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Current Events

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November 16, 2020

3:59

COVID-19 Vaccine Trials Look Promising

Researchers have announced that an important COVID-19 vaccine trial is showing promising results. Interim results for the phase III trial, which tests the vaccine’s safety and efficacy among thousands of participants, indicate that the vaccine is working to prevent COVID-19. While it will still be some time before a vaccine is widely available, the development process is going much faster than usual. Listen to learn about how the study was designed, what results are showing so far, and what the next steps are in moving toward widespread vaccine administration.

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November 15, 2020

0:28

Weird News: Swimming while Juggling: Swuggling!

Listen to hear how a man in Oregon is taking multitasking to a whole new level.

Vocabulary: multitasking, figurative

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November 13, 2020

4:29

Debate: Does Google Have an Unfair Monopoly on Internet Searching?

The U.S. Department of Justice recently filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming that the company has abused its power in dominating online searches. The lawsuit accuses the technology giant of striking unfair deals and blocking competitors, leaving consumers with few choices of search engines. Google has denied crushing the competition and says their customers are freely choosing the product they like best. Listen to learn more about the antitrust lawsuit against Google and then debate: Does Google have an unfair monopoly on internet searching?

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November 12, 2020

4:55

Student Reflects on School During the Pandemic

The pandemic has forced many schools around the country to educate students virtually. In this story, a student representative from a large public school district in Virginia talks about the impact of virtual learning on teens. He explains how long hours spent on a computer affect him and his peers, and why his classmates have varying opinions about returning to school in person. Listen to hear one high school student reflect on how the pandemic is affecting his senior year and what is on his mind as he looks ahead.

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November 10, 2020

5:00

Trump Refuses to Concede the Election

President Trump and many of his supporters refuse to accept the results of a close 2020 election, in which Joe Biden won more than the 270 electoral votes required to become the next president. Trump and his backers continue to claim fraud, though there is no evidence to support those claims. They distrust the media, who called the race for Biden based on official vote counts from each state. They also express concerns about the security of mail-in voting, but there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Listen to hear how some Trump supporters are feeling in the wake of a deeply divisive election.

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November 9, 2020

5:33

Joe Biden Elected 46th U.S. President

After a long week of vote counting in a tight race, Joe Biden has been elected 46th president of the United States. Biden has run for president several times, starting in 1987, and has served as U.S. Senator and Vice President under President Barack Obama. Biden has suffered many significant losses, both personal and professional, throughout his life, but he says he has never lost faith in the American people. Listen to hear about his journey to the presidency and how his victory speech to a divided country addressed themes of unity and optimism amid challenging times for the nation.

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November 8, 2020

0:28

Weird News: Teaching Litterbugs a Lesson

Listen to hear how a park in Thailand is sending a message to people who litter.

Vocabulary: authorities, revenge

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November 6, 2020

4:42

Debate: Should the News Media Rely on Election Polls?

Many Americans rely on polls to predict the outcome of elections. Polls ask large numbers of voters how they plan to vote, and news media outlets often report on those findings. However, many such polls did not accurately predict 2020 election outcomes, and people are wondering why. Some say that polling has become less reliable, and the media’s use of them can be misleading. Others say that polls can still help to inform us, and that without them, we would be in the dark. Listen to hear more about election polling and then debate: Should the news media rely on election polls?

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November 5, 2020

5:51

Social Media Influencer Comforts Viewers During Pandemic

Many people feel stressed as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, and some are turning to Tabitha Brown for comfort. Brown is a TikTok personality who posts cooking videos accompanied by words of love and encouragement. Her soothing presence has attracted millions of followers, including many young people. Listen to Tabitha Brown explain how she got started on TikTok and the responsibility she feels to her teen audience.

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November 4, 2020

2:22

Laughter Signals Friendship

People can generally tell if other people are friends when they overhear them laughing together. That’s what a scientist found several years ago. Recently, he performed a new experiment, this time to find out if people can understand other people’s relationships by overhearing their conversations. His goal was to study the signals that laughter and speech send to other people. Listen to learn more about the study and what it reveals about the role of laughter in human evolution.

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November 3, 2020

4:15

Testing COVID-19 Vaccines on Humans

In the race to create a vaccine against COVID-19, several drug companies have moved into the final stages of development, which involves human testing. Thousands of Americans have volunteered to receive trial vaccines to help test their safety and effectiveness. The FDA has promised to fast-track the approval process for drugs deemed safe, although some Americans worry about the limitations of the accelerated timeline, including questions about the duration of immunization. Listen to hear a vaccine trial volunteer describe her experience, and learn how one COVID-19 drug works to fight the infection.

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November 2, 2020

3:49

Senate Confirms Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court Justice

The Senate voted to confirm Amy Coney Barrett as a justice of the US Supreme Court. Barrett fills the seat vacated by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September. Democrats objected to the timing of the vote, which took place a week before the 2020 election, and senators voted almost entirely along party lines. Barrett’s confirmation gives the Supreme Court a 6-3 conservative majority. Listen to hear Republican and Democratic leaders react to the confirmation process, and learn how the pandemic affected the proceedings.

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November 1, 2020

0:28

Weird News: Monkey Selfies

Listen to hear about a monkey who took selfies on a stolen phone.

Vocabulary: mischievous, culprit

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October 30, 2020

6:33

Debate: Should School Buildings Be Open?

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, schools closed around the country in an effort to slow community spread of the disease. A new study, though, concludes that schools do not seem to be superspreader sites where infection spreads rapidly and dramatically. Based on data from Texas, it appears that schools tend to reflect community infection rates. While anxiety remains high among some about the potential for COVID-19 to spread in schools, evidence suggests that when the virus does enter a school, it can usually be contained if public health recommendations are being followed. Listen to the author explain the implications of her study and then debate: Should school buildings be open?

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October 29, 2020

3:06

Conflict Between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Recently fighting has erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan, two former Soviet republics, in Nagorno-Karabakh, an area in the Caucasus Mountains. The conflict first began over 30 years ago, when Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region within Azerbaijan, sought independence as an ethnic group from the Soviet Union. Armenia eventually took control of much of Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as some adjoining areas within Azerbaijan. The region has geopolitical interest for Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Listen to learn what is emboldening Azerbaijan to take action and why one reporter calls this “a very dangerous conflict.”

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October 28, 2020

2:22

Penguin Evolution

When people think of penguins, they often imagine them waddling on ice and sliding into freezing water. Some species of penguins, though, live in warm climates, and that has scientists wondering how penguins manage to adapt to such different environments. Recently a study was released that provides some answers. Listen to learn where scientists believe penguins first evolved, what powered their migration, and how their bodies have adapted to a wide variety of environmental conditions.

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October 27, 2020

5:32

Talking with Ghosts: Spiritualism in America

The American spiritualist movement was founded on the belief that people can communicate with the dead. It began in the mid-1800s and, at its height, had millions of followers. Many early spiritualists were women, and they often used their voices to support women’s rights. In this audio story, an author describes her trip to a spiritualist community in Maine and what led her there. Listen to learn more about the history of spiritualism, and hear what happened when the author participated in a seance.

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October 26, 2020

4:30

How Poll Watching Works

The practice of observing elections, when people from both major parties watch the voting process to ensure it runs smoothly, has a long tradition in the U.S. People who watch polls must follow rules established by state and local governments. Historically, however, some election observers have been accused of acting aggressively to intimidate groups of voters and keep them away from the polls. Listen to hear more about guidelines for observers at the polls, and learn what one voting expert believes election officials can do to safeguard the 2020 election.

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October 25, 2020

0:26

Weird News: Incubating Ducks at Home

Listen to hear about a woman hatching ducks from eggs she bought at the supermarket.

Vocabulary: furlough, emerge, incubate

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October 23, 2020

3:07

Debate: Should Standardized Tests Resume?

When the pandemic hit and schools closed in spring 2020, the U.S. Secretary of Education waived requirements for federal standardized testing in reading, math, and science. Recently, however, she said K-12 testing must resume. Those who support the move say the tests are a crucial tool in identifying students who have lost academic ground during the pandemic and can help to address the achievement gap. Opponents argue that the money would be better spent on other priorities, including collecting data locally much earlier on what kind of support students need. Listen to learn more about the controversy over testing and then debate: Should standardized tests resume?

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October 22, 2020

5:37

Teaching Black History as American History

High school students in Colorado took a trip that changed the way history is taught at their school. After the group traveled with their principal to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C., they realized that aspects of Black history were left out of their school’s American history curriculum that they thought should be included. Listen to hear the principal explain how the students pushed for change and what effect she hopes the new curriculum will have on teaching and learning.

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October 21, 2020

2:07

Iroquois Nationals Prepare for Top Lacrosse Competition

One of the best lacrosse teams in the world was left off the invitation list to the 2022 World Games. The Iroquois Nationals are considered the third best team worldwide. The Native American members of the team come from a generations-long tradition of playing lacrosse, a sport that originated with the Haudenosaunee people. When another team heard how the Nationals were snubbed, they took decisive action. Listen to learn why the Iroquois Nationals were excluded from play and how others responded to what they saw as an injustice.

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October 20, 2020

4:56

2020 Election Results May Be Delayed

As the 2020 U.S. presidential election approaches, many are warning that a winner is unlikely to be declared on Election Day. Some say a delay is not a problem, and may actually help the country arrive at a more fair and accurate result. More voters than ever before are mailing ballots to avoid coronavirus exposure. With extra time, election officials can ensure every vote is counted and errors are corrected. Listen to a voting rights expert explain why she is not worried about a delayed election result, and learn what Americans can do to support fair elections.

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October 19, 2020

6:54

The Rise of Private Militias

The actions of armed anti-government groups, often calling themselves “militias,” are gaining attention in the U.S. One such group was recently accused of plotting to kidnap the governor of Michigan. Militant groups sometimes claim the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which calls for “a well-regulated militia,” protects their right to exist. But are private militias really legal? Listen to learn whether armed anti-government groups can operate legally in the U.S. and how social media platforms help them thrive.

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October 18, 2020

0:25

Weird News: Cardboard Car at a Drive-Through

Listen to hear about a family trip to McDonald’s in a cardboard car.

Vocabulary: craving, embarrassed

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October 16, 2020

4:52

Debate: Should 16-year-olds Be Allowed to Vote?

Americans are currently eligible to vote at age 18, but some say the age should be lowered to 16. Supporters of the change say younger generations have proven they are engaged and informed through their political activism and should have a voice in decisions that will affect their future. Opponents fear that 16-year-olds lack the maturity to vote and may be heavily influenced by parents and teachers. Listen to hear a young activist argue for lowering the voting age and then debate: Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote?

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October 15, 2020

4:49

Native American Cultural Burning Prevents Forest Fires

Wildfires are burning out of control in California and other western states. Recently, officials have turned to traditional Native American practices to help combat them. For thousands of years before being removed from the land, Native people applied controlled fire to a variety of plants. The technique boosts new growth and helps clear away dead matter that could fuel uncontrolled wildfires. Listen to learn how cultural burning was suppressed in America and why officials believe that bringing it back could help reduce or prevent future blazes.

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October 14, 2020

6:09

All-Black Rowing Team Wins in Life

When a recruiter invited Black high school students in Chicago to take up rowing, most initially declined. Crew was a predominantly white sport and seemed to have nothing to do with them. Those students who eventually joined, however, learned skills and gained insight that transformed their lives. Listen to an author reflecting on his experiences as a member of the first all-Black high school crew team, and hear how being on the team helped him succeed.

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October 13, 2020

5:48

Disinformation Campaigns Foreign and Domestic

Russia is trying to meddle in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, just as it did in 2016, through disinformation campaigns on social media. This year, experts say it is easier because foreign actors need only repeat falsehoods being circulated by Americans, including the current administration, which has questioned the integrity of the U.S. election process without supporting evidence. This has the effect of eroding voter confidence in democratic institutions and processes and encouraging actual interference with those processes. Listen to learn which tactics foreign adversaries are using to influence the 2020 election and how American national security experts and technology companies are trying to combat them.

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October 11, 2020

0:26

Weird News: Dog Receives Honorary Degree

Listen to hear about a dog receiving his very own college degree.

Vocabulary: honorary, veterinary, therapy

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October 9, 2020

3:32

Debate: Should TikTok Be Banned in the U.S.?

A judge recently blocked President Trump’s order to ban all U.S. downloads of the video sharing app TikTok, which is currently owned by a Chinese company. Trump views the app as a national security threat, saying that the data it collects from American users may be accessible to the Chinese government. Defenders of the app say no evidence exists that the Chinese government could access American TikTok data, which is housed in the U.S. Listen to learn more about the controversy surrounding TikTok and then debate: Should TikTok be banned in the U.S.?

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October 8, 2020

5:58

The Role of Superspreading Events in Coronavirus Transmission

A recent outbreak of coronavirus infections at the White House is highlighting how superspreading events can quickly infect large numbers of people. People with COVID-19 are most infectious before they show symptoms and can unknowingly spread illness to others. The virus continues to spread in this way, creating a cluster of infections. Health experts say superspreader events are typically indoor gatherings where people are not following safety guidelines. Listen to a professor explain how COVID-19 clusters arise and how to avoid future outbreaks.

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October 7, 2020

3:40

The Lasting Popularity of "Settlers of Catan"

The popular game “Settlers of Catan” is celebrating its 25th anniversary. When it first appeared, the board game revolutionized game playing by requiring players to communicate and work together in order to win. Although the game has sold steadily through the years, its popularity has surged during the pandemic, when many people are stuck at home. Listen to hear the German inventor of the game explain where the idea for “Settlers” came from and why he thinks it continues to attract so many fans.

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October 6, 2020

5:21

The First Presidential Debate of 2020

President Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden recently faced off in Cleveland, Ohio, in the first of three presidential debates leading up to the 2020 election. The debate was marked by angry exchanges, frequent interruptions, and calls for order by the moderator. This audio story analyzes the two candidates’ goals going into the debate and how well they succeeded in meeting them, as well as the impact of the president’s remarks about white supremacist groups and the peaceful transfer of power. Listen to learn more about this unusually contentious and chaotic presidential debate.

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October 5, 2020

6:02

Amy Coney Barrett Nominated to Supreme Court

Amy Coney Barrett, a judge, former law professor, and mother of seven, is President Trump’s nominee for the next Supreme Court Justice. She is highly accomplished and well-regarded at Notre Dame Law School, where she taught for 15 years. She once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and her conservative judicial record generally follows his approach to interpreting the Constitution. If her nomination is approved by the Senate, some worry that the Court will pursue a conservative agenda that includes overturning the Affordable Care Act. Listen to learn more about Amy Coney Barrett and what her appointment could mean for the future of the Supreme Court.

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October 4, 2020

0:25

Weird News: World's Oldest Gamer

Listen to hear about a 90-year-old gamer who broke a Guinness World Record.

Vocabulary: veteran, longevity

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October 2, 2020

4:21

Debate: Is Studying America's Flaws Unpatriotic?

President Trump has established a new commission to promote what he calls “patriotic education.” Trump objects to teachers using resources such as the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which addresses the history of slavery and systemic racism in America. He suggests that learning about these issues will brainwash students into hating their country and prefers that the curriculum focus on America’s strengths, such as its foundational democratic principles. Many educators believe that students benefit from examining America’s history in all its complexity, including where it has fallen short of the ideals expressed in its founding documents. Listen to hear more about the battle over teaching history and then debate: Is studying America’s flaws unpatriotic?

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October 1, 2020

3:54

History of Police Response to Protests

Police responses to protesters in America have varied over the past century. At times, police have used force, including tear gas and riot gear, to subdue protesters. At other times, their approach has been softer, as when an officer recently took a knee to express solidarity with protesters’ demands. Listen to learn why policing strategies have shifted since the 1960s and why one expert thinks many modern day police have returned to a “militarized mentality.”

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September 30, 2020

2:29

Tricky Bumblebees

Are bees smarter than some people think? Scientists studying bee behavior noticed the insects taking tiny bites out of plant leaves. It turns out that this surprising behavior actually helps bees, though not immediately. Listen to learn how biting leaves benefits bees, and hear about another interesting trick bees use to get a good meal.

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September 29, 2020

2:01

Census Deadline in Dispute

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau counts everyone living in the U.S., and the results determine state funding and political representation. The coronavirus pandemic is making collecting data for the 2020 census especially challenging, and last spring the Census Bureau extended the deadline. Soon after, however, the White House pressed the Census Bureau to finish counting earlier than originally proposed. The Census Bureau says the shortened window would prevent an accurate count, significantly impacting some communities for the next decade. Listen to hear how some leaders are trying to motivate people to ensure they are counted.

Update: Since this story aired, the court decided to uphold the extension of the census data collection deadline of October 31, 2020.

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