Learning During A Pandemic: A Challenge-A-Day
This blog is updated daily - generally evening Pacific time
Day 1. Adjectives - Adjectives are descriptive; they describe the nouns to which they are associated. Make two lists of adjectives - one describing President Trump, and the other describing former Vice President Biden. Describe your feelings as you write these adjectives down on paper. If you could vote, who would you vote for?
Day 2. Grids - Let us define a grid as sets of parallel lines that intersect. Walk around your neighborhood, or a neighboring neighborhood, and see what grids you can find. Draw a few to consider as models, showing the parallel lines and how they intersect. What factual information can you extract from this exercise?
Day 3. Anatomy - What are the major muscle groups of the human body? Some say there are three - arms, legs, and core. Others say three, but different sets of categories: cardiac, smooth, and skeletal. You could say there are two sets - muscles of the front of your body (anterior), and those of your back (posterior0. Some say there are five groups (chest, back, arms & shoulders, abs, legs & buttocks). Others say there are six groups (deltoids, biceps, pectorals, trapezius, triceps, abs). None of these are wrong, yet none is entirely correct. How can you explain the differences? What about your eye muscles? And those in your ear? What about those of your face (think of the movement of your jaw! And don't forget your tongue!) Which muscles can you name? Which is the largest muscle of your body?
Day 4. Anticipating time change - On Sunday we switch from Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) to Pacific Standard Time (PST). What does this mean? Why do we do this? Can you undertake some searches to find out, if you don't already know? How many time zones are there in North America? Do they all switch from daylight to standard? Do all states in every time zone switch at the same time? If we fall back an hour, that means we "gain" an hour. [You can remember this by "Fall Back, Spring Forward"]. What will you do with the extra hour this weekend? What will be the impact on the times of sunrise and sunset? What is the impact on people's activities?
Day 1. Third wave - Coronavirus has reached spikes again in Europe and across the US. NPR offers maps and graphs showing current conditions in the US. Read the article and consider the following questions: What are the data sources NPR has used for this story? What is driving these steep curves? Whatever happened to the idea of "flattening the curve"? What is the difference between case rate, case rate per capita, case fatality rate, and positivity rate? What does "rate" imply? Finally, how can we best contain or address Covid-19 at this point?
Day 2. Trust and betrayal - How might you define the terms "trust" and "betrayal"? What do they have to do with one another? How can you develop trust? What goes into its development? What are some examples of betrayal? Can there be betrayal without trust? How can you rebuild trust after a betrayal?
Day 3. Healthy eating - What constitutes healthy eating? Why are fresh fruits and vegetables good for you? What about whole grains? Which foods are packed with healthy nutrients? Which foods have the most fiber? Why is fiber good for you? What about vitamins and minerals? Why is a balanced diet important? Discuss these questions with family members and friends to see if their answers correlate with yours.
Day 4. Conspiracy theories - What is a conspiracy theory? Can you name some examples of conspiracy theories? [Hint: Wikipedia seems to have a good list, ever evolving] Who develops a conspiracy theory and why? How is it spread? Why does it come about in the first place? How does it gain traction? How is it contained? Can it be contained? Have you come across any conspiracy theories yourself among friends, family members, or on social media? If so, can you explain them, or understand them better, by answering some of these questions?
Day 5. Coping with Stress - Can you describe the kinds of stress you're feeling, what with Covid-19 and the pandemic, social-distancing and online school classes, nearby fires and smoke in the air, to say nothing of climate change and the political arena? What are you actually feeling and how are you handling it? What about friends and family members? Can you give them advice or comfort? Can you accept advice or comfort from them? Stress can reduce your immune response, as well as cause anxiety, and it can lead to sleep deprivation, weight gain, depression, or other complications. Best to handle it effectively before it takes over too much! Deep breathing is one effective means of coping, as are meditation, yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong. Listening to music may also be a coping strategy, as is taking a walk in nature. What works for you? Try different methods of stress management to see what is effective for you.
Weekend challenge: Time for Reflection - Think about these past several months, now that summer is behind us. What did you do over the summer that you really enjoyed? What did you not like so much? Now that school has begun again, what do you find you are really enjoying? What not? If there is one thing you can change to make it better, what would that be? Can you change it? If not, what is holding you back? Do you have control to remove that obstacle so you can make the change?
Additional weekend challenge: Latitude and altitude - These two words share the same letters! Think about the meanings of the words - look them up, if they're not already familiar to you. Then write a brief essay on how they are related (or not), and discuss them in terms of the contrasts of high/low, up/down, north/south. What is relative in space? What is arbitrary? Do lines of latitude really exist? Or are they made up (figures of our human imagination)? Of what relevance is altitude?
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.
Day 1. Rain - Write a poem about rain. Think about what it does for the earth, what its absence means - to what and to whom? How does rain affect you? What does it feel like? What does it taste like? What does it smell like? Are there times you love the rain? Are there times when you don't like rain, wish it would go away? What risks does rain pose? What risks does the absence of rain pose? Why does water fall from the sky? Why does it fall downward? What affects the way it falls? Write another five questions about rain, to get you thinking more about it. Then write your poem.
Day 2. Gee - I'm feeling challenged today and can't come up with a challenge for you - Can you send me a challenge at firstname.lastname@example.org?
Day 3. Transformation - Can you think beyond this pandemic? Two questions - who/what would you like to be? And what needs to change for us to be "beyond this pandemic"? [For the first question, consider things you've learned about yourself during this strange hiatus of normalcy - what might you like to retain in a post-pandemic world?]
Day 4. Metaphor - Metaphors are present in so much of what we say and do; they are both figures of speech and devices of poetic imagination. An example of a metaphor is "It is raining cats and dogs." The words used do not literally relate to the situation. Look out for metaphors all day today - in what you hear, in what you say, in what you read. Think about how they affect your thoughts, or what you see in your "mind's eye."
Day 5. Argument - The word "argument" has at least two meanings - the first, is an exchange of differing views; the second represents a systematic approach to persuasion. Both of these definitions have to do with points of view and (literally) perspective. What is the "starting point" of an argument? What means of persuasion have you found to be most effective? Have you used arguments to get your way sometimes? What worked? What didn't work? What ways have you observed others to use arguments (for good, or for bad), effectively or not?
Weekend challenge: Two collages - This week there were two Town Halls that took place at the same time - Trump's in Miami FL, and Biden's in Philadelphia PA. Take the concepts of metaphor and argument from this week's challenges, and prepare a collage of each of the two events on a split screen. Use cut-outs from magazines, or paper and glue, or make your collage electronically, as you choose. You may use words if you like.
Additional weekend challenge: Share your collage with a friend, and ask for their critique.
Day 1. Today's challenge is a game - The Onyx family plays it with Dr. Fauci - See if you can come up with the answer before Dr. Fauci does! Try to develop a couple more examples of "Two truths and a lie," and test them on family members or your friends.
Day 2. Grasses - This is the season grasses are setting their seed. Take a walk around your neighborhood with a paper and pencil, or a camera or phone. Sketch quickly or take pictures of at least five different grasses that are going to seed. What does it mean for a grass to "go to seed"? What does the expression mean in colloquial language?
Day 3. Sarcasm and satire - Can you identify examples of sarcasm or satire that you've experienced or witnessed in recent days? What is it that allows for these kinds of expressions? When are they beneficial? When are they harmful? Who gets to decide? Think about it.
Day 4. Oops! I forgot to send you a challenge today. Your turn to send me one at email@example.com
Day 5. Maps and data visualization - Look at the map in the link below, and consider the value of geographic accuracy. What if you're trying to present information that is not related to geography? What other means are there to visualize data? Find a few examples in daily news in print media or online.
Weekend challenge: Colors and shapes - Think of a city scape. What shapes and colors most characterize it? Find a magazine and cut up some pictures of different colors and see if you can make a collage of the city scape you have in mind.
Additional weekend challenge: Your shadow - Where is your shadow? Where do you keep it? How does it follow you? Take out a piece of paper and a pencil and make a list of all the things that have an impact on your shadow. How does it change throughout the day? What about at night? Can you make it go away? Take a few selfies of your shadow, including details and mark down what you experience.