I, like many folks, love podcasts. The first podcast I ever got into was Radiolab and it remains one of my favorites. Their most recent episode, “Dispatch 1: Numbers” related to our current situation: the COVID-19 Pandemic.
I was listening to this episode while I went for my run this morning (minding social distancing etiquette along the way) and thought this episode would make for a great lesson on exponential growth, rates, and communicating mathematically. So without further ado, I present to you a lesson based on that episode in an online format to fit with our current situation. I imagine this lesson could be used with preservice teachers, college algebra students, or high school students. (note: there are a couple of curse words in the episode)
First, have students write about the mathematical language they’ve read or heard about in relation to COVID-19. They may note things like exponential growth, transmission rates, etc.
Have students listen to the Radiolab episode, “Dispatch 1: Numbers“. You will have them pause it at various times as instructed below for activities. Use as many or as few of the activities below depending on your goals for the lesson.
Pause the episode at 6 minutes 52 seconds.
Draw a diagram that would show different ways for three friends to interact from the CDC’s recommended safe distance of 6 feet. What about if there were 4 friends? 5 friends? Is there some pattern to some number (n) of friends might communicate at a safe distance?
Pause the episode at 9 minutes 40 seconds.
Model the two choices given by his dad. Discuss which option you should choose and why. Be sure to justify your response mathematically.
Pause the episode at 17 minutes 30 seconds.
Create a novel way to explain exponential growth such as that we are seeing with the COVID-19 cases (doubling daily). Imagine you are a policymaker trying to convince folks to take this pandemic seriously. Communicate your findings in any way you choose (videos, infographics, stories, etc.) to help people understand the severity of this pandemic.
Find another such exponential occurrence that you can model to help folks understand the key aspects of exponential growth. Be sure to communicate your findings in an accessible way and justify all of your models mathematically.
Pause the episode at 29 minutes 25 seconds.
Imagine you were championing for a cause of your choice. It might be for another public health issue or for something that might bring more happiness. Discuss your cause and why you chose it. Determine what statistics you would print in the times and why. Discuss how you believe folks determined the statistics you decided upon. For example, how did folks come up with such an estimate for how many jars of peanut butter are sold daily (which is 246,575 per day as per the podcast at 27:03)? Finally, make a product of your choice to bring awareness to the issue. This could be a video, an infographic or a sample front page article for the New York Times.
What do you hope might happen after the first 100 days of this pandemic? In other words, what are your hopes for the world after this is over?
I’d love to hear other ideas for lessons based on this episode or others. Feel free to add them in the comments. I hope you all stay safe and healthy.