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For Grades 5-8 , week of May 15, 2017

1. A Drug Surprise

Drug smugglers are always looking for new ways to sneak narcotics into the country. Some of them turn out to be dead wrong. In Arizona last month, U.S. Border Patrol officers stopped a funeral hearse traveling north from Mexico — and discovered 67 pounds of marijuana hidden in a casket. The stop took place at an immigration checkpoint when Customs and Border Protection agents became suspicious about a white hearse that was approaching. A drug-sniffing dog detected an odor coming from the vehicle, and when agents unloaded the casket they found multiple bricks of marijuana with a street value of $33,000. The drugs were seized, and a 28-year-old man was arrested for narcotics smuggling. Police often have to deal with creative criminals. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about a criminal who did something creative or unusual. Write a series of tweets or text messages, highlighting what the criminal tried and how the police stopped him or her. Then think like a newspaper headline writer and summarize the situation in 10 words or less.

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.

2. Offshore Drilling

As a candidate, President Trump said repeatedly he wanted the United States to rely less on foreign countries for oil and natural gas. To advance that goal, he has signed an executive order to expand offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, and to explore drilling in marine sanctuaries in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy” will make millions of acres of federal waters eligible for oil and gas leasing, just four months after former President Barack Obama withdrew these areas from possible development. Environmental groups criticized the policy shift as reckless and a risk to the environment. Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society, said that when it came to the Arctic, “the chance of a tragic spill in those remote, icy waters is simply too high.” Government leaders often have to decide between developing natural areas or protecting them. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about one situation. Use what you read to write a short editorial for the newspaper, giving your opinion on what should be done in the situation.

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. ‘Dark Ages’ Medicine

In the world of medicine, antibiotics are used to kill bacteria and microbes that cause infections and diseases. But in recent years, many strains of bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics. In an effort to find new antibiotics, scientists are looking back in time — way back, to the period known as the “Dark Ages.” A group of scientists, researchers and “medievalists” is researching medicines used during the Dark Ages 1,000 years ago to see if ancient cures could work on today’s resistant bacteria. They are creating a database of medieval medical recipes to see if they could provide ways to treat bacteria that are no longer treatable. “The database could direct us to new recipes to test in the lab in our search for [new] antibiotics,” notes Erin Connelly of the University of Pennsylvania. Medical researchers are always looking for new ways to cure infections or diseases. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about research that has led to a new approach for treatments. Use what you read to design a poster, explaining what the research has achieved and how that will help people. Give your poster an eye-catching headline.

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;

4. Good News, Atlanta

The city of Atlanta, Georgia has had enormous traffic problems since a huge section of Interstate 85 collapsed in a fire on March 30. Now, stressed drivers have been given some good news. The Georgia Department of Transportation has announced that repairs to the raised highway are ahead of schedule and the interstate will be open for traffic before the Memorial Day weekend begins May 26. Interstate 85 is one of major north-south roads in the region, carrying more than 250,000 vehicles a day. The reconstruction of Interstate 85 is an example of a repair project that has benefited the public. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about another repair or reconstruction project benefiting the public. Write a letter to the editor, outlining the benefits of the project and why it was worthwhile to spend public money on it.

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.

5. Signs of Addiction

Smoking can become addictive, and new research has found that smokers develop a “footprint” of their addiction on their genes that can last as long as 30 years after kicking the habit. The study “further emphasizes that while giving up smoking is a very important way to reduce risk of serious disease, it is better not to start at all,” researchers note. The findings followed analysis of almost 16,000 blood samples, leading to identification of sites in the human genome where smoking leads to DNA changes influencing whether genes are active or silent. It is well established that smoking can have a negative effect on health, yet many teens and pre-teens still take up smoking. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about efforts to discourage young people from smoking. Divide into teams and discuss what approaches you think would be the most effective. Outline an idea for a public service TV ad calling attention to one idea you think would work.

Common Core State Standards: Conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic; engaging effectively in a range of collaborative discussions; writing narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events.