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Current Events

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May 7, 2020

3:47

The Role of the WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a United Nations agency that oversees public health worldwide. It offers advice and support to its member countries and coordinates scientific research and public health projects across borders. President Trump recently announced that the U.S. will stop funding the WHO, severely reducing the agency’s budget. Listen to learn more about the role of the WHO in protecting global health and how a withdrawal of funding could cripple its efforts.

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May 6, 2020

6:34

Returning to a Different Earth from Space

An American astronaut is returning home to a very different Earth than the one she left seven months ago. Jessica Meir was living on the International Space Station, an orbiting science lab, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In preparing to head home, she considered the many changes she expected to find when she arrived, including restricted access to family and friends. Listen to hear Meir describe daily life on the space station and what she was most excited about doing when returning to Earth.

Update: Since this story aired, Jessica Meir returned safely to Earth and immediately entered a weeklong quarantine at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

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May 5, 2020

2:56

Snapping Shrimp Growing Louder

Snapping shrimp produce surprisingly loud noises by clicking their claws. The noises they make are so pronounced that they once led to a Navy investigation. Ocean warming is causing the snapping shrimp clicks to become even louder and more frequent. The increase in ocean noise from this and other human impacts can be disruptive to marine ecosystems where sound is important to survival. Listen to hear what snapping shrimp sound like and learn why their sounds might be helpful to some species and harmful to others.

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May 4, 2020

3:28

The Uncertain Future of School

After months of closures due to COVID-19, school officials across the country are considering how schools can be reopened safely. Experts say that social distancing is the key to preventing the spread of disease, although that is especially challenging in crowded classrooms. Other countries have found ways to limit student contact through smaller class sizes, fewer students on the playground, and other strategies that could inform U.S. actions. Listen to hear how the school experience may change in the fall, and learn about some creative strategies for interacting safely. . This audio story was recorded in late April. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.

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May 3, 2020

:27

Weird News: Pilot Lands In Tree

Listen to hear about a pilot who landed his plane on top of a tree.

Vocabulary: brace, impossible, rescue

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May 1, 2020

4:43

Debate: Should Voting Procedures Change During a Pandemic?

States, political parties, and the federal government are considering how to hold safe elections this November during a pandemic. Many states have postponed their presidential primary elections or are allowing citizens to vote by mail. In the Wisconsin primary, there were long lines at the polls and fears about increasing the spread of COVID-19. Voters had to choose between maintaining social distance by staying home or risking their health while exercising their right to vote. Listen to this story about rules related to voting by mail and then debate: Should voting procedures change during a pandemic?

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April 30, 2020

3:57

Coping Without a Job During the Pandemic

If you know someone who has lost a job because of the coronavirus pandemic, you are not alone. More than 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits because of job cuts resulting from strict social distancing policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many people are struggling financially and emotionally because of these job losses and other effects of social distancing restrictions. Listen to hear more about the impact of the coronavirus on the economy and what jobs might be in demand once social distancing is over.

This audio story was recorded in mid-April. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.

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April 29, 2020

2:56

Handshakes May Be History

The spread of the novel coronavirus has indicated that the time-honored custom of shaking hands may be history. Handshaking began thousands of years ago as a peaceful greeting, and has been praised for its ability to bring people together as equals. In light of new rules of social distancing, however, some people are suggesting alternative greetings that continue to connect us while keeping us safe. Listen to learn how handshakes were once used to check for concealed weapons and why some people are happy to see the practice end.

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April 28, 2020

2:30

Wolves Playing Fetch

The relationship between humans and dogs is a special one, and there are multiple theories about how it originated and how it has changed over time. All dogs evolved from wolves, and scientists are learning more about that evolutionary process through research about similarities and differences in the behavior of wolves and dogs. Listen to this story about a game of fetch and how it might inform scientists’ understanding of the history of the special relationship between species.

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April 27, 2020

5:35

Conditions for Lifting Pandemic Restrictions

Millions of people in the U.S. are under strict social distancing restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The time length and requirements of these policies have been determined by governors, so they vary from state to state. Many people want to know when these restrictions will be lifted and what will make it safe to go back to school or eat at a local restaurant again. Listen to this story to hear a public health expert talk about what scientists and public health experts say will be necessary for normal life to resume.

This audio story was recorded in mid-April. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.

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April 26, 2020

:27

Weird News: Extremely Overdue Library Book

Listen to hear about a long overdue library book finally returned many years later.

Vocabulary: due, manage, maximum

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April 24, 2020

5:28

Debate: Is Public Safety More Important Than Civil Liberties?

A survey conducted by the University of Virginia School of Law early in the COVID-19 outbreak asked people about their willingness to give up civil liberties for public safety during a pandemic. Results indicated that a majority of Americans across the political spectrum favored restrictions on citizens’ freedom, including some unconstitutional ones, in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Recently, however, some people have been arguing that they should be free to gather in public, for example, despite public health risks. Listen to hear more about the survey results and then debate: Is public safety more important than civil liberties?

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April 23, 2020

5:49

Poetic Surprises

In celebration of National Poetry Month, NPR invites poets to reflect upon selected poems submitted by listeners. In this story, award-winning poet and teacher Nikky Finney discusses poems that surprise her and explains why she finds them beautiful, meaningful, and thought-provoking. Listen to hear how Finney began her poetry career and how she advises her students to engage in expressing themselves through poetry.

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April 22, 2020

2:35

Student Volunteers Help Elderly Neighbors

An army of young volunteers is building bridges between generations while delivering food supplies. Invisible Hands is a network of college students and other young people bringing groceries to elderly New York City residents isolated during the coronavirus pandemic. The project has built deep bonds between people of different generations, even though they have not met. Listen to hear the organization’s founder describe the roots of the project and why a woman who received a delivery was crying with joy.

This audio story was recorded in early April. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.

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April 21, 2020

3:45

The Pandemic's Impact on the Environment

As factories shut down and fewer people drive to work, the environment is getting cleaner. Carbon emissions have dropped worldwide and people around the globe are noticing clearer air and better views of mountains. Scientists point out that an even bigger drop is needed to head off the worst effects of climate change, requiring actions such as converting to wind and solar power. Listen to hear more about how the slowdown in human activity is affecting the environment and why scientists believe animal sightings have increased.

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April 20, 2020

5:23

Democrats Consolidate on 2020 Nomination

Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the United States in the 2020 election. Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the presidential primary race, but his candidacy has had a lasting impact on the Democratic party. Sanders has a loyal following of young people and progressives, whose support has helped push his ideas into the political mainstream. Listen to learn more about the rise and fall of Sanders’ presidential bid and how he plans to continue to influence the Democratic party.

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April 19, 2020

:26

Weird News: Alligators Help with Social Distancing

Listen to hear how people in Florida are advised to keep a safe distance from each other during the pandemic.

Vocabulary: visualize, residents

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April 17, 2020

4:53

Debate: Should the Spanish Language Be Gender Neutral?

Teens in Argentina are pushing to make Spanish gender-neutral. They say the rules of the language favor men over women and exclude nonbinary people. The Royal Spanish Academy argues that it is important to maintain the purity of a language that has been spoken for hundreds of years. Listen to hear more about the dispute over changing Spanish and then debate: Should the Spanish language be gender-neutral?

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April 16, 2020

4:37

Booming Business at Toilet Paper Company

During the COVID-19 pandemic, toilet paper has been in high demand, and one Maine factory owner is working around the clock to supply it. He moved to Maine a year before the pandemic hit and invested his life savings in a toilet paper factory. Now, he and his son can barely fill all the orders they are receiving, and they hope that means the business will succeed. Listen to hear the owner’s son explain the lessons he has learned and why he finds his work rewarding.

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April 15, 2020

4:29

Boosting People's Memory While They Sleep

An experiment to improve people’s memory while they sleep has shown promising results. Researchers asked participants to learn a new video game, then tested whether their memories improved after electrical signals were sent to their brains while they slept. Scientists say the technique could someday help people boost their ability to learn. Listen to hear a reporter describe the brain cap she wore for the study and learn about potential concerns raised by the research.

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April 14, 2020

4:13

Sports During a National Crisis

Sporting events have soothed the nation during difficult times by distracting people from worries and giving them hope. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, when big gatherings can spread disease, public sporting events contribute to the problem rather than offering a solution. Listen to hear an ESPN commentator describe how sports have helped Americans survive past crises, why this one is different, and how sports organizations have helped set the tone for responding to the current pandemic.

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April 13, 2020

3:50

Face Masks Can Help Contain Virus Spread

New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says all Americans should wear face masks in public to prevent spreading COVID-19. Before now, the CDC had recommended social distancing, or keeping six feet away from others, but that can be difficult in crowded spaces like grocery stores. The new recommendation reflects recent studies indicating that many people carry the virus without showing symptoms. Listen to learn which materials make effective masks and how wearing a mask in public sends an important message.

This audio story was recorded in early April. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.

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April 12, 2020

:26

Weird News: Students Design Minecraft School

Listen to hear about how students recreated their school in the virtual building game Minecraft.

Vocabulary: scale model, congregate

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April 10, 2020

4:43

Debate: Should Companies Offer Paid Sick Leave During the Pandemic?

Workers at big companies are demanding paid leave, among other protections, as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread. Amazon workers in New York, where some employees have COVID-19, want their warehouse to be deep cleaned while they continue to be paid. Instacart workers, contractors who do not receive benefits, are asking for paid leave if they get sick or are exposed to illness. Workers at both companies say these benefits are necessary and fair, given the risks they are facing, though the companies do not normally offer extended paid leave. Listen to learn more about the workers’ demands and then debate: Should companies offer paid leave during the pandemic?

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April 9, 2020

2:08

Laptops for Remote Learning

With schools around the country closed due to COVID-19, teachers are using technology to help educate kids remotely. However, some students lack access to a computer, making online learning impossible. One school district in California is leveling the playing field by distributing laptops to children from low-income families. Listen to hear a principal describe the joy of seeing students in the computer line, and learn how a high school student has been spending her time at home.

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April 8, 2020

3:27

Caring for Zoo Animals

What happens to the animals when no one visits the zoo? Though the coronavirus pandemic has shut down many public gathering places and cultural institutions, including zoos, the animals continue to need daily care and feeding. Places like The Cincinnati Zoo depend on a small group of dedicated workers to show up each day to care for their beloved animals. Listen to hear zoo workers describe some of their favorite animals and learn how one baby hippo became an internet star.

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April 7, 2020

2:02

Poetry Out Loud

High school students recited poems with dramatic flair in the semi-finals of the national Poetry Out Loud contest. Competitors recited works by Toi Derricotte, Vijay Shishadri, and other poets, and their performances were judged on a variety of criteria. Listen to hear clips of high school competitors reciting poems and learn how the rules have changed for non-citizens hoping to enter the competition.

Update: Since this story originally aired, Minnesota high school senior Isabella Callery was selected as the 2019 Poetry Out Loud National Champion.

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April 6, 2020

4:16

Health Care Providers Need Protective Gear

Health care workers treating COVID-19 patients around the country need more equipment to protect themselves against the highly contagious virus. They say a shortage of masks, gowns, gloves, and other protective gear puts them and their families at risk of catching the disease. The federal government says production is underway and equipment should arrive soon, but health care workers feel a sense of urgency. Listen to hear how an ER doctor on the front lines is coping and learn about a newly reported symptom of COVID-19.

This audio story was recorded in mid-March. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.

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April 5, 2020

:26

Weird News: World's Longest Cake

Listen to hear about the longest cake ever baked.

Vocabulary: resolution, regret, previous

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April 3, 2020

2:23

Debate: Should Online Discussions Be Preserved as Historical Records?

Online discussions document history as it is lived, functioning as digital primary source artifacts. As Verizon prepared to delete archives of Yahoo Groups, among the earliest online discussions on the internet, some people were upset. They argued that these online discussions offered a valuable record of life in the early 2000s that should be preserved. Verizon said that maintaining the archives required resources that they wanted to use for other priorities. Listen to hear more about the dispute over Yahoo Groups and then debate: Should online discussions be preserved as historical records?

Update: Verizon deleted all content from Yahoo Groups on January 31st 2020, allowing users to archive their data before that date.

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April 2, 2020

4:01

Grocery Cashiers on the Front Lines

Grocery store clerks have become essential workers during the COVID-19 outbreak, performing the crucial service of helping people feed themselves and their families. They put their own health at risk each day as hundreds of shoppers file through stores, often standing closer than the recommended safe distance of six feet away. Listen to hear a grocery store cashier describe life on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and how she feels about taking risks to help others during a health crisis.

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April 1, 2020

5:28

How New Emojis Are Created

The group in charge of emojis is issuing some new designs, and scientists are buzzing. Researchers studying mushrooms, rocks, microbes, and insects enjoy using emojis to represent their work. They are happy to have appropriate images to share on social media, even if the emojis do not represent every scientific detail correctly. Listen to learn which group of animals have the most emojis, which groups are not well represented, and what happened when marine scientists complained about the accuracy of the squid emoji.

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March 31, 2020

2:58

Ancient Chewing Gum Holds DNA Clues

A chunk of chewed birch resin has revealed surprisingly detailed information about a woman who lived 5,700 years ago. Scientists investigated a brownish blob discovered at an archaeological site and were able to extract and analyze a complete strand of DNA that revealed details about the diet, health, and appearance of the Stone Age woman who had chewed it. Listen to learn why ancient people chewed birch pitch and how this very old piece of gum could inspire archaeologists to look in new places for clues to the past.

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March 30, 2020

:26

Weird News: Dog Radio

Listen to hear about a radio station designed for lonely dogs.

Vocabulary: guilt, praise, soothing

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March 30, 2020

4:51

The Importance of COVID-19 Testing

Countries that have extensively tested their populations for the COVID-19 virus have generally succeeded in containing the outbreak. Now debate has begun in the U.S. over how much testing makes sense in this country. Although many medical experts say aggressive testing would help to slow the spread of the disease, production of test kits has not kept up with demand. Listen to hear a public health expert explain why he believes testing is important for controlling the spread of COVID-19 and when he expects enough test kits to become available.

This audio story was recorded in mid-March. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.

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March 27, 2020

4:31

Debate: Is Smartphone Voting a Good Idea?

A town in Washington state made plans to boost voter turnout by offering smartphone voting. Less than 1% of eligible voters showed up for a prior election in King County, Washington, and officials reasoned that making elections more accessible to all voters, including people living overseas and the disabled, would increase voter participation. Opponents say the security risks of smartphone voting threaten our democracy, since it is only a matter of time before they are hacked. Listen to hear more about the pros and cons of electronic voting, and then debate: Is smartphone voting a good idea?

Update: Since this story aired, the election has taken place, and voters cast ballots by smartphone or in person. Voter turnout was half of 1%.

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March 26, 2020

3:26

States Lock Down to Protect Lives

States around the country are ordering new restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19. State governors have put various orders in place, including closing nonessential businesses, restricting big gatherings, and directing people to stay at home. Essential services such as food stores, pharmacies, and public transportation, remain open. These leaders hope limiting social contact will slow the spread of the disease enough to avoid overwhelming hospitals and health care workers with patients. Listen to learn how states plan to enforce the orders and why one governor struggled mightily with his decision to close businesses.

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March 25, 2020

2:11

Remembering C.C. the Cloned Cat

A famous cat has died. C.C. the cat, sometimes known as Carbon Copy, was the world’s first cloned pet. Texas A&M University scientists cloned C.C. to investigate whether the process could be used by owners to keep their beloved pets alive. C.C. became a celebrity when a photo of her sitting in a lab beaker circulated around the world. Listen to hear the scientist who cloned C.C. explain the cloning process and learn why he does not recommend cloning your cat.

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March 24, 2020

4:23

What's Next for the Space Program

The U.S. space program has big plans for 2020. Two private companies are preparing to send astronauts into space, which has not been done since 2011. A rover mission to Mars is planned, this time with a special instrument to pull oxygen from the Martian atmosphere. And hundreds of small satellites will be launched into orbit, providing global internet coverage. Listen to learn more about the space program’s ambitious goals and the challenges it faces.

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March 23, 2020

4:01

COVID-19 Vaccination in Development

Scientists are one step closer to finding a vaccine to protect people against COVID-19. A biomedical research company has vaccinated eight patients in Washington state with a new trial vaccine and has plans to vaccinate dozens more. The patients will be closely watched over time to make sure the vaccine is both safe and effective. The careful process means a vaccine will likely not be available to the general public for at least a year. Listen to learn how the new vaccine testing works and what motivates the scientists involved in the project.

This audio story was recorded in mid-March. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.

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