There’s an age-old concept in the field of education called ”the teachable moment.” This is when an event happens unexpectedly that provides an opportunity for students to learn something new. So, for example, if a great statesman died, this might be the chance to learn something about his life, or to examine the traits of great leaders, or to look at the period of history to which he (or she) contributed.
Well, something unexpected has happened: the COVID-19 pandemic. While everyone is grappling with the changes that this event has thrust upon us, there is the possibility here for parents who are homeschooling their adolescents due to school closures, to turn this negative event into a positive learning opportunity. Here are some strategies for exploring the pandemic in ways that are designed to improve your teens’ skills in different academic subjects:
- Study charts and graphs of the new cases, hospitalizations, recovered, and dead (learn, for example, about exponential growth, or the difference between a linear graph and a logorithmic graph).
- Understand something about the data-driven modeling that is being used to predict future incidence of the virus’s impact upon the population.
- Learn about the COVID-19 virus (including what a virus is in the first place), how it attacks the cell, what kind of cells it attacks, and how the damage causes respiratory difficulties or organ failure.
- What is immunity? What are antibodies? How do scientists go about determining how long an immunity to COVID-19 will last in an individual?
- Examine past epidemics and pandemics (e.g. the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the 14th century Black Death), and compare them with the COVID-19 pandemic. What are some of the key similarities and differences between these pandemics?
- Explore the different ways that societies have sought to protect themselves against epidemics and pandemics in history. What impact did the rise of the scientific method have on these efforts?
- How does the geography of a region help determine the impact that an epidemic or pandemic will have on that area or determine its spread throughout the world (e.g. rivers, mountains, oceans, and other geographical features),
- What impact does weather have on the impact of a pandemic for the population at large (e.g. look at different pathogens–i.e. viruses and bacteria–and note how they spread in different weather conditions).
- How are current governments around the world responding differently to the COVID-19 outbreak? What does this tell us about the values, resources and leadership of each country?
- What things in society are likely to change in the long-term as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Language Arts:
- Read literature that concerns itself with epidemics or pandemics (e.g. Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, Albert Camus’ The Plague, Jose Saramago’s Blindness etc.) and discuss how they can help us better understand the COVID-19 pandemic
- Keep a journal that records your day-to-day experience of living with the COVID-19 pandemic. Compare and contrast your own thoughts with those of others who are going through similar or different living situations.
- The Arts.
- Study visual art having to do with previous epidemics (e.g. Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Black Death) and seek to understand what the artist intended us to learn about his theme.
- Listen to music that has sought to boost the spirits of those going through a pandemic or epidemic (e.g. the “Wuhan jiayou!” – or ‘Stay strong, Wuhan!” – chants of the COVID-19 pandemic), and compose your own affirmative song or chant.
These ideas are just starters. Hopefully, as your teens begin to learn about the COVID-19 pandemic, you or they will have additional thoughts and suggestions for carrying the learning further into related topics and themes.
It is recommended that you limit using the ideas suggested above to kids at the middle school and high school level since younger kids are likely to be frightened by some of the subject matter, though you should of course not shield them from the plain facts of the pandemic, and should answer any questions they might have. There are a wide range of resources now becoming available for parents and kids on understanding the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are a few of them:
- Six Age-Appropriate Books and Resources for Teaching Kids about COVID-19
- 22 YA Novels to Help Students Process the Pandemic (or Forget It for a Bit)
- Innovative Ways to Make Coronavirus a Teachable Moment
- Talking with children about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- 10 tips for talking about COVID-19 with your kids
For information on creating humane learning environments for kids from kindergarten through high school, see my latest book If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education.
This page was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
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