Learning During A Pandemic - A Challenge-A-Day

By Carol Bier

This blog is updated daily - generally evening Pacific time

Week 43!

Day 1. Fashion and sustainability - When I was in India earlier this year, in Jaipur I visited a college devoted to the crafts. Faculty there articulate a vision for fashion and sustainability. In what ways does fashion contribute to our global climate crises? How might fashion be made more sustainable? Do a Google search using the two words fashion and sustainability, and consider how they have become associated more and more with one another.

Fashion Design at India Institute for Draft and Design

5 Surprising Facts about Sustainable Fashion (Cincinnati Goodwill)

Fashion Sustainability Certificate (Parsons School of Design)

Day 2. Today's challenge as we await the election results for two senate seats in Georgia, wherein the political balance in the US Senate hangs, think about what it is that makes a democracy democratic. Discuss it, if possible, with family and friends today and tomorrow.

Day 3. As today's events unfold, write down every descriptive word you can think of that describes what's going on. It is history in the making.

Day 4. Social media - What role does social media play in your life? How many hours a day do you spend on social media now? How many hours a day before Covid-19 and the pandemic? In what ways has social media changed your life? What benefits does it bring? What detractions? Write an essay enumerating all the different platforms you use, and evaluating each in terms of benefits and detractions.

Day 5. Longevity - The word 'longevity' comes from Latin, "long life." It has to do as much with death as with life. Current average longevity in the US is 78.7 years. Can you conduct a few Google searches to determine how that compares to longevity in other countries? John Barth, an American writer, contextualized longevity nicely: "stories last longer than men, stones than stories, stars than stones." Do some more research and determine what was your life expectancy at birth? As a teenager? In your thirties? Your fifties? What is your life expectancy after you turn 80?

Weekend challenge: Build a temporary structure; use materials or objects you find around the house. Make it expressive of some idea or feeling you have. Once you've completed it, examine it carefully and consider what aspects convey that idea or feeling? Does the completed structure (sculpture) now bring other ideas or feelings to the fore? What are they? It might be useful to document this project with a photograph, adding a paragraph that describes your original intent, and captures both the experience of building, and any new ideas that came from the process.

Additional weekend challenge: A bit late tonight, but nonetheless important. Tonight's challenge concerns tyranny. Do you know the meaning of the word? If not, look it up. Then read an amazingly insightful essay by Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University: The American Abyss (New York Times, 9 January 2021). It documents history in the making.

Timothy Snyder, The American Abyss (New York Times, 9 January 2021)

Week 42!

Day 1. Definitions - Take some time today to look up the following words, relevant to current news and the anticipated news cycle to begin the New Year: perfidy, treachery, treason, sedition.

Day 2. Full moon - Tonight's is the last full moon of the year, called the Cold Moon. It is this year's thirteenth full moon! It reaches its peak at 3:30AM. Check it out if you can! Why is the full moon so bright? It's brightness comes from the sun! The moon itself does not emit any light. The full moon rises in the east, just as the sun sets in the west. Look to the eastern horizon, and what the earth's shadow ascending exactly at the same time the sun is setting below the western horizon. When you walk at night, you are walking in the earth's shadow - take a walk at night and think about that! The earth’s shadow extends about 870,000 miles (1.4 million km) into space - think about why it is an approximate and finite distance.

The Moon (NASA)

Day 3. Baking and pH - Have you ever used baking powder, baking soda, yeast, or cream of tartar in a recipe? They are all dry chemicals used in powder form as leavening agents in baking. What is a leavening agent? Do you know how these chemicals differ from one another, and what they each do? Find out, and then bake something and think about how the dough is rising.

Baking Powder vs. Yeast vs. Baking Soda (Bob's Red Mill Blog)

Baking Basics: Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda (Sally's Baking Addiction)

Day 4. As 2020 draws to a close - What won't you miss, and what new things would you like to see happen in 2021? What can you do to make them happen?

Day 5. Happy New Year! New beginnings - Plant a seed and keep a journal for a week (or two) to document what you see happening. Make note of what you don't see happening; how many days until the seed germinates? What comes up first? How does that change? Even better - plant two seeds of different species; then you will have a basis for comparison and comparative data. PS Reminder - Use soil (indoors or outdoors) and don't forget to keep the seed/s watered if it's not raining or you won't see any transformation.

Seed germination (Indiana University)

Weekend challenge: Pick up a piece of paper, and fold it into a pattern. In each unit of the pattern, draw the same thing. Now, look around your residence, including your kitchen, and see if you can find something made of paper and folded as a pattern. Let me know what it is at arsperspectiva@gmail.com.

Additional weekend challenge: Music and color - walk around your residence, or outside, and see how many shades of gray you can find. How might you distinguish them from one another? And do you have any thoughts on why the word 'chromatic' (derived from the Greek word for 'color') is the word used to describe a chromatic musical scale?

Week 41!

Day 1. Enlightenment and illumination - Both words have to do with light, but the 'light' is often metaphorical. What do these two words mean? How are they different? Reflect upon 2020 and consider the ways you have been enlightened. And what has been illuminated for you? How? Come up with a list of how you used each word, and whether the 'light' was literal or metaphorical.

Day 2. Buckminster Fuller - R. Buckminster Fuller died in 1983. He was one of my heroes. A visionary designer, thinker, inventor, and architect, his designs drew from nature and influenced the world. Explore the website of his estate, and see if you can describe at least three of his discoveries or designs and discuss why they were important. Examine the images on the US postage stamp, issued in 2004 to commemorate him, and identify what is represented. What are the triangles on his head? Take a photograph of a family member, photocopy it, and see if you can divide it similarly into triangles.

Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller

Day 3. Cuneiform - What ancient people used used a cuneiform script for their language? What materials did they write on? Aramco World Magazine suggests this was the earliest form of texting in a palm-held tablet. Read the article and think about why they would suggest that. If you have access to clay and a chopstick to use as a stylus, can you copy one of the tablets? [If no clay, make a mixture of flour, salt and water to the right consistency and texture]. The article mentions 15 languages that used cuneiform; in the article for cuneiform on the Khan Academy website lists only 8. Can you identify the other 7? Are there more?

Texting Cuneiform (Aramco World Magazine, January 2020)

Cuneiform (article), Khan Academy

Day 4. Oops! I forgot to give you a challenge today. Merry Christmas!

Day 5. Sleep - We all sleep nearly a third of our lives, but how many of us know anything about the physiology of sleep?  Why is it the brain is seemingly dead when we are dreaming, and we don't physically act out our dreams? Read about the various stages of sleep. Why does the body (and the brain) need to sleep? What gets replenished? How might you describe your circadian rhythm? How does it compare with that of others?

Sleep physiology (National Center for Biotechnical Information)

Physiology of sleep (Diabetes Spectrum/National Center for Biotechnical Information)

What is a Circadian Rhythm? (Sleep Foundation)

Weekend challenge: Poetry - Take this challenge! Write a poem, of any form, but it must have mathematical content.

Additional weekend challenge: Art - Gather together materials from around your household (might include trash, or things that can be disposed of), and assemble them to form a pastiche or assemblage that relates to lessons we can learn from the pandemic. Take a picture for posterity. If you prefer, it could be a drawing or collage. What lessons have you learned from the pandemic?

Healthy Habits We've Learned from Covid-19 (Consumer Reports, 24 June 2020)

Week 40!

Day 1. Astronomical events - This week brings four astronomical events deserving our attention - a total solar eclipse, the Geminid meteor shower, a conjunction of planets (Saturn and Jupiter), and the last new moon of 2020. A week from today, on December 21, is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day/longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, signaling the end of the Sun's journey to the Tropic of Capricorn, and the return of increasingly longer days as it moves toward the Tropic of Cancer (Summer Solstice). Check out websites, and view a few webcasts, to explore the meaning and visible manifestations of each of these events. Add to this the fact that China's moon mission is presently bringing two kilograms of moon rock back to earth, and meanwhile, NASA is exploring Mars. Quite a lot going on in space!!!

Winter Solstice (Farmer's Almanac)

China's Moon Rocks Are Officially on Their Way to Earth as Chang'e Probe Leaves Lunar Orbit

Mars 2020 - Perseverance Rover (NASA)

Day 2. Crescent - Describe a crescent (in a narrative format). How is a crescent formed using geometry? Construct or create a crescent, using a compass and straight-edge, or software for geometric constructions. Write a poem that includes the word 'crescent.' Make a collage or a drawing that incorporates the construction of a crescent.

Day 3. Common Good - What is the 'common good'? Who should determine what it is? These questions are central to philosophy and political theory. Read at least the first few paragraphs of each of these entries about the common good, and consider writing an essay encompassing your own thoughts on what the common good should be, and what is needed to change for a better future for you and your children.

The Common Good (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Common Good (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Common Good (Wikipedia)

Day 4. Tragedy of the commons - In contrast to the 'common good' - what is a 'tragedy of the commons'? How might you consider these two contrasting concepts in light of recent events and political goals? If you feel so inclined, write a brief essay on the subject. Take as an inspiration historical essays written by William Forster Lloyd (1833) and Garrett Hardin (1968). You'll find links in the Wikipedia entry. Can you write an essay that is pertinent to our lives today?

Tragedy of the Commons (Wikipedia)

Day 5. Cyberespionage, cybersabotage, cybersecurity - Our vocabulary keeps expanding to keep up with the times! Define (look up!) four words in today's news: cyberespionage, cybersabotage, cybersecurity, and cyberassault. Read the joint statement from three US government agencies, and write a brief essay on what's going on with regard to cyberassaults. How and why may our national security be at risk?

Joint Statement by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) (16 December 2020)

Suspected Russian hack on US is much worse than feared: Here's what you need to know (CNBC, 18 December 2020)

Weekend challenge: Scents - This challenge consists of two unrelated parts. First, what is a scent? Talk a tour of your kitchen as list as many scents as you can find. Second, what words end in -scent? What is the etymological root -scent? Explain why and how these words are very different from the word 'scent.'

Additional weekend challenge: Shortest day of the year - Winter Solstice is tonight at 2:02am (Pacific). What thoughts/hopes/desires come to mind as you anticipate the light returning and days getting longer? Also - be sure to catch a glimpse of the conjunction of two planets (Saturn and Jupiter) this evening in the southwestern evening sky. PS This great conjunction is a visual trick - it looks like a conjunction to us, because of angles and perspective. Do you know how far apart Saturn and Jupiter really are?

Week 39!

Day 1. Covid-19 statistics: During this surge, check your trusted sources, review the data and explore the websites: How many global confirmed cases? How many deaths? In the US, how many confirmed cases? How many deaths? Which country in the world has the highest number of cases? Which country has the highest death rate per capita? What about fatality rates, relating deaths to confirmed cases? Why is what we are experiencing now considered to be a "third wave"?  Can you find information about positivity rates (relating confirmed cases to testing)? What about hospitalizations? Take three US states and compare their figures for confirmed cases over time - how do their curves differ? Remember also the possible differences in how data is gathered. Formulate five (or ten) more questions you might ask regarding reporting of data. Explore the three websites to see if they address concerns regarding data. 

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

New York Times - Coronavirus World Map

CDC Covid Data Tracker

Day 2. Vaccines and masks - I didn't mean to focus on Covid-19 two days in a row, but this morning's news and opinions brought further thoughts to mind. The clinical trials for the vaccines tested their effectiveness in preventing Covid-19, but not whether even with a vaccine an individual could still be a spreader. For as long as there is substantial virus (as measured how?) in the community, we will need to wear masks to protect ourselves as well as others, and to maintain social distance. Read these two New York Times articles, and consider just why this is the case for the foreseeable future.

The Vaccine as a Fire Hose (by David Leonhardt, New York Times, 8 December 2020)

Here's Why Vaccinated People Still Need to Wear A Mask (by Apoorva Mandavilli, New York Times, 8 December 2020)

Day 3. Symbols - Symbols are all around us, yet we often take them for granted. A symbol is a mark or sign, or a thing, that stands for (symbolizes) something else - a red light or a stop sign, for example, signifies that you should stop. Take a walk through your neighborhood, and list all the symbols you find. Look at a dollar bill and identify the symbols.  What are the symbols on our flag or that of another country? What symbols might you find in a textbook? What symbols have been in the news recently? Think about symbols and design a collage using only symbols!

Day 4. Chaos and Order - When you are faced with chaos, that is, a chaotic situation, what can you do to bring order? Think of five ways you can approach chaos, depending on the situation. Let's discuss your ideas over the weekend.

Day 5. Thinking and learning, remembering, and forgetting - These are all cognitive processes.  What do they have in common? How are they distinguished from one another?

Weekend challenge: Agency and action - If you consider your agency as your ability to make decisions and act of your own free will, what factors limit the possibilities of what you can do? Think through several actions you have taken recently, and consider how you might have acted differently under different circumstances. What factors are at play? In what situations do you feel more in control? In what situations do you feel you have less control?

Additional weekend challenge: Census 2020 - The US Census is conducted every ten years. The results serve as basis for representation in Congress by districts, as well as for the expediture of federal funds distributed for health clinics, school lunch programs, disaster recovery, and other programs and services for the next ten years. So it's important that as many as possible responded. Explore the website and write out a list of questions you have, the answers to which might help interpret the data. Ask questions also where you may have concerns about the veracity or viability of the data and its interpretation.

US Census 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 26-29, see https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2020/09/14/learning-during-a-pandemic-challenge-a-day

For weeks 30-33, https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2020/10/14/learning-during-a-pandemic-a-challenge-a-day

For weeks 34-38, https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2020/11/09/learning-during-a-pandemic-a-challenge-a-day

For weeks 44 - 48, https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2021/01/25/learning-during-a-pandemic-a-challenge-a-day

For weeks 49ff, https://www.leonardo.info/blog/2021/02/23/learning-during-a-pandemic-a-challenge-a-day


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

Berkeley, CA © Carol Bier, 2020

 Please circulate to whoever might benefit. Stay healthy!