Can the captain of an airplane teach 5th grade?

One thing led to another, and we found ourselves, mid-January, on a flight to Aruba.

The announcements began not long after we boarded.

“When you purchased your tickets with Jet Blue, you agreed to a contract stating that you would wear a mask on the airplane. If something has changed between that time and now, and you feel you are no longer able to wear a mask, please contact the stewardess and she will help you make other travel arrangements.”

Mask contract?


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More virtual training for virtual teachers, subtitle edition

My God

I’m watching a Zoom training video, which suffers from the usual problem of the trainer rapidly and efficiently clicking tiny little icons and then moving on before I can spot which tiny little icon she clicked and where it was on the screen.

Have we learned nothing about video training in the decades we’ve been subjecting people to video trainings?

But even worse, this particular training video also has a very large subtitle at the bottom of the screen obscuring the icons being clicked.

OK, problem solved. “Closed captions” was set to “On” for some reason.

So after spending a good 20 minutes trying to figure out how not to have subtitles in a language I don’t speak obscuring the bottom of my screen, I will now spend another 10 minutes re-watching “Meeting Controls.”

Good thing I speak English. If I needed subtitles to learn Zoom, I’d be in trouble.

Also: good thing I’ve been using Zoom for book club and union meetings. I’m thinking about all the adjuncts whose first hands-on experience of Zoom is going to be the first day they use it to live stream their socially-distanced classrooms two weeks from now.

Zoom on

Virtual training for virtual teachers

A couple of weeks from now, I will be hybrid-teaching college composition to a group of entering freshmen.

I will be masked; four or five students will be present, also masked; the rest of my students will be on laptops somewhere else scrolling their phones while I attempt to live stream the proceedings.

(Pretty sure there’s no way to confiscate cell phones remotely.)

It’s that last part, the live streaming part, that’s stressing me today. I have no idea how to live stream myself using my college’s technology, which has always been glitchy and opaque, and I shudder at the thought of trying to learn the ropes while also teaching the handful of students allowed to attend in person.

I’ve been sending emails to my department chair & program head asking for training … which they’re not in charge of because … that’s just the way things are. They are the people most intimately familiar with what I’ll be trying to achieve in a hybrid learning set up, but they won’t be the ones walking me through the technology I’ll have to use to pull it off.

Someone else is in charge of training, and it’s all virtual. All of it.

Virtual training on how to use Blackboard or Zoom is only marginally superior to self-training via YouTube videos and PDF files, but I’ll survive. I can practice both before we go quote-unquote live.

But virtual training on actual hardware I’ll have to use in real time inside a real classroom … as they say on Twitter, that’s a hard no. One moment’s lapse of attention, and I’ll be lost.

Speaking of attention lapses, I wonder if I can record the training?

Sounds like a job for a cell phone.

And see:
Cell phone agonistes

Teachers are Heroes, too

After all the op-eds back and forth re: teachers refusing to teach in the classroom this fall, NYDOE results are in: only 15% of New York City teachers requested accommodations.


In one school I know, the number asking to teach remotely was 10%.

And what do you want to bet those 10 to 15% are teachers who really should have accommodations, given age and health issues?

One lesson I’m trying to learn, speaking as a person who follows politics, is not to take negotiating positions “seriously.” Unions (and Washington politicians) tend to take maximalist positions, but those aren’t the positions they’re going to end up in and everyone knows it except the people writing op eds and panicking.

(At least, I think unions take maximalist positions … I’m still learning the ropes in my own new union, which has asked that adjuncts be given the choice to teach remotely. Not sure whether asking for choice qualifies as maximalist. It may.)

Anyway, that 15% figure warms my heart. Of course I understand why teachers would be nervous about returning to the classroom, but when you think about the uncomplaining sacrifices made by essential workers in grocery stores and meatpacking plants and delivery trucks…

It’s good to know teachers are made of the same stuff.

Thoughts on Father’s Day

When lockdown began, all the millennials went home.

They were told not to go home–directly told, in C’s case, by a New York City ER doc overwhelmed by patients and expecting his hospital’s ICU to be overrun. But they went home anyway.

We quarantined our returnee inside the house for two weeks. Separate Corona chair, separate bathroom (door closed before and after use!), a designated seat at the far end of the dinner table, hands off the Nespresso machine and the spoons and forks and everything else a person must touch to feed himself. It felt like an adventure.

(And yes, I’m grateful we have enough space to quarantine another human being. Wish we had enough space for all 3 grown sons, but that’s another story.)

I thought millennials went home because home feels safe, virus or no.

That was true.

What I didn’t realize is that safety is a 2-way street.

A few days ago, I spoke to a 25-year old who told me: “I haven’t let my mother out of my sight.”

As I thought about it, I realized she could have been describing C’s behavior. Only in the past few weeks has he let us out of his sight. For 6 weeks straight, neither Ed nor I left the house for any reason at all apart from a daily hourlong march (or patrol?) around the neighborhood. Every errand that had to be done, C. did, willingly, happily, without having to be asked.

He used to call it “going to the outside world.”

He would return bearing groceries, supplies, and field intelligence. How many masks, how many people in the check out lanes, the wonders of no-traffic in Westchester County. Later in the day, he would walk the neighborhood with us.

Last weekend, C. went to his first small get-together with friends since all of this began. Every one of them said they had spent the initial month of quarantine terrified they would give COVID to their parents, and their parents would die.

I’ve tried to imagine that, and I can’t.

They were terrified they would kill their own parents.

They braved this fear, and they made sure no one else killed their parents. For a young adult, this will be a formative experience, I think. Millennials: the good guys.

Happy Father’s Day!

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Monday, Monday

Yesterday was Monday. 

My college had scheduled a budget town hall for Monday, which I wanted to attend (all bad news there), but first, after I opened the email with the Zoom link, I had to be locked out of my account. 

That was actually kind of fun, it was so normal. Locked out of my accountyes! I remember being locked out of my account! I used to get locked out of my account with some regularity back in the day, and it felt good to be doing it again.

This must be what people mean by “stir crazy.”

So I was up for it, but being locked out of my account during quarantine turned out to be different from being locked out of my account in my old life.

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“wrong, wrong, and wrong” and back to the future

Great line from Michael Osterholm in a recent CIDRAP podcast (Episode 4: The Reality of Testing):

-24:13: Last week I was at a meeting online with a prominent foundation in which a world-renowned economist, a Nobel Prize Laureate in economy, proposed that we be able to test 30 to 40 million people a week every week starting next week, and when I shared with him that that was not possible, his first reaction was that I’m part of the problem because I’m such a naysayer because I’m in fact you know always beating down these possibilities.

I like to think of myself just as a lighthouse saying, You know you may be a big aircraft carrier, but if you keep coming at me, buddy, I’m not moving, nor is the shore. 

You do like to see Nobel Prize Laureates forcibly informed that supply chains aren’t actual magic every once in a while. At least, I do.

Another great observation:

-26:38: I have raised on multiple occasions … that testing is not going to be widespread available in this country. Just accept that. … It’s what we first put forward more than 7 weeks ago … we are going to have a collision course with destiny called “reagent availability.”

It’s not about money, it’s about physics…. You can’t create the infrastructure overnight.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong:

-17:22: I’m surely not a stranger to or in any way opposed to contact tracing following a valid and comprehensive testing program. I see none of that here. And yet I worry that the whole country opening or reopening or closing or reclosing, or whichever [way] you want to look at [it], are all based on this testing program.

This is wrong, wrong, and wrong.

I had a funny moment yesterday.

As a nonfiction writer, I became pretty good at vetting experts.

With COVID, I chose Osterholm right away, but I was also following Marc Lipsitch, and had just recently discovered John M. Barry. I trust all three. [6/22/2020 UPDATE: I’ve changed my mind on Osterholm, for a couple of reasons. Still find what he had to say early on important–though he may have been wrong about the future availability of reagent, I don’t know. No longer interested in Lipstitch or Barry, either.]

So this week Osterholm’s program, CIDRAP, came out with its first report.

Authors: Osterholm, Lipsitch, Barry.

Plus Kristin Moore, who I hadn’t yet come across.

I have no idea what nonconscious criteria I used to put those three together.


Back to the future

We’re 64 days into lockdown here in New York, and the sun is out. My brain finally feels clear enough to think about education again. Yay!

I’m definitely going back to the classroom in September.  

Assuming classes are held, of course. If they aren’t, Zoom on.

Bad news on viral dose and viral load?

I’ve been harboring hope lockdown might produce herd immunity through milder illness via milder viral “dose.”

That is to say, even under lockdown many of us will still be exposed to COVID-19, but we’ll be exposed to less of it than we would have been if, as in my case, we’d carried on living with a spouse taking the subway 5 days a week.

The freaking subway! Five days a week!

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Known unknowns

Ed read this article earlier today: Sortie de confinement, ou la somme de tous les dangers par Philippe Sansonetti.

Tells me that toward the end the author reports that herd immunity (l’immunité de groupe) to COVID-19 is by no means assured:

Les sujets guéris sont-ils protégés naturellement contre l’infection, qu’ils aient ou non développé ces fameux anticorps spécifiques neutralisants dont on espère tant ? A fortiori, les sujets demeurés asymptomatiques ou pauci-symptomatiques sont-ils protégés et pour combien de temps ? En effet le virus sera demeuré dans ce cas circonscrit à la muqueuse rhinopharyngée, ce qui peut donner lieu à une immunité locale, mais de quelle durée ? De quelle efficacité protectrice ? De quelle capacité à faire transition vers une immunité systémique globalement efficace ? En un mot, l’immunité de groupe offerte par beaucoup de maladies infectieuses et par les vaccins répondra-t-elle aux équations habituelles ?

Google translation: Are the healed subjects naturally protected against infection, whether or not they have developed these famous specific neutralizing antibodies which we so much hope for? A fortiori, are the subjects who remain asymptomatic or pauci-symptomatic protected and for how long? Indeed the virus will have remained in this case circumscribed to the nasopharyngeal mucosa, which can give rise to local immunity, but for how long? How protective is it? What is the ability to transition to globally effective systemic immunity? In a word, will the group immunity offered by many infectious diseases and vaccines meet the usual equations?

Looks like a good opportunity to practice my French.

Social distancing and the 2nd wave

I’m looking at the article I posted a couple of days ago: Public health interventions and epidemic intensity during the 1918 influenza pandemic.

I don’t have the bandwidth to read Hatchett et al closely at the moment … but wanted to clarify that their study does not offer a great deal of hope that we could develop herd immunity via more people infected with milder illness, thus fewer deaths. (It’s the study of immunity in Gangelt Municipality that supports herd-immunity-via-lower-viral-dose/lower-death.)

The authors assume the opposite, in fact: 

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gasstationwithoutpumps on viral load and COVID-19 models

Comment from 4/11:

Models can include viral doses (see Methods of modelling viral disease dynamics across the within- and between-host scales: the impact of virus dose on host population immunity) but you need more information about how the viral load changes with the course of the infection and how contagious people are at different stages. We don’t have that detailed information about SARS-CoV-2, so simpler models have to be used (and we don’t even have all the data we need to set the parameters of even simpler models, which is one reason the predictions have such wide ranges of possible outcomes).

And see:
Know your enemy
Can lockdown produce herd immunity with fewer deaths?

Social distancing and immunity
gasstationwithoutpumps on viral load and COVID-19 models
Social distancing and the 2nd wave
Viral dose, viral load

Social distancing and immunity – German study

First time I’ve seen a researcher suggest we could achieve milder illness and immunity via lockdown:

By adhering to strict hygiene measures it is to be expected that the virus concentration of an infected individual can be reduced to the point that the illness manifests more mildly, with simultaneous development of an immunity. These favourable conditions are not present in a superspreading event (e.g. Karneval meeting, apres-ski bar in Ischgl, Austria). Hygienic measures are expected to have positive effects on overall mortality.

Preliminary result and conclusions of the COVID-19 case cluster study (Gangelt Municipality)

And see:
Know your enemy
Can lockdown produce herd immunity with fewer deaths?

Social distancing and immunity
gasstationwithoutpumps on viral load and COVID-19 models
Social distancing and the 2nd wave
Viral dose, viral load