Learning During a Pandemic: A Challenge-A-Day

By Carol Bier

Here are some challenges I have endeavored to write for my grandchildren (14, 16, 17), geared to middle school/high school. The questions may have relevance beyond, and I've shared them as well with neighbors, friends, and relatives, encouraging them to be distributed to those who may find them challenging, engaging, and beneficial during these perilous times. I know some of the questions have been adapted for a 4-year old in Chicago, for a fifth-grade class in Oakland CA, working online, and for a college class in New Haven, as well as for several children who are being home-schooled during this hiatus of normalcy. Several adults have enjoyed them as well!

Although numbered by week/day, the challenges may be used in no particular order (except those for which there is a sequential question). Each one is designed to take 1-2 hours; collectively, they are intended to be interdisciplinary. Some require Internet research, or use of iPhone/Android or iPad. Kids may work together or separately, and they may call an adult or other friend for clarification or to discuss search strategies. The hints might be offered as a second step. 


Week 1

Day 1. Download either or both Apps: iNaturalist and Seek. Both allow identification of species by uploading a photograph. Identify all the trees that surround your house and provide both common name and Latin botanical name. (PS: What is a Latin botanical name? Hint: Google "Latin botanical names.") Save your list for a later challenge.

Day 2. List all the rooms where you live. Estimate the square footage of each. What is the estimated total square footage? Save your list for a later challenge.

Day 3. Think about how and why mathematics underlies our emerging understanding of COVID-19. Read these three articles and look at their graphics. Then write a short essay (one page) on how and why mathematics is significant. Reserve one paragraph to explain why social distancing matters. 

Here are the three articles: 

Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now / Politicians, Community Leaders and Business Leaders: What Should You Do and When?

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Statistics and Research

Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve”

The third article has some interesting mathematics, used for simulation modeling:

Read these three articles and look at their graphics. Then write a short essay (one page) on how and why mathematics is significant. Reserve one paragraph to explain why social distancing matters. 

Day 4. Go back to the tree identification of Day 1. Describe the leaf shape of each tree you identified around your house or in your neighborhood. Use standardized leaf shape terminology. (Hint: Google “leaf shapes.”)

Day 5. List all the ways your life has been impacted by the global pandemic of COVID-19. What is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic? What are your most immediate concerns? What do you think are the larger societal issues? List what you can do, personally, to help mitigate this international crisis.

Weekend challenge:

Find something you consider beautiful in or around where you live. Look at it closely and write an essay about why you consider it beautiful. Describe how it makes you feel.

Week 2

Day 1. What is epidemiology? Write a brief essay (1–3 paragraphs) on why it is important during this global pandemic. Include in your paragraph something about the relationship of epidemiology to public health.

Day 2. Today’s challenge offers a choice: Go back to last week (!). Measure the length and width of each room where you live. What is the total square footage? Add a second column to your chart and compare your estimate of square footage with actual square footage. 

Alternate challenge: Download the New York Times (NYT) Cooking App. Review the basics. Then select a recipe and make it!

Day 3. What is a coronavirus? Explain why it is called a coronavirus. List ten other viruses by name and write a factual sentence about each. What is the difference between COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2? Why does President Trump insist on calling it the “China virus” or “Chinese virus”? Describe the difference between “containment” and “mitigation.”

Day 4. We are hearing in the news about “flattening the curve” — What does “flattening the curve” mean? Why is it important? What role does “sheltering-in-place” play in “flattening the curve”?

Day 5. I forgot to send a challenge today. Your challenge is to send me a challenge!

Weekend challenges:

  • Describe the symmetry of SARS-CoV-2. (First, give a useful definition of symmetry. You may need to do a Google search also on “symmetry” + “SARS-CoV-2.”)

  • Look at a chart or graph or map of cases of coronavirus either in the US or globally. Write an essay about what is shown — based on what assumptions — and assess how the data might be wrong. How secure is the interpretation of the data as presented?

Week 3

Day 1. How many days into this are we? Write down five predictions you have for the future. Explain why you expect them to happen. What actions could ensure their happening? What obstacles would need to be overcome?

Day 2. Why does it take so long to develop a vaccine? Explore also current thinking about immunity within a population, and how that might be determined.

Day 3. “Typhoid Mary” — asymptomatic transmission (of typhoid) in 1909 — what did we learn? What have we yet to learn? See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3959940.

Day 4. What websites do you consider the best for daily updates on news about Coronavirus (COVID-19)? Write three paragraphs on why you consider them the best.

Day 5. Explain why wearing a mask may or may not help prevent transmission of this especialy pernicious virus. Why is there such a debate and a changing course of recommendations? Do you use a mask? If so, which kind? And where? What precautions do you take to ensure its effectiveness? 

Weekend challenge:

Look at graphs of different countries’ “flattening the curve” (see article and graphics in NY Times, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/03/world/coronavirus-flatten-the-curve-countries.html)

Determine if you can what are the underlying assumptions? What are the interpretations based upon? Is the testing data adequate? Are the stats for each country comparable? What is the relationship of cases to total population? What is the basis for determining “Case Fatality Rate” (CFR) for each country? What information is missing? What questions can you think of that we do not have answers for yet?

Another weekend challenge:

Find the recipe in the New York Times for making matzo. Try baking it! It’s fun and easy and delicious

Yet another weekend challenge:

Think hard about whether there are any aspects of this period of sheltering in and self-isolation that in fact you enjoy. How might these be incorporated into your life once “normalcy” resumes?

Week 4

Day 1. Bake something you can eat. NY Times Cooking App is excellent and has a section on Learning to Cook.

Day 2. BREATHING EXERCISES. Find them on YouTube: 5 Shaolin Qi Gong Breath Exercises to Strengthen the Lungs. Lead your parent in these today.

Day 3. Same as yesterday. VERY IMPORTANT for stress management and lung strength.

Day 4. Make two lists — one of what you find you like about this sheltering-in-place/stay-at-home order, one of what you really dislike about it. Then identify what aspects you might like to retain when “normalcy” resumes. And what of our previous normalcy you might like to let go?

Day 5. On February 12, the DOW had reached 29,551. How much has the DOW lost (in percentage) since February 12? Write a paragraph explaining what the DOW Jones Industrial Average is. How much will it need to gain (in per centage) to regain its former high on February 12? What are your thoughts in general regarding our economy?

Weekend challenge:

Some states in the US have “flattened the curve,” California among them. What does this mean? How have they done this? What are the risks of moving too quickly back to “normal”?

Additional weekend challenge:

List all the countries in Europe and name the capital city of each. Can you locate a graph that maps the growth of coronavirus in several countries in Asia and Europe? Which graph suggests the best-case scenario? How did they achieve that, and what can we learn from their experience?

Week 5

Day 1. Today’s challenge: I forgot to send one. You send me a challenge!

Day 2. Read this article on the CDC website and write an essay on how COVID-19 spreads.

Day 3. VEGETABLES – Kohlrabi is in season right now. Have you ever tried it? What is it? To what vegetable family does it belong? What other vegetables are the same species? (!)

Day 4. COMORBIDITIES—(a new word for me, too!)—what are these? And why are they significant in relation to COVID-19? How might they impact cases, case fatality rates (CFR), and immunity? Discuss how they might also be related to the higher rate of fatality in nursing homes. 

Also: See “A Comic Strip Tour of the Wild World of Pandemic Modeling” at FiveThirtyEight.com. Write a paragraph explaining why modeling is so difficult.

Day 5. What are you finding that is especially meaningful in your life right now? How is it different from two months ago?

Weekend challenge: COVID-19 - Explain the difference between containment and mitigation. How do testing, and contact tracing, fit in? Why are they important? What are the risks of proceeding to “reopen America” without testing? What are some inherent risks posed by testing? Contact-tracing?

Weeks 6-7, see https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2020/04/29/learning-during-a-pandemic-a-challenge-a-day

Weeks 8-9, see https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2020/05/06/learning-during-a-pandemic-a-challenge-a-day

Weeks 10-11, see https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2020/05/18/learning-during-a-pandemic-a-challenge-a-day

 

Berkeley, CA © Carol Bier, 2020 - Please circulate to whoever might benefit. Stay healthy!