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For Grades 5-8 , week of June 05, 2023

1. Spelling Star

A Florida eighth grader won the Scripps National Spelling Bee last week on the word “psammophile,” a plant or animal that thrives in sandy areas. Among the words that knocked out previous contestants, there was a common theme: the schwa, an “uh” sound that can be represented by any vowel. “It’s the “a” in balloon, the “e” in item, the “i” in family, the “o” in lemon, the “u" in support, the “y” in analysis and the, umm, nothing before the “m” in rhythm,” the New York Times aptly described. In the newspaper or online, read about some of the other words that were part of the spelling bee and their meanings. Write a paragraph, or write a story using as many of the new words you’ve learned as you can.

2. A Neighborhood Transformed

A research professor at Georgetown University has created a point of contention in the historic Washington, DC, neighborhood with his taste in sidewalk art. The eccentric scientist Newton Howard had already attracted attention for the million-dollar cars parked outside of his home, before he added the latest pieces: two 10-foot replicas of Bumblebee and Optimus Prime from the “Transformers” movie franchise. Since then, Howard has received plenty of love for the statues—with students from the nearby university and tourists alike stopping for pictures—along with complaints from those who think the unusual sidewalk décor doesn’t fit the charming neighborhood’s aesthetic. Write an opinion piece on whether or not you think the Transformers statues should be allowed; be sure to include your reasoning.

3. Ancient Plague

A team of researchers in England detected DNA of Yersinia pestis, better known as the plague, in skeletal remains. The DNA dates back 4,000 years, making it by far the oldest known cases of the plague in Great Britain. To find the DNA, researchers took samples from deep in the teeth of 34 individuals across two mass burial sites. While the disease found was similar to the Black Death in fourteenth century medieval Europe, it doesn’t contain the gene that would allow it to be spread by fleas the way that pandemic was. Using what we’ve learned about pandemics since Covid-19, and additional research online as needed, write about how understanding DNA of infectious diseases in the past can help us in the future.

4. More Than Overeating

The most common eating disorder in the United States, binge eating disorder, is also one of the least understood. It’s characterized by someone eating an objectively large amount of food in a short period of time and feeling a loss of control or inability to stop eating; it affects nearly 3 percent of the country, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It can be caused by genetics as well as trauma and can be brought on by restrictive dieting. Treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, and in rare cases, medication. Research about different types of eating disorders, how prevalent they are in the US, and their treatments. Then, describe how you would create a campaign to educate other students about eating disorders and help them learn the warning signs.

5. That’s No Moon

Astronomers recently identified a space rock that has been orbiting the sun alongside earth since at least 100 B.C. Scientists identified the rock as a “quasi-moon,” which orbits the sun similarly to Earth, but is only slightly influenced by Earth’s gravity. The quasi-moon was first discovered in Hawaii at the Pan-STARRS observatory, then confirmed by other observatories before being officially listed with the International Astronomical Union, which is responsible for keeping records of the planets, moons, and other objects in our solar system. Using the newspaper or online, read some other recent news articles about space discoveries. Write a paragraph summarizing your findings, including key details (think: who, what, where, when, why, and how).