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For Grades 5-8 , week of Oct. 23, 2017

1. Killing ‘Mockingbird’

The novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” has long been one of the most widely read books on student reading lists. It has drawn praise for its themes of racial justice and for breaking down barriers to racial understanding. It also has caused controversy, right from the time Harper Lee published it in 1960. It is still causing controversy, and just this month was pulled from an eighth grade reading list in the public school district in Biloxi, Mississippi. The school board there did not give a specific reason for taking the book off the reading list, except to say that it contained language that made people “uncomfortable.” As in the past, that language likely involves the “n-word,” which appears nearly 50 times in the novel, mostly in dialogue between characters. Lee didn’t shy away from using it, because her point was to create a true portrayal of life for African Americans in the South in the 1930s. Modern students and parents have protested that schools shouldn’t promote a book that makes students uncomfortable and includes language students would not be allowed to use themselves. Should middle students be asked to read books that make them uncomfortable about race, gender or other issues? As a class, discuss the benefits and problems that could result from such books. Then divide into teams and write editorials in favor, or in opposition, to having middle school students read such books. Use points from the discussion to support your editorial opinions. Check to make sure both points of view will be represented.

Common Core State Standards: Responding thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarizing points of agreement and disagreement; writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.

2. Free Tickets from Chance

The movie “Marshall” tells the powerful story of an early case in the career of civil rights lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. It is so powerful, in fact, that Chance the Rapper bought all the tickets at two theaters in Chicago, Illinois so that people would go see it on the first Friday it was open. Chance paid for the tickets at 12 shows and gave them away free to encourage people to see the film that tells the story of the many obstacles Marshall had to overcome in the case and his career. “The more people talk about it, the more seats get filled,” Chance wrote on Twitter when he announced his offer. “Marshall” is a movie telling the story of an important person in American history. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about another man or woman whose life is worthy of a movie. Use what you read to write a “pitch” letter to a movie company you would like to have support the movie. Be sure to include all the reasons the person’s life is important, and why people would want to go see the movie.

Common Core State Standards: Reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task.

3. Landmark Pet Law

In a first for any state in the nation, California will require that pet stores sell nothing but rescue animals starting in January 2019. The California legislature passed the new law to reduce the number of animals in shelters and to discourage businesses like “puppy mills” or “kitten factories” that do not treat animals well. The law imposes fines on pet stores of up to $500 for each sale of a non-rescue animal after the law takes effect. State legislator Patrick O'Donnell called the measure “a big win for our four-legged friends,” but the American Kennel Club and breeders of pure bred dogs and cats opposed it. There has been much debate and discussion about “animal rights” in recent years. As a result, some communities have taken actions to improve the treatment of wild or tame animals. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about the animal rights debate. Use what you read to write a paper discussing one move that you think was a good idea and one move that you think was too extreme or unrealistic. Share papers with the class and discuss.

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.

4. Touchdown Harvard!

Harvard is one of the most famous and respected universities in the world. It is known for attracting top students and for producing leaders in business, politics, the arts and more. It is not known for producing professional football players. But this month two Harvard grads made a little NFL history playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick connected with tight end Cameron Brate for a score, it was the first Harvard-to-Harvard touchdown pass ever in the National Football League. Fitzpatrick played at Harvard in 2003 and 2004 and Brate played from 2011 to 2013. Tampa Bay lost the game to the Arizona Cardinals, but one sportswriter noted that “This is believed to be the smartest touchdown ever.” From sports, to business, to politics, to the arts, people are constantly achieving new “firsts.” In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about about someone who has achieved a “first” in his/her field. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor explaining how this “first” could inspire others to pursue goals or “firsts” in other fields.

Common Core State Standards: Reading closely what a text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task.

5. An Icky Source of Gold

What would you do to discover gold worth millions of dollars? Climb mountains and wade in frigid streams? Tunnel deep underground? How about digging through tons and tons of human sewage? While gross, sewage might actually be the best bet, according to researchers in the European nation of Switzerland. A study of waste in the nation’s sewage treatment plants found that an estimated 95 pounds of gold flows through Switzerland’s sewers and waste stations each year — gold worth about $1.8 million. In addition, about 6,600 pounds of silver flows through the pipes, worth about $1.7 million. Sewers in other countries might include precious metals as well. Researchers from Arizona State University reported in 2015 that a U.S. city of 1 million people flushes up to $13 million worth of precious metals into the sewage system each year — $2.3 million of which is gold and silver. The recovery of gold and silver from sewage is an example of a recycling project that could help communities. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read a story about another recycling effort benefiting a community. Use what you read to design a poster highlighting the benefits of the recycling program. Give your poster an eye-catching headline. Use images from the newspaper or Internet to illustrate, if you like.

Common Core State Standards: Using drawings or visual displays when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or points; conducting short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.