Learning During A Pandemic - A Challenge-A-Day
This blog is updated daily - generally evening Pacific time
Day 1. Put on your thinking caps - For a sustainable future, what is needed? What steps should be taken now? What steps can you take?
Day 2. Agriculture and hunger - What is the relationship between these? As President-elect Biden fills out his cabinet nominations, Rep. James Clyburn (D, South Carolina) has suggested he appoint Rep. Marcia Fudge (D, Ohio) for Secretary of Agriculture, arguing for the need to focus on hunger. Last week, a New York Times article last week explored the issue in relation to the traditional focus on the Agriculture Department's being a voice for rural America. What would such a change in focus mean for the US? What are the prospects that could be beneficial? What are the detractions of such an appointment?
A Fight over Agriculture Secretary Could Decide the Direction of Hunger Policy (New York Times, 26 November 2020)
Day 3. Gradations of color - Why are black and white not in the rainbow? Do you know why a rainbow contains all colors of the visible spectrum, from infrared to ultraviolet? Do you have a prism or piece of glass with which you can break sunlight into the full color spectrum? If white light is the combination of all wavelengths of color (the visible spectrum), and black is the absence of light, or the absorption of all wavelengths of light, then what is gray? How can black be both the absence of light and the absorption of all wavelengths of light? In physics, a color is defined as visible light with a specific wavelength. Therefore, black and white are not colors as they do not have specific wavelengths. Look around you on a walk and idenitfy all you see that is gray, and ponder just what that gray is. The electromagnetic spectrum is much broader than the visible spectrum; what are the wavelengths that are not visible to us?
Day 4. Energy and power - What is the difference between energy and power? In physics, P = W/t. What does this mean? How might you read this equation aloud? But that equation only relates to energy and power from the perspective of physics. What other definitions can you come up with for energy, and for power?
Day 5. Bubble tea - What is the nutritional value of bubble tea, also known as boba, or boba tea? Do a few Google searches and see if you can come up with its caloric count, nutritional value, and variations. With a tapioca base, its composition varies, using tea and/or milk, and a variety of toppings that include sweeteners and flavoring. Bubble tea shops are popping up all over our region. If you wish to drink healthy boba tea, what selections might make the best choices, and how can you reduce the caloric content?
Weekend challenge: Ooops - I forgot to send you a challenge today! Your turn to send me one at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Additional weekend challenge: What is the difference between VR (Virtual reality), AR (Augmented reality), and Alternate reality? What are your preferences, if any? [Myself, I like the reality I live in!]
Day 1. Governance, governing, and government - Three nouns, all derived from the verb to govern. What is the meaning of each word? Write a brief essay on how they are different. Write a second essay, or draw up two lists, speculating on what the differences might be between a Trump administration and a Biden administration.
Day 2. Personal mapping - Think about your life during the pandemic - relationships, activities, travel, ideas, values, dreams. Can you develop a map (or diagram, or collage) to illustrate your life during the pandemic? What were the high points? What were some low points?
Day 3. Covid spikes - All around our country cases of Covid-19 are up. Check out the current figures at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, or the San Francisco Covid-19. Data Tracker, or another site you trust. What accounts for this surge in coronavirus cases across our nation? Why does the CDC recommend no travel this Thanksgiving? What do you speculate will happen in the coming weeks before Christmas? Also, consider the lack of standardization of data and data collection - how does that affect the current situation? How does it affect your projections?
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
San Francisco Covid-19 Data Tracker
Celebrating Thanksgiving - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Opinion: Covid-19 Data is a Mess (Beth Blauer and Jennifer Nuzzo, New York Times 23 November 2020)
Day 4. Happy Thanksgiving! List all the things you are thankful for. And tell me the name/s of the native people/s who lived on the land we now call ours.
Day 5. Collage - Think of a way to make a collage that expresses gratitude. How might you express thankfulness, blessings, bounty, love, friendship? What happens to resentment when you feel gratitude? What happens to anger? What happens to fear?
Weekend challenge: Routines - Routines help us think we are in control. During these uncertain times, what routines have you established that contribute to your sense of order and predictability? Which ones contribute to your comfort, feeling safe and in control? Knowing this, what new routines might you consider making habitual?
Pandemic-Proof Your Habits (New York Times, 28 November 2020)
Additional weekend challenge: Fact and fiction - Read this long but informative article about Trump's thoughts and actions after this year's election, November 3, and make a list of what the article claims are facts, and fictions. Can you suggest why 74 million Americans voted for him?
Twenty Days of Fantasy and Failure: Inside Trump's Quest to Overturn the Election (Washington Post, 28 November 2020)
Day 1. Anticipation - Read four statements regarding Covid-19, and consider what scenarios you might anticipate in the coming weeks. The first is a statement by President-elect Joe Biden, posted on his new transition website, buildbackbetter.com. The second is a statement by the Federal Government's Department of Health and Human Services, regarding distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine (although none has yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration). The third is a news report on the response of a Federal offical, Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist who advises the President on Covid-19, to state restrictions placed by Gov. Whitmer of Michigan, based on advise of that state's Department of Public Health. The fourth is the White House statement concerning Trump's success in saving millions of lives based on his approach to the coronavirus and management of the pandemic. How might you best assess these four statements? How can you best protect yourself and your family?
Day 2. 250,000 - We are approaching 250K deaths from Covid-19 in the US. Today's challenge has two parts - the first is to conceptualize 250,000 as a number - How many days have you lived? [Hint: multiply your age x 365, and add a day for each leap year]. How many hours have you lived? [Hint: multiply the days x 24]. Still far from 250K. How far could you walk if you walked 250K miles? How many times around the earth? [Hint: find out the circumference of the earth, if you don't know it already]. The second part is to consider how Covid-19 deaths are counted; do they include comorbidities or not? Must the Covid-19 cases be confirmed? When you review international data, be sure to understand what underlies the numbers, for it is often indicative of a lack of standardization in counting, which makes comparisons tricky at best.
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
Day 3. Quarantine - What was your greatest takeaway?
Day 4. Both sides of the aisle - This is a metaphor - do you know what it means? Actually, "metonym" might be a better rhetorical designation for this expression, because "aisle" suggests the whole of Congress - both parties, who sit on opposite sides of the "aisle" down the middle of the hall. What adjective is often used to describe such a situation? Maybe "synecdoche" is even a better term, because it suggests a figure of speech that substitutes a part for the whole. Yesterday a bipartisan group of Senators put forward measures to halt the massive sale of arms to the United Arab Emirates, a deal that Trump has arranged. Why would both Rebpulicans and Democrats be against such a deal?
Senators Push to Stop Trump Administration's Proposed Arms Sale to UAE (Politico, November 18, 2020)
Day 5. Art and mathematics - Topology and interlacing inform the digital world of Tony Robbin's art. Read this illustrated article he wrote explaining a recent work, and write a brief essay addressing how art and mathematics intersect in this piece.
Tony Robbin, Topology and the Visualization of Space (Interalia Magazine, November 2020)
Weekend challenge: Vaccines and vaccinations - Now that vaccines are deemed effective by two pharmaceutical companies (Pfizer and Moderna), what steps are still needed before they can be available to us? What might we want to know before deciding to be vaccinated? Once a vaccine or vaccines can actually be made available for vaccinations, who do you think should be the first to receive them? Can you establish a hierarchy of who you think should receive them and in what order?
Pfizer Applies for Emergency FDA Approval for Covid-19 Vaccine (New York Times, November 20, 2020)
Moderna's Covid Vaccine: What You Need to Know (New York Times, November 20, 2020)
Additional weekend challenge: This challenge has two parts. The first part refers to yesterday's article about Moderna, the company that received $1 billion in aid from the US Government, as part of Operation Warp Speed, for design and testing of a Covid-19 vaccine (and workers at NIH participated, overseeing much of the research, and clinical trials). In addition, Moderna was paid $1.5 billion for 100 million doses of the vaccine, if it is deemed safe and effective. How much would that effectively be for each vaccine? How far would 100 million doses go? The second part of this challenge, is what do you anticipate you will first want to do, once you are vaccinated?
Day 1. Transition - With Biden now our President-elect, and Trump in office as President until Inauguration Day on January 20, 2021, what are the steps that now must take place and what are the challenges? Votes are still being counted, then there is canvassing of the vote (What does that mean?) and then certification by the states, all before the Electoral College plays its role. What role does the Electoral College play? Who selects the Electors? Why do some people consider the Electoral College a sham? Until confirmation of election results, what are the key issues the Biden transition team faces?
The Electoral College: A 2020 Presidential Election Timeline (Congressional Research Institute)
Darrell M. West, "It's Time to Abolish the Electoral College" (Brookings Institution, October 15, 2019)
Addendum:White House orders agencies not to cooperate with Biden transition team (Washington Post, November 10, 2020)
Day 2. Contact-tracing - What is it? Why is it important? How can it contribute to slowing the spread of a coronavirus? Check out these websites (Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, Centers for Disease Control, Mayo Clinic) and see what you can learn beyond what you already know. Make a list of what new things you learned about contact-tracing.
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
Centers for Disease Control - Coping
Day 3. Oops - I forgot to send you out a challenge today. Your turn to send me one at email@example.com.
Day 4. Traversing the North Pole - Who owns the North Pole? Who has access to it? Related - what countries border the Arctic? How are international boundaries established? See if you can undertake a few searches to determine the answers to these important questions. And consider what potential benefits the Arctic may offer in the face of climate change. Then read an article that appeared in today's New York Times (on-line edition, appears a day before print edition), and consider these questions in the context of what is discussed in the article - what are the geo-political significance of Russia's current maneuvers?
US boats faced Russian aggression near Alaska (New York Times, November 12, 2020)
Day 5. If you were elected President - What would you consider doing on Day 1? What about between now and January 20? How might you consider your legacy after four years? Thinking of an ideal president of the United States, what qualities and personal characteristics would you identify as ideal?
Weekend challenge: Words - What is the difference awful and lawful? What is the difference between sacred and scared? What different meanings of 'race' are pertinent to our recent election?
Additional weekend challenge: Curiosity and reflection - Think about this weekend. What were you curious about? What questions did you ask? How did you address them? What did you find?
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. Thoughts and feelings - What is the difference between thoughts and feelings? Where do you percieve they're taking place? What is the organ of apprehension? Write a brief essay on thoughts and feelings, how they are different, and in any given situation which comes first?
Day 2. Election Day - Ballots are gathered from across our state and nation, with options to select President/Vice President, Sentaor, Congressional Representative, state and local officials, including judges, states atorneys general, state legislators, mayors, local school boards and others. There are also ballot measures and propositions at state and levels. Write an essay of two or three paragraphs explaining your thoughts about what is at stake in this election, and consider the future you would like to have. Identify the steps you can take, personally, to ensure that future.
Day 3. Executive Branch of Government - The Executive Branch appoints and oversees the Cabinet, and its departments and several agencies. Do you know who sits on the President's Cabinet? Can you name each department? [If not, look this up]. Which are considered to be the four key cabinet positions? What are some of the government agencies oveseen by the Executive branch? What have been some issues associated with Trump's cabinet? If Biden indeed wins the Election (both popular vote, and Electoral College) what will be some of the issues his cabinet will need to address?
Day 4. Congress - The very first article of our Constitution establishes the Legislative branch of our federal government, or Congress, consising of the House of Representatives and the Senate, all today determined by elections. What does Congress do? Why are there two 'houses' that comprise Congress? What are some of the differences between a representative and a Senator? While each of us has only one Congressional representative, they have two senators. How do these numbers affect our representation? You can make your voice heard in many ways, even if you are too young to vote - you can call or write your senators or representative, you can join protests or advocacy organizations, you can enter the annual arts competition for high school students. Think about what topics or concerns you might have.
Day 5. State Government - The structure of each state's government parallels that of our federal system, with three branches of government: an executive branch (headed by the Governor), a bicameral legislature (what does 'bicameral' mean?), and a judicial branch (headed by the State Attorney General). Write two brief essays comparing 1) the role of the State Attorney General to that of the Federal Attorney General, and the role of State's Secretary of State to that of the Cabinet's Secretary of State. [Note that Kamala Harris served as California's Attorney General before she was elected Senator].
Weekend challenge: Election/reflection - Read this analytical article in the Washington Post, and list several reasons that contributed to Biden's winning the election, and Trump's losing the election.
How Trump's erratic behavior and failure on coronavirus doomed his reelection, The Washington Post, November 7, 2020
Additional weekend challenge: Antonyms - What is an 'antonym'? What is its opposite? The answer is a 'synonym.' If you don't know the meaning of either word, look it up! And be sure to find out their etymologies - why do they both end in '-nym'? 'Antonym' and 'synonym' are three-syllable antonyms. 'Opposite' and 'similar' is another pair of three-syllable antonyms. Can you think of three other pairs of three-syllable antonyms?