Learning during A Pandemic - A Challenge-A-Day

By Carol Bier

This blog is updated daily - usually each evening (Pacific time)

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, and to stimulate creative and critical thinking. 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. Hints might be offered as a second step.

Week 19!

Day 1. John Lewis (1940-2020) - With the death of Congressman John Lewis (1940-2020), our nation lost a very staunch advocate of civil rights. Read the obituary published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and write a brief essay on what John Lewis called "good trouble."

Photos: John Lewis through the Years, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (July 17, 2020)

Day 2. Pundits and bungalows - What does the word 'pundit' mean? In contemporary usage, we might think of pundits as talking heads on television, those we listen to to hear their opinions. What is its etymology? When did it enter English usage? [Hint: look up in an online etymological dictionary]. What is a bungalow? And what is its etymology? [By the way, what does etymology mean?] In what ways are these two seemingly unrelated words similar to one another? What do they have to do with the British Empire or an Imperial legacy? What about the color 'khaki'? How is it related to 'pundit' and 'bungalow'?

Day 3. Ooops - I forgot to send a challenge. It's your turn to send me one at arsperspectiva@gmail.com!

Day 4. pH value - What is pH value? What do the letters stand for? pH is used to measure acids and bases, to determine how acidic or alkaline a liquid is. Each number represents ten-fold that of the preceding number. Look up this chart on the website of the US Geological Survey to get an idea of the pH value of common liquids: What is the pH of milk? vinegar? lemon juice? Click on the link to "Learn More About pH" and then "Water Science School" to pick out an activity to pursue. Write a brief essay on why an understanding of pH is important to public health.

USGS - pH Scale

Day 5. Coronavirus stats - Check out the latest coronoavirus statistics as compiled by Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center from a variety of sources. Tool around the site and explore what information has been gathered and consider how the date is presented visually. Write a list of five questions you can think up regarding the mathematical content. Write another list of five concerns you have about the limitations of the data and its visual presentation.

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

Weekend challenge: Bioethics is a field of study that deals with the ethical implications of biological research and its applications, particularly in medicine. Can you think of three biomedical issues with ethical implications in relation to Covid-19? Read this article from the New York Times and write a short essay enumerating different ways of making a decision as to who should receive the vaccine first when one is developed for Covid-19. Who will make this decision? Which of the approaches do you consider the fairest?

Who Gets the Covid-19 Vaccine First? New York Times (July 23, 2020)

Additional weekend challenge: Probability - If one pulls three balls at random out of a bag that contains six blue ones and four red ones, what are the chances that all three are red? Do you know the meaning of combinatorics? (If not, look it up!) What is a definition of discrete mathematics?

These are challenges I endeavor to write daily for my grandchildren (14, 16, 17), so geared to middle/high school age. 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. Many adults enjoy them as well! Some of the challenges will work to generate dinner table conversations, too! We are all in this together!

Week 18!

Day 1. Reopenings - Front page of today's New York Times brings news of California's dramatic rollback of reopening plans during the pandemic. Read the article and consider why reopening is stalled and being rolled back. What has happened? What is at risk? How is this different from other states' plans to reopen? What are you doing to help change the trajectory of the spread of Covid-19?

Coronavirus Live Updates: California Imposing Sweeping Rollback of Plans Amid Case Surges, New York Times (Monday, July 13, 2020)

Day 2. Drawing - Choose an object and place it before you. Looking at it carefully, with pen/pencil and paper, try to draw it upside down. Then turn your drawing around and see if it looks like the object. Photograph the object and drawing together, and share it.

Day 3. Art and criticism - I was going to post today about posterity and legacy (look up those two words!) but then NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a poster he'd made that depicts "What we went through with COVID." He says "We went up the mountain, we curved the mountain, we came down the other side and these are little telltale signs that, to me, represent what was going on." Take a look at the poster and look at it for a while, scrutinizing every detail. What strikes you as memorable? What feelings are instilled in you? Do you think it depicts what he says it depicts? How does the "mountain" reflect COVID? What does the bottom of the poster relate to the mountain? Do you like this poster as an artistic representation? How might you approach the subject differently? How is this poster related to legacy and posterity? [Do you know the expression ars longa, vita brevis? What does it mean?]

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New York Tough Poster

Day 4. Memory - What is your very earliest memory? Describe your memory of a time when you felt very safe, calm, and secure. What role does memory play in using tools or playing a musical instrument or riding a bicycle? What about speaking or reading English or another language? How does memory help us get through each day? I think memory : life :: mulch : garden. Based on this analogy [Do you know how to read it aloud?], write a brief essay (three paragraphs) on how memory might impact the future.

Day 5. Without memory - Try to write a very funny short story about having no memory. Maybe three pages long? Can you think of any stories you've read that made you laugh? Think about what allows for humor. In what circumstances might having no memory play a role? What can lie behind the humor? Share your story with at least one other person to see if it makes them laugh. If not, try writing a revision and test it again.

Weekend challenge: Statues and memory - Can you think of any statues you walk by, or drive past? Who do they represent? Most may have signage that gives this information; mostly, I think we walk by, see a statue, and take little notice. At least that's been my experience. Why are statues important? What lies behind the desire among protesters around our nation to take down statues? Whose statues do they seek to remove? What should be done with them? How does history hold memory? How are the statues related to history and memory? What will happen when the statues are taken down? What will happen to the statues? What will happen to the memories? Can you think of other historical times when statues were taken down, and why?

Additional weekend challenge: Watch Nrityagram, a dance ensemble from Bengaluru, Karnataka,, India, performing contemporary renditions of a classian Indian dance in the style of Orissa. How is it different from classical ballet, modern dance, or any other form of dance with which you are familiar? Notice the movement of the feet, gestures, and eye expressions. Write down five questions as you watch.

Nrityagram at the Met in New York City

These are challenges I endeavor to write daily for my grandchildren (14, 16, 17), so geared to middle/high school age. 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. Many adults enjoy them as well! Some of the challenges will work to generate dinner table conversations, too! We are all in this together!

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, and to stimulate creative and critical thinking. 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. Hints might be offered as a second step.

Week 17!

Day 1. Presidents - Which US presidents are on which bills? $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $100? What about on the US penny? Quarter? Once you've identified them [Be careful - are any of those illustrated not presidents?], give their birth and death dates (in parentheses), and write a sentence (or two) about each of them.

Day 2. Mount Rushmore - Who are the four presidents whose faces are carved into the rock face at Mount Rushmore in the Bad Lands of South Dakota? Write an essay of three paragraphs describing the debates surrounding this national monument. Here are two sources, but feel free to conduct your own more extensive searches to gain a grasp of the issues.

National Park Service statement 

PBS NewsHour Weekend, Native Americans Protest Trump's Mt. Rushmore Rally (July 4, 2020)

Day 3. Creative responses to pandemic - Watch "Pandemic Encounters::being [together] in the deep third space," by Third Space Network. [Note: scroll down to the "Online Access" button; you will need to sign in with an email address]. After watching it, think about the ways this collaborative work draws upon the creative contributions of several individuals. Offer your own creative response to this work (song, poem, musical composition or performance, video, essay, painting, collage), either by working with others or making a collage of your own (digital or in real space).

Pandemic Encounters : : being [together] in the deep third space, by Third Space Network (23 May 2020)

Day 4. Compound words - Skyscraper and windshield are two of my favorite compound words (each composed of two words, combined). Can you think of ten others? Twenty?

Day 5. Ecosystems - Watch this webinar on "Nature's Best Hope" with Doug Tallamy (50min + Q&A). While you're watching, consider the following questions: What is an ecosystem? Why is it important? How do native plants contribute to an ecosystem? What about wildlife? Why are ecosystems important to our planet? What can you do (or not do) that will contribute to a healthier planet?

Nature's Best Hope, a webinar with Doug Tallamy (2020)

Weekend challenge: Oops! I forgot to send you a challenge. Your turn to send me one!

Additional weekend challenge: Prepositions - These small words give meaning to our lives, situating us in time and space. Name ten prepositions, and use each in a sentence.

Week 16!

Day 1. Testing - President Trump advised "Slow down the testing," which has provoked controversy among key White House aids and medical professionals, including Dr. Fauci. Follow some of the links in this article, and figure out your own searching strategies to write an essay on why testing is an important component of figuring how out we can best contain the novel coronavirus (Covid-19). What kind of data does testing provide? Check out the daily state-by-state testing trends on the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. What does "positivity" refer to?

Daily State-by-State Testing Trends, Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center 

Day 2.Understanding Data - Let's go back to yesterday's charts from theJohns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Read the introductory paragraphs and identify what irregularities may occur in the collection and accumulation of data. How might these affect the interpretation of the data? Make a list of the considerations you will need to keep in mind as you review the assembled materials. Then go down to the bar that allows you to look at individual states [Mine is blue, and says US and there is an arrow to the right; yours may be similar or different].. Select three states, one after the other, and compare their charts; assess their data. How are they similar, how are they different? Can you suggest alternative hypotheses for what may explain the differences in the charts of the three states you chose? [Hint: for three states with distinctly different charts, for example, see those for Hawaii, Arizona, New Jersey]. Play with the interactive charts for a while, then write a list of questions you have regarding the data and their interpretation. Is there any overall theme you can identify? Go back to the US chart, and see how your states compare to the national averages.

Daily State-by-State Testing Trends, Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

Day 3. Skateboarding - Happy Birthday Z.! Do you know about gravity and how it affects skateboarding? And about the difference between inertia and momentum? What about velocity how that is affected by/affects rolling cylinders as well as your body in the air? What about geometry? Read this article and write a brief essay about the physics of skateboarding.

The Physics of Skateboarding, Real World Physics Problems

Day 4. Museums online - In response to Covid-19 many museums are expanding their offering of digital content. Go to the websites of your three favorite museums and explore them to find their lists of digital media, online offerings, videos, etc. Watch this video produced by The The Metropolitan Museum in New York about the building of the Moroccan court in their Islamic galleries. Enjoy the North African music, as well as the craftsmanship and the making of art.

Building the Moroccan Court | The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2013)

Day 5. Oops! I forgot to send you a challenge. It's your turn to send me one!

Weekend challenge: July 4 -Time to reread the Declaration of Independence! Think about the ways it remains relevant, underlying issues we face today. 

Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Additional weekend challenge: Frederick Douglass - Watch "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" by Frederick Douglass, a speech given in 1952, as read and discussed by his descendants.

Frederick Douglass' Fourth of July Speech (1952), read and discussed by his descendants, NPR, 3 July 2020

Week 15! 

Day 1. Meridians - Let's go back to Week 14's weekend challenge, what is a meridian? Write a few paragraphs explaining lines of longitude, addressing any of these questions, or others of your own making. If lines of latitude are always the same distance apart, why aren't lines of longitude? How does this relate to spherical geometry? Do lines of longitude and latitude really exist? Or are they figments of human imagination? Or something else? What is the prime meridian?  Why is it called prime? How does it differ from other meridians? How does it relate to the passage of the sun? What is AM? What is PM? Why do am and pm refer to morning and afternoon? What is the "opposite" of the prime Greenwich Meridian? Why do we call it the Greenwich Meridian? Where is Greenwich located and what is located in Greenwich? [By the way, how do you pronounce Greenwich?]

Day 2. Searching strategies for today's primary elections - [Today is Challenge 100!!!] Three states are having presidential primaries today, as well as state primaries. How might you find out which ones? Who are the candidates? What are the local issues? What is at stake? What are the challenges each state faces, both regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, and systemic racism? Other states are holding run-off elections -- which are these? [After conducting your own searches to find out what you can, read this informative article in today's New York Times:]

New York Primary, Kentucky Senate Showdown: What to Watch for Today, New York Times (23 June 2020)

Day 3. Mindfulness, Covid-19, and climate change - Being mindful, mindfulness may be an antidote to being ovewhelmed, or being overly reactive to a situation - namely, an important skill to draw upon during these unsettling and turbulent times. Do you know the iconic image of Leonardo's Mona Lisa? Every time I see Greta Thunberg, I think of Mona Lisa - can you see a resemblance? For me, it is the the flatness of the hair with its central part, the eyes that seem at once both inquiring and thoughtful, and the lips, which appear pursed and relaxed at the same time. But also I see in Greta's phenomenal activism, a groundedness with great determination and steadfast persistence in her efforts to bring the risks of climate change to our awareness, and to spur effective action to halt its deliterious effects on our planet and humankind. Read the essay by Max Herman on "The Mindful Mona Lisa: Consistency, Completeness, and Geometry," and write an essay relating his remarks to Covid-19 and climate change.

Max Herman, The Mindful Mona Lisa: Consistency, Completeness, and Geometry, Leonardo Community / Blog  (18 June 2020)

Day 4.Resilience - What activities or new habits, including habits of mind, have you identified that are helping you to counter stress and be more resilient during these tumultuous times? How have you managed to adapt to the unusual circumstances in which we are all now living? In what ways are you finding yourself dealing with questions that have no answers, not knowing what the future will bring, how to impact people's behavior to contain the spread of Covid-19? Can you think of other questions for which we have no answers at present?  

Day 5. Analogy - "Time is to clock as mind is to brain" appears in Dava Sobel's book, Longitude. Write a brief essay on what is meant by this analogy, and how you agree or disagree.

Weekend challenge: "A more perfect union" - The preamble of the US Constitution sets "A more perfect union" as the goal of justice. See what else it says. What factors contribute to our reality that we have not yet achieved this goal? Reflect upon these three resources as you consider this challenge and how we can work towards this goal:

Preamble of the US Constitution and click on the bar beneath it to read about interpretations of it.

Protect Democracy Project website

Molly Ball, Trench Lawfare: Inside the Battles to Save Democracy from the Trump Administration, Time Magazine(25 June 2020)

Additional weekend challenge: Collage - Find materials from around your house or neighborhood and prepare a collage. You can make glue using flour and water. Cut and paste different colors and textures on a board or cardstock to depict a far distant land -- one from either your imagination or memory. 

Week 14!

Day 1. Draw a vegetable. No guidance here - do it anyway you like, pen/pencil, paper/notebook/tablet/iPad. After you finish drawing it, take a photograph of your work. Then cook the vegetable (alone, or as an ingredient in a recipe). Does it taste any different having drawn it?

Day 2. Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma - President Trump has announced that his campaign rally will be held in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday, rather than Friday, "Juneteenth." Thousands of Trump-supporters are expected to attend, even though cases of Covid-19 are rapidly on the rise in Tulsa. The event is scheduled to take place in an indoor arena, with another indoor area identified for overflow. Vice President Pence will also be in attendance. What is the meaning of Juneteenth? What has historically taken place in Tulsa, OK? Read the article in today's The Guardian, and then make two lists:  First, what are the reasons Trump may have chosen Tulsa, and Juneteenth to hold this event? Second, enumerate all of the risks that such an event poses this Saturday in Tulsa during this pandemic. [Note also that while cases are surging, Pence has encouraged governors to announce that those numbers are due to increased testing.]

Oklahoma Coronavirus Rate Surges as Trump Rally Nears | US News, The Guardian (16 June 2020)

Pence Tells Governors to Repeat Misleading Claim on Outbreaks, New York Times (15 June 2020)

Day 3. Biography - This challenge has three or four parts. Ask a parent (or any older adult) about math in their life. How would they describe their relationship with mathematics? Then ask them to tell you a story from their childhood that involved math. Finally, ask how that story impacts their life today. If you and they are comfortable doing so, email arsperspectiva@gmail.com (Carol Bier) - I'll be very interested to learn what you learn.

Day 4. Observing nature - Let's go back to one of our very early challenges about tree identification. Pick a tree in your locale and look at what's green. Does the tree have needles or leaves? Are the needles long and thin, or are they massed and overlapping? If the needles are long, are they in clusters or single? If leafy, do the leaves have a toothed edge or are they smooth? Is there a mid-vein visible? Are other veins visible? Do the two sides of the leaf look the same, or are they different (color; texture). How are the needles or leaves attached to the tree and its branches? What other features of the needles or leaves can you describe? What forms the understory? (That is, what is growing underneath the tree?) Are their grasses? Berries? Leaf duff? How else might you describe the tree's habitat? Look around you, and see how many different textures you can find. How might you describe them?

Day 5. Juneteenth - A celebration of the historic event on June 19, 1865, when slavery was finally ended in the United States. Two-and-a-half years earlier (January 1, 1863), the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln, went into effect; it stated that "all persons held as slaves...henceforward, shall be free." Why do you think it took two and a half years for that to happen? Today's celebrations and recent protests have revealed that despite the end of slavery, racial justice and social equality is still not the norm. Systemic racism has persisted to the present. What are your thoughts about what it is that we should be celebrating today? What are the arguments for making Juneteenth a national holiday? What might you do personally to usher forth a land that really has "liberty and justice for all"?

Juneteenth and the Meaning of Freedom, Comment by Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker, June 19, 2020

Weekend Challenge: Summer Solstice - We have reached the longest day of the year/shortest night! [Note: This only is true for north of the equator - what is happening south of the equator? What happens at the equator?] The Summer Solstice occurs this year at 21:43 GMT/UTC. What time would that be where you live? What is GMT? What is UTC? Why do we measure time that way? What is a meridian? How does it relate to spherical geometry? [Why is geometry called geometry? What are the component parts of this word, and its etymology?]. During the celestial annual journey of the Earth round the Sun, the Summer Solstice is the moment when the Sun is at its furthermost point north of the Equator, the "precise moment when the sun appears directly over the Tropic of Cancer, a circle of latitude 23.5 degrees north of Earth’s equator." This is the farthest north the sun ever gets before starting its "descent," as the nights get longer until the Winter Solstice. Here's a great guide to this year's Solstice:

A Guide to the 2020 Solstice, The Washington Post, 20 June 2020

Additional Weekend Challenge: Today is the First Day of Summer! And Father's Day! Daylight begins to shorten until the Winter solstice. What do these days mean to you? Think about today, 6/21/20 - how is today different? What is the same as always?

Week 13!

Day 1. Summer plans - What are your summer plans? Do you have any yet? How do you anticipate this summer will be different from those in recent years? What are your goals? If you don't have goals yet, what ideas are you thinking about? In what constructive ways might you take advantage of our current situation? How will you manage the risks posed by transmission of Covid-19?

Day 2. Defunding the Police - In response to the recognition of too much police brutality in many instances around the country, especially in relation to racial injustice, a new message has taken over some protests, "Defund the Police." But what would that actually look like? Read a useful analysis is today's New York Times "California Today"column. Follow some of the links to see how this is being considered in Los Angeles CA, Eugene OR, and Minneapolis MN. What suggestions might you offer for how best to manage public safety?

"What to Know about Calls to Defund the Police in California," New York Times (June 9, 2020)

Day 3. State-sanctioned Violence - Following up on yesterday's challenge, in the past week we've experienced local curfews, deployment of the National Guard in our nation's capitol, the use of tear gas against peaceful demonstrators by Federal law enforcement, threats of military intervention (by our President!), and humor with a serious intent (such as painting the super-sized "Black Lives Matter" on the street leading up to the White House in Washington DC). To find articles reporting on these instances, do a Google search on each of the above examples of a government's efforts to control protests, and riots and looting that may or may not be associated.  What means of crowd control do you think are most effective and why? What other strategies might you suggest to encourage more peaceful nonviolent civil dissent? Think about the meaning of the first words in our Constitution, "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." How do you think this might best be achieved?

Day 4. Three months - We are nearing three months of sheltering-in-place during the Covid-19 pandemic. What have you learned about yourself? What good has come of this unplanned experience for you? Are there new things you've done that you enjoyed? Are there thoughts that have engaged you? What new ideas have you considered? Have you found new ways to counter anxiety? What new habits or routines might you want to keep in place for yourself in a post-pandemic world?

Day 5.  It's Friday! - Time for a deep breath. And another. And another. Deep breathing helps the body relax, reduces stress, counters anxiety, builds lung capacity, and strengthens immunity. We all need that these days! You may enjoy going back to the 5 Shaolin Qi Gong exerciseswe did - how many months ago?!? I encourage you again to do them with your parents -- they need these benefits, too!

5 Shaolin Qi Gong Breath Exercises

Weekend challenge: Today is Day 90 of our challenges. Look back over all of them, and see if there are any you'd like to take on that you may have missed. You'll find links to previous challenges below.

Additional weekend challenge: What is the relationship between public health and mental health? How might you go about finding out? How would you begin your effort? In what ways do you think Covid-19 has made this relationship more complicated?

For weeks 20+, see https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2020/07/28/learning-during-a-pandemic-a-challenge-a-day

For weeks 1-5, see https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2020/04/24/learning-during-a-pandemic-a-challenge-a-day

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

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

For weeks 10-12, see https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2020/06/03/learning-during-a-pandemic-challenge-a-day

 

Thoughts?    Comments?    Questions?   Suggestions?   Email arsperspectiva@gmail.com

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