Learning During A Pandemic: A Challenge-A-Day

By Carol Bier

This blog is updated daily - generally evening Pacific time

Week 29!

Day 1. Siberia - A very large part of the Russian Federation is the geographic region we call Siberia. It extends from the Artic Ocean to the borders of China, Mongolia, and Kazakstan, and from the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Ural Mountains (west of which is Europe!). Under the Soviet Union, prisoners and others were exiled to Siberia. Read this beautiful photo essay of people living in a remote area of Siberia, and consider what you have that they don't have, and what they have that you don't have. 

 Glimpses of the Isolated Communities along a Remote Siberian River, New York Times (28 September 2020)

Day 2. Fall/Autumn - We call this season by two names - are they interchangeable? In the northern hemisphere it begins with the Fall Equinox and ends with the Winter Solstice, both events having to do with the position of the earth in relation to that of the sun. Can you describe these relationships? What experiences and feelings do you associate with Fall? What holidays? What temperatures? What colors? What sounds? Do you know the etymology of the words 'Fall' and 'Autumn'? What about 'equinox' and solstice'?

Why does the season before Winter have two names? (Atlas Obscura)

Fall Equinox - Autumnal Equinox

Day 3. Breath and breathing - How many ways do you use your breath? What does your breath do for you? Why breathe? What musical instruments depend upon a musician's breath? What other words can you make with "breath" as a component [Hint: there are three I used in this challenge; find at least three more]. The Latin verb "to breathe" is spirare; it gives us -spir- at an etymological root in English. What words can you think of that include -spir-? Greek gives us a different meaning for the etymological root for -spir. Can you distinguish the words in your list as to which derive from Latin, and which from Greek?

Day 4. Vote - Both a verb and a noun, the word "vote" is central to our democracy, yet not all folks got the right to vote at the same time. Read this photo essay, and consider who got the right to vote when? Who does not have the right to vote today? Also, who do we vote for? Can you name all of your elected officials? Can you name at least some of them? What else do we vote for, besides elected officials? Be sure to look at a local ballot to find the answers to these questions. Why are some states called "red" and other states called "blue"? It's probably not what you think! Watch the video and think about what colors you would like to see used in the future.

Who Got the Right to Vote When? A History of Voting Rights in America (al-Jazeera)

Origins of Red States and Blue States (Slate)

Day 5. Autoimmune diseases - Type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and psoriasis are among many autoimmune diseases that are known today (there are more than 80 that we know of now, and the list keeps growing). In compound words, 'auto-' often refers to 'self.' Just what is an autoimmune disease? Why is it not contagious? If it is not contagious, how can you 'catch' it? Research has still not uncovered the causes of autoimmune diseases, but genetics, diet, viral infections, and environmental exposure, or some combinations of these, may be factors. Make a list of all of the autoimmune diseases you have heard of or know about, and identify what parts of the body may be affected by each disease. To gather information, do a few Google searches and look up individual autoimmune diseases. Consider how much more we need to learn about them, individually and collectively, in order to understand their causes, effective treatment, and prevention. Think about ways you or others might go about contributing to our collective understanding, advancing knowledge in this important field of medical research.

Weekend challenge: Textile metaphors - Keep a list of all the textile metaphors you can think of. First - what is a metaphor? Then, you'll have to think of what the textile metaphors might be. Here are two that come to mind - we are all hemmed in right now by Covid-19 (and in California, by the smokey air), and the fabric of our society seems at times threatened by climate change. What are some others?

Additional weekend challenge: Today we all need to do some deep breathing. These exercises are great! They reduce stress and help strengthen the lungs. Have a good weekend.

Week 28!

Day 1. Earth shadow and moon shadow - Have you even walked in the earth's shadow? Think about it. What is happening when you experience night time? Where is it light? Why is it dark where you are? What about moon shadows? Unlike the light of the sun, that of the moon is reflected light (it is sunlight reflected on the face of the moon, back to earth!). Take a walk on a night of the full moon in a forest, and see what happens to the trees and the woods. It is enchanting. The shadows created by moonlight reflected into a forest are even more enchanting when there is snow on the ground. Right now, we are in the first quarter of the moon, with a waxing crescent. What does that mean? What causes the phases of the moon? Why is there a crescent? Go out and look at the waxing crescent moon tonight as it sets in the west, shortly after sunset.

What is a waxing crescent moon?

Day 2. Parallel lines - In Euclidean geometry, parallel lines never meet (Euclid's fifth postulate). They are always exactly the same distance apart. Take a walk around your neighborhood and look for parallel lines. Where do you find them? Why do you suppose they are parallel? Are they always straight, or sometimes curved? Are they more often horizontal or vertical? Can you find some that are diagonal? Do you see any that are intersecting with another set of parallel lines? Why do they intersect? Is the reason functional or aesthetic? Who was Euclid? When did he live? What are his other postulates?  

Biography of Euclid of Alexandria, MacTutor (University of St. Andrews, Scotland)

Day 3. Scrambled words - Take the word 'earth' - can you scramble the letters and come up with another word? What about 'canoe'? Come up with five more words that if you scramble the letters you can come up with another word.

Day 4. Herd immunity - This is a term we have heard a lot in the news recently. What does it mean? Do some quick searches to understand what it means in relation to a vaccine, or without a vaccine. Who is the herd? Who is Immune? Who is dead? What happened in Sweden? What happened in the UK? How is it being considered in the US?

Herd Immunity and Covid-19 (Mayo Clinic)

Vaccine/Glossary of Words (CDC)

The Happy Talk about Covid-19 Vaccines and Herd Immunity is Deadly (Forbes, 24 September 2020)

Day 5. Government - We have three branches of government. Do you know what they are? And who runs them? What is the difference between a senator and a congressman? Who represents you? Here's a brief video that explains our system of government. After watching it, find out who your elected representatives are at the federal level.

How is Power Divided in the US Government? (Belinda Stutzman)

Weekend challenge:  Travesty and drivel - Look up these two words. What do they mean? How might they be related? (Or not). Think about where you might come across them in your life - when and where? by whom? When you meet them, what do you do? What do you think? How might you act differently? Under what circumstances?

Additional weekend challenge: Where you live - Describe where you live in as many ways as possible. Think of both location, and context; contemplate points, lines, planes, and solids. And situate yourself both locally and in the cosmos. 

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 27!

Day 1. Ultraviolet and Infrared - The wildfires on the West coast of the US are wreaking havoc with the color of our sky, and sometimes even interfering with sunlight penetrating the smoke layers above the earth. Read this essay about the visible spectrum - those colors that we can see - and write an essay on the inner and outer edges of the rainbow and colors we cannot see. 

An Electromagnetic Battle: Infrared vs. Ultraviolet by D. Jones (May 21, 2019)

West Coast Wildfires Seen from Space (Live Science. September 10, 2020)

Day 2. Suffix - Do you know what a suffix is? Or a prefix? [Look them up if you don't]. Write down all the words you can think of that end in -ic. Which of them are words with the suffix -ic? Which are nouns? Which are adjectives? When -ic is used as a suffix, what meaning does it convey?

Day 3. Taking for Granted - Think back through all the months of this pandemic, going on six months now! Identify what you used to take for granted that you no longer take for granted. What do you take for granted now? Taking something or someone for granted suggests what? Name several ways you can you acknoweldge your appreciation or express your gratitude?

Day 4. Infinite and infinitesimal - Of infinite and infinitesimal, one is inestimably large, the other small beyond conception. What might you suggest can be considered infinite? And what might be considered infinitesimal? Powers of Ten is a classic film, by the office of Charles and Ray Eames, designers, that addresses orders of magnitude.

Powers of Ten (Eames Office, 1968)

Day 5. Materiality - Materiality has at least two distinct meanings; one is a concept in accounting and legal matters, the other concerns the characteristics of physical substance and the qualities of being composed of matter. Today's challenge is to walk around your kitchen and observe what different things are made of, and to consider how their materiality contributes to their functionality. More broadly, how does material relate to use or usefulness? In archaeology, materiality relates to how materials are fashioned by human hands, and given a certain sense of agency when humans engage with them. How can you relate this to objects in your kitchen?

Weekend challenge: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died yesterday. She was 87, and had a  profound impact on women's lives, and the lives of all Americans, through her long history of judicial service. Read this obituary to learn of her contributions, and watch the documentary film, RBG, to better understand how important a role she has played. Consider what is to happen next - how do you think it should play out?

Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, 18 September 2020

Watch trailer, RBG

Additional weekend challenge: While the air is still good outside, be sure to take a few deep breaths. Do it with a sibling or a friend or a parent. It's good for us all! 

Qi Gong Breath Exercises to Strengthen the Lungs

 

Week 26!

Day 1. Fire - I'd like you to think back to the Stone Age, maybe even earlier, and to consider what role fire has played both geologically and archaeologically. Considering our world today - what are the risks of fire in all of its manifold possibilities? What are its benefits? Thinking geologically and archaeologically, again, can you enumerate both its risks and its benefits? What role has fire played in your life or those in your family? What is fire, exactly?

Day 2. Climate change and sustainability - Read this beautiful personal story, and consider the illustration that accompanies it. What has the artist chosen to depict and why? Think about how these elements relate to climate change and sustainability.

Opinion: My Family Had Suffered Loss after Loss. Then Came the Dragon Fruit (by Alexander Villegas, New York Times, 8 September 2020). 

Day 3. Vignette - Paint a vignette with words. [If you don't know what a vignette is, look it up!]. Here is a possible start - What were your first thoughts this morning when you awoke? How did your day progress? What more thoughts did you have? What did you experience and what did you feel? This is for posterity [Look that up, too, if you don't know its meaning].

Day 4. Seed dispersal - This being Fall, the seeds of many plants are ready to be planted for regeneration. We do that by hand in our gardens. But nature has its own ways of allowing plants to release their seeds to be spread to new locations. Go on a walk in your neighborhood, and observe what means of seed dispersal you can identify. Check out what's happening with maple trees right now, and our native redbud trees. What about irises? Conifer trees? Sunflowers? And what about daisies? Blackberries? Fennel or dill? Collect some seeds from different plants and trees, and observe them carefully, under a magnifying glass if you have one handy. [Word of advice: you should always have a magnifying glass handy]. Consider drawing them at an enlarged scale. What details can you observe that might help them find their own means of dispersal and regeneration?

Day 5. Pain - Have you considered just what constitutes pain? Is it only perceived? Or does it have real physical manifestations? [Look up words you may not know]. How is pain perceived? List all the kinds of pain you have ever felt. Can you identify any patterns? Although it is a normal phenomenon to feel pain, it is abnormal in the sense that it occurs when there is an injury or damage to the body's tissues. Discuss this challenge with others, and do some online research (use trustworthy websites only); write a brief essay on the physiology of pain.

Weekend challenge: Community and Identity - Think of all the communities in which you take part (virtual included). Think about how you might draw a diagram to illustrate the relationships of these communities to you, and to each other. How might you represent yourself, and show how you fit into each of them? What other ways can you suggest to represent yourself, and your communities? Write a short essay (or a longer one!) considering how each community contributes to your identity, your sense of self.

Additional weekend challenge: Secrecy - To share a secret has many different meanings and can be construed as good or bad, depending on context and moral values. To keep a secret, likewise, can be good or bad, depending on circumstances; it can mean to maintain confidentiality, or to withhold information, each with their own implications of intent. Think about the secrets you know, and when or whether you have shared them or kept them secret. Reflect on whether that was good or bad - With good intent? Or bad intent? Think about the mention of secrets and secrecy in this week's news, and consider what lay behind the secrecy, and what was revealed and why, or, conversely, what was held confidential and why.

Trump's Need to Gossip about Nukes Provokes Anxiety, CNN Politics (10 September 2020)

 

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.

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

For weeks 13-19, see https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2020/07/07/learning-during-a-pandemic-challenge-a-day

For weeks 20-25, see https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2020/08/25/learning-during-a-pandemic-challenge-a-day

For weeks 30-33, see https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2020/10/14/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!