years studying the environment on Mars — and President Trump says he would like the United States to send a manned mission there. Use the newspaper or the NASA website to read about present and future missions to Mars. Use what you read to create a multi-media presentation detailing what scientists have learned from recent missions and how that could help astronauts explore Mars in the future.

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.