I primarily use the USA TODAY papers to reinforce the critical skill for engineers (and many other careers) of reading articles and then summarizing the main ideas. In Florida, this is a skill which is tested on our State Reading and Writing tests, but I tell my students it is a skill needed throughout life. I have worked closely with the University of Central Floridas Engineering Department, and they have told me this is such a deficiency that they had to add a junior level course to teach their top engineers this skill. Local companies, such as Lockheed-Martin, were finding graduating engineering students were often required to read engineering reports and provide summaries for their teams and doing a poor job at it.
I already have my students divided into teams of 4 so I assign each student an article from one of the 4 sections of the newspaper. I assign the article based on what the USA TODAY daily teaching guide (Inside USA TODAY) suggests or looking at the paper in the morning for articles of interest. The student has 25 minutes to read the article and then accomplish two tasks. They must first write a summary sentence and then expand on the sentence with a one-paragraph summary. Once the students turn in their summaries, we have a classroom discussion about the four articles, which gives me a chance to interject current events into the classroom.
I am currently (April 2008) using the new No Boundaries Project, developed by USA TODAY and sponsored by NASA, for my students to explore STEM careers. I have also used several math and science lesson plans, such as Lost in Space to enhance and supplement the curriculum. As a long-time math teacher, there are many great real-world problems which can answer the common student question of “When will I ever use this?”