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Math OER
 Distance Learning Tips 

I really hate this darn machine,
I wish that they would sell it.
It never does quite what I want,
But only what I tell it.

- Poem on my grandfather's fridge

Special student resources for Spring Term 2020 are available at the Lane Support Hub.

Please see the steps below for Math Resource Center tutoring this term.

Distance Learning
Distance Learning Dangers
Ignoring the Syllabus
Skipping Videos
Poor End of Term Review
Cramming for the Final Exam
The Hidden Curriculum
Don't Avoid Nagging
Inventing Stress
Free or Low Cost Internet
OPUC Lifeline
Our Textbook
Basic Mathematics
Using ShareX
Plain Text Please
Moodle to E-mail
Using the LCC SSO
Testing Zoom
Connecting to Class
Good Habits
Google Drive
Why a Shared Folder?
Making a Shared Folder
Math Resource Center
Roles in Online Group Work
Imagine a Throne Room
Student Group Discussions
What is the Big Deal?
Why Act Now?
Actual vs. Known Cases
Comparison to H1N1

Hi, Spring term math students!

I hope this page is helpful. Please share it with others who would find it helpful.

Please tell me if it does not answer all your questions about distance learning.

The official LCC webpage keeping track of the college's COVID-19 announcements and policies is

That page includes a link to LCC's page on going remote.

Our class will not use Moodle. We have a better website that is easier to use, and much more friendly for cell phones.

The current campus policy includes:

• LCC is and will continue to be open, but in limited ways.

• Spring Term will begin on April 6th, one week late. The week normally allotted for final exams will be used for the last week of instruction and final exams.

• Spring term will be delivered by remote methods.

• The last day of Spring term (June 13th) is now the final day for schedule changes, dropping classes, grading option changes, etc. This is much later than usual.

• The Math Resource Center will offer remote tutoring. (Details coming soon.)

• During Spring term, campus events are prohibited, and in-person instruction is prohibited except in certain ways for the nursing program.

• During Spring term, the bookstore is offering free shipping on all orders. You can order online and not need to travel to campus.

• Students who are symptom-free may come to campus if their class requires them to drop off an assignment, use a school computer, check out material from the library, etc. The bookstore is open but please call before visiting it (541-463-5256). Be ready for this to change!

• A portion of financial aid can be used for online technology needs. Contact the ATC.

• Instructors may ask for an OEA grant to help supply student technology or basic living needs.

• The LCC library has a special page.

• All LCC remote student support services (such as tutoring, advising, counseling, early outreach, financial aid, college transfer assistance, etc.) have a new central Lane Support Hub. This includes both documents and live help to connect students with resources. Once you know which resources to connect with, the website MyWCOnline will be used to schedule 1-on-1 appointments.

Distance Learning Dangers

Thanks go to Alla Burton for helping point out these distance learning pitfalls.

Ignoring the Syllabus


When a class is different, the syllabus is different.

How will the class deal with distance learning?

Read the syllabus. Do the syllabus quiz.

Skipping Videos

It is really important to watch the class videos when distance learning.

Even if you attend the Zoom class meetings, there will still be times when watching a video is the right thing to do.

Both the online textbook and the class website have many helpful videos.

light bulb Each of our math topics will have a short highlight video about its most important or tricky details. These highlight videos will always end with a question. Answering those concluding questions is part of your grade, to make sure you are watching at least the most important videos.

Poor End of Term Review

Comprehensive review works terribly in a distance learning class. Remember those nice end of term review days from in-person lecture classes, when all the students could calmly take turns asking their last questions about problems from the homework and practice final? Those are much more chaotic and less helpful as a Zoom meeting.

Merging the last week of class with finals week will only make it worse.

So do not expect the end of term review days to be as helpful as usual.

screenshot of practice test The review assignments and the practice tests that your instructor suggests are extra important when distance learning. These will keep fresh in your mind the topics from early in the term that can slip away during the weeks until the final exam.

During the term try harder than usual to keep up in class.

Cramming for the Final Exam

Remember how crazy finals week was during Winter term when assessment happened online?

photo of cramming before a test Plan ahead in case Spring term finals week is again crazy. You might have kids at home, noisy and/or sick. You might have trouble finding a quiet room in your home to take a test because of people working from home. You might have instructors not used to online assessment. And so on.

Of course you will do some cramming right before the final exam! But plan ahead to minimize this. Expect the last week of class to be crazy busy. Keep instructors are aware of this danger and ask them to help you remain prepared.

The Hidden Curriculum

The hidden curriculum is those school skills never explicitly taught in a classroom: how to fill out forms, how to deal with prerequisites and requirements, when and how to ask for help, when and how to advocate for yourself, how to get the most out of study sessions, how to get yourself through needed but difficult doorways, etc.

hidden curriculum for teachers too Too often a school assumes students are aware of and experienced with the topics in the hidden curriculum. Someone smiles and says, "Just fill out this easy form!" Or someone says, "Well, if you had talked to the Financial Aid office two weeks ago..."

Dealing with the hidden curriculum is worse when distance learning. Help your classmates. Do not be afraid to ask questions about hidden curriculum issues during our Zoom class meetings.

Don't Avoid Nagging

Expected nagging can be polite. There is a reason that all medical appointments give people reminders. Many social contracts involve nagging. Nagging is a normal part of adult responsibilities and business interactions.

happy nagging My teaching role somewhat resembles the work of an athletic personal trainer. I am supposed to model correct procedures. Then I am supposed to pester you. "Five more problems! Five more reps! Don't give up! You have not finished studying until we see you sweat! Go go go!"

Since you are adults who are responsible for your own time management, our class begins with one type of nagging by default. If you are falling behind in homework, I will nag you by e-mail or phone to help you avoid getting a minus after your letter grade.

If you need other types of nagging, please ask. It is part of my job. If I forget to nag you, nag me about it!

Finally, we should all be up-front about how nagging is a cultural issue.

Some families do not know how to nag lovingly, and so do not teach this skill to next generation. In those families nagging is only a negative consequence, often doled out hand-in-hand with other negative consequences. Nagging means failure and a lack of trust.

In other families nagging is a token of affection and attention. Nagging means your track record of successes has earned the time, care, mentoring, and trust of the authority figures. To not be nagged would be a depressing insult. It would mean you are not trusted with chores and responsibilities, and doomed to be treated like an invisible or even shunned child until you get your act together.

So please keep your social antennas up during distance learning group work. Be sensitive to whether classmates are put off by being prompted and reminded, or respond positively to that attention.

Inventing Stress

distance learning tips This is a low-stress math class. Please do not needlessly invent stress.

I do not ask you to believe me. Here are the words of a Winter term student named Micki:

There weren't any harsh or unreasonable deadlines for turn in assignments. And [ungraded midterms meant] I didn't have to worry about taking tests periodically that would have a negative effect our grades.

(If you're someone who experiences test taking apprehension, similar to myself, it can be a blow to the ego and effect momentum going forward when you've done A level work and get hit with a negative mark on a test.)

Using the practice tests was incredibly reassuring to know you aren't going to be surprised by any of the material on the day of the exam. When the time came for our two major exams, I was very confident.

Another thing that may be worth mentioning is that we were in complete control along the way, as we used the tools and resources provided, such as Accomplishment stars.

Once class gets going, you will soon see that most homework errors come from trying to make a problem needlessly difficult. A lot of good studying is seeing and practicing how to keep things simple.

Please do not make the same mistake for the overall class! The resources you are given are extensive, but well-organized. See how they are simple. See how they flow. Relax into the current.

Free or Low Cost Internet


The program Comcast Internet Essentials is free for 60 days.

To qualify, students must be eligible for public assistance programs (National School Lunch Program, housing assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, etc.), not have subscribed to Comcast Internet within the last 90 days, and not have outstanding debt to Comcast that is less than one year old.

You can check here to see if you live in an area where Comcast Internet Service is available.


The program Spectrum Internet Essentials is also free for 60 days. To sign up, students must call (844) 488-8395. (Current hold times may be up to one hour.)

To qualify, students must affirm they are a K-12 or college student, eligible for public assistance programs (National School Lunch Program, housing assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, etc.), not have subscribed to Spectrum Internet within the last 30 days, and not have outstanding debt to Spectrum.

You can check here to see if you live in an area where Spectrum Internet Service is available. The zip code 97424 has some serviceable addresses. Few addresses within the zip codes 97477, 97405, 97404, or 97448 are serviceable.


AT&T is also offering help to its customers. Their website describes the details.

OPUC Lifeline

The Oregon Public Utility Commission Lifeline offers a $12.75 per month discount off many types of internet service or a free phone with unlimited voice and a monthly 3G data plan.

To qualify, students must already have internet service through a participating company (see list on the online application), not have others at their address already participating in OPUC Lifeline, and already be receiving SNAP, SSI, or Medicaid.

Our Textbook


textbook cover Our textbook is Prealgebra by McKeague and Pawlik. It is free to access online. It has nice videos for every example problem.

During our class online meetings your instructor will sometimes take screenshots of textbook pages and write on them. It will be easier for the instructor to do this with the e-book than a physical textbook.

The Math 20 textbook committee was considering switching to this textbook for the upcoming school year. We are testing it out early, which is not a bad thing.

A physical copy is availabe from the publisher for $68, if you prefer that.

Basic Mathematics

Bittinger textbook cover The normal textbook for our class is Basic Mathematics by Marvin L. Bittinger. Unfortunately, it does not have a free online e-book. Prices at that Amazon link for a used copy fluctuate from $14 to $40. It might be cheaper elsewhere online.

For most students the free online Prealgebra textbook is all you need. You can ignore this textbook.

However, this is the same textbook used in Math 10. You might already know and love it, and have a copy, because you took Math 10. Then it might feel nice to keep using this book. It would cover the same topics while looking familiar.

Using ShareX

ShareX logo

A great, free tool that makes note taking with e-books easier is ShareX.

Imagine you are using the textbook and find a really helpful example problem. You want to put it into your notes, so you can use it when doing homework or studying before a test.

(Now it is already true that in Windows 10, holding down the Windows key with PrintScreen will save a screenshot of your entire screen as a file. This file will be in your Pictures folder, in a subfolder named Screenshots. But we do not want an image of our entire screen, and we want the image stored in a more organized manner.)

ShareX does what we want. It runs as a small icon in your computer's taskbar. From its menu, pick "Hotkey settings..." and change the first item named Capture region to something convenient. (I use the number pad + which is conveniently on the side of my keyboard.)

Now pressing that key will make your next mouse drag define a rectangular portion of your screen. That rectangle is copied to the computer's clipboard memory.

Open a blank document, perhaps in Google Docs or Jam. Press CTRL-V to paste. Ta da! Now that wonderful example problem is part of your notes.

You probably do not already have the habit of opening a blank document when you sit down with your math textbook. But you can see how this might become a new normal habit.

You can collect small portions of screenshots, organized how you want in a document! (That is much better than filling an obscure subfolder with poorly named full screenshots.)

The small ShareX icon has "Exit" at the bottom of its menu, to quit whenever you want the hotkey to no longer attept with screen copying.


Plain Text Please

Please send e-mail in plain text mode. This can avoid all sorts of problems.

screen shot of turning on plain text mode

In the old days an e-mail sent using HTML mode could contain viruses. That threat is much less with modern browsers and anti-virus software.

But these days people use e-mail to send images to each other all the time. Have you ever received an e-mail that was difficult to read because an embedded image was too wide and messed up the scroll bars? Or multiple embedded tall images made it awkward to scroll down and find the text in the message? Using plain text mode avoids such awkwardness.

Using plain text mode is also a good habit for being accessible and professional in the workplace. The software that translates text into braille or speech will appreciate plain text. Your future co-workers will appreciate easy to read messages.

Moodle to E-mail

Moodle includes a way to send messages. Unfortunately, this feature can cause a problem when faculty or students who are not used to checking their Moodle message inbox never see those messages.

There are two ways to avoid this problem.

In Moodle, go to your settings at the top of the main dashboard, and then pick "Messages".

screen shot of Moodle screen shot of Moodle

Two of the options in the message options offer different solutions.

screen shot of Moodle

The red arrow allows you to you restrict incoming messages to your Moodle contacts. You probably have no Moodle contacts. So this effectively allows you to turn off Moodle messages and ignore it forever.

The green arrow causes Moodle to send your LCC e-mail account a copy of every message. Then you will know when someone does send you a Moodle message and can deal with it appropriately.



zoom logo

Zoom has a getting started guide for computer, iOS, and Android.

Which version do you want to use?

Zoom has not only video chat, but a text chat pane as well.

Most instructors will take attendance during the Zoom meeting. They will tell you when to say hi in text chat. Then the instructor can save the chat pane as a file for their attendance record.

The computer version has an important advantage. The bigger screen space allows you to keep the chat pane always open, as a sidebar on the right edge of the screen. If your instructor is using Zoom in a way that makes text chat important, you will want to be on a computer if possible.

The computer version also allows you to change the background behind your head. This is fun, but not important.

Using Zoom on a tablet is great if the text chat pane is barely used. For example, if the chat pane is only used for taking attendance, a tablet might be the most comfortable. The controls are the most intuitive, the screen is large enough, and the camera and microphone are built in.

Using Zoom on a phone is almost like a tablet. The phone has the advantage of being able to connect with a phone call instead of wifi. But the smaller screen might make it hard to see how the instructor is writing on the board, using science equipment, demonstrating art techniques, etc..

With both phone and tablet, you might need to go to the participant list first in order to get to the chat pane. See the picture below of the bottom of the phone/tablet participant list.

zoom phone or tablet screenshot

With both phone and tablet, use the device's normal "back" button to get to settings. On the computer, when you open either audio or video settings with the little arrows beside those icons, you will actually open all the settings.

Using the LCC SSO

To improve security, LCC has enabled a "single sign-on" version of Zoom. The phrase single sign-on is usually abbreviated SSO.

By logging into Zoom this way, classes have more privacy and better security. You please follow the LCC SSO instructions.

At the moment this is optional. It may become required.

Testing Zoom

The Academic Technology Center has helpful links: a main resource page, a Zoom cheat sheet, and a Moodle page about Welcome to Zoom (link needs fixing).

You do not need to log in to test Zoom.

But you might as well log in. You can click on the "Log in with Google" button and use your LCC GSuite name and password.

Zoom has a getting started guide for joining a meeting.

student zoom room The LCC Student Help Desk will soon have an ongoing student Zoom practice meeting. Meanwhile, you can connect to our class meeting room even if no one else is there.

faculty zoom room The faculty Zoom test room is run by the ATC.

Connecting to Class

For Spring term, your instructor will have a permanent link that ends in their LCC e-mail name (for example ours is

Your instructor should share this by e-mail with you. It should also be in their class website or Moodle page. You can click on the link and join a meeting without logging in.

If you are using Zoom on a phone, you may need to pick Call via Device Audio to actually join the meeting.


All versions of Zoom have settings to pick whether you arrive at a meeting with microphone and/or camera already on. If you have a quiet location and are chatty, join with microphone on. If you have a noisy location or are a quiet person, join with mute on.

Another handy setting for the computer version allows holding down the space bar to temporarily unmute yourself. Alternately use, Alt-A toggles mute on and off. Useful when eating or in a location with other people!

All versions of Zoom allow you to change your displayed name. Your instructor will probably ask you to keep your real name. If everyone renamed themself something silly, it would be hard to get to know each other.

The phone and tablet version of Zoom uses swiping right to switch views. This is good! However, by default, swiping left also does something, and it is annoying to have happen accidentally. It is called "Safe Driving Mode". You can turn this off in settings.

Zoom allows using a photo as a background. If you want some nice nature photos, try visiting my favorite Reddit.


Your instructor can make one or more students "co-hosts". This will allow them to mute other students.

It is probably not needed. But if you have kids or other distractions, feel free to ask that someone be made co-host so they can mute you when needed—because you are busy rushing to save your kid, or to turn down the pot on the kitchen stove that is boiling over.


Zoom will allow your instructor to record part or all of the meeting.

If your instructor is not planning to record all of the meeting, feel free to ask the instructor, "Could you repeat that while recording it for us?"

A student set as co-host can also record. If your instructor says or does something especially important or tricky, feel free to ask the instructor, "Could you repeat that with me recording it?". This might help if your instructor is recording the entire meeting, so you will not have to find that moment in the longer video. Remember that video files get big fast!

Good Habits

Remember the setting that allows computer users to hold down the space bar or Alt-A to temporarily unmute? Most people should use one of those. Most of us have other people in the home, open windows with traffic noise, papers shuffling, phones beeping, noisy keyboards, etc. All those little noises add up. There can also be feedback if your microphone picks up other participants' audio.

Personally, I have Alt-A bound to an extra button on my mouse to mute and un-mute. When using space bar to temporarily unmute, beware! If you use chat, click some other part of the Zoom interface after using chat. Otherwise your next space bar press will type a space in chat, instead of allowing you to speak.

Your instructor may use a "waiting room" that delays you entering a meeting until they click on your name. There are two reasons for this feature. First, when using Zoom for office hours or one-on-one tutoring this gives the tutored students privacy from unexpected company when discussing grades or personal issues. Second, it prevents zoom bombing pranks.

During a disucssion identify yourself more often than you are used to. Yes, everyone can see the name you pick. But some people might be looking away from their screen, focusing on what is happening on a shared screen, getting a cup of tea, etc. And people using a tiny phone screen will have trouble reading that tiny name. Also, compared to an in-person discussion it takes longer to associate names with voices. So for a longer time than normally, start your questions or comments with helpful transition phrases such as "Adam here,..." or "This is Adam..." or "Adam again..."

Interrupt carefully. Compared to an in-person discussion it is harder to see the facial cues and body language that allow smooth interruptions. If you are hesitant to interrupt, use chat to ask or say something. You can also use the "raise hand" feature.

You can use chat to sent a message privately to another student. If someone has a quick question that is not about the math topic, then it can be helpful to send a private message. Students should help inform each other about Zoom settings, homework due dates, study groups, etc. But do not use private chat to talk about math topics. It never happens that only one student needs something shown on the whiteboard again, repeated aloud another time, or explained a second way with different words. If someone wants that to happen, actually many people want that to happen. It should be done where everyone can see.

Share at a leisurely pace. Some people will have a 2 or 3 second delay before receiving what you say or display before the camera or draw on a whiteboard. If you rush an explanation then people will miss parts.

Share like an emcee. In a classroom, if you came to the front of the room to put a homework paper on the document camera or answer a problem on the board then you would be facing the class and could immediately see by raised hands, facial cues, and body language if anyone had questions or comments. When using Zoom, you will need to be more intentional. As you share, pause now and then to ask about questions or comments.

Google Drive

Why a Shared Folder?

Your instructor will probably want you to turn in assignments by putting them into a shared folder in your LCC Google Drive.

This has several advatages over using e-mail to turn in assignments.

First, your LCC Google Drive has effectively unlimited storage. You will not use up your allotted e-mail storage with all the photos or videos you are turning in to get graded.

Second, your LCC Google Drive is where you must put collaborative work anyway. Assignments created with Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Jamboard, etc. can be edited by multiple people. Files sent around using e-mail are much more tricky to work on collaboratively.

Third, your LCC Google Drive is easier to organize. You can make a sub-folder for each class, or even different topics in a class. When you want to use old assignments to study for a test it will be easier than finding them in your e-mail archives.

Making a Shared Folder

Go to your Google Drive.

image 1

In the top left click New and then pick Folder.

image 2

Give your new folder a name.

image 3

Your folder will appear in your list of drive items. Use the other mouse button to bring up a context menu. Pick Share.

image 4

In the box that pops up, look at the bottom right corner and pick Advanced.

image 5

In the middle of the box that pops up, you are told that the folder is currently "Private". Click on Change... to say you want to change this.

image 6

Pick either the top option to make the folder completely Public, or if you have materials only licenced for educational sharing you can pick the third option for only members of Lane Community College.

image 7

Close the pop up box with Share and then Done.

For a second time, use the other mouse button on the folder to bring up the context menu. Now pick Get shareable link.

image 8

Without any more clicking, the link to your folder is now copied to your computer's memory, the same as when you highlight something and press CTRL-C. So you can paste it with CTRL-V into an e-mail to your instructors.


Math Resource Center

During Spring term the Math Resource Center will be offering online tutoring using Zoom.

(The same is true for the LCC tutoring centers for other subjects.)

As always, the staff at the Math Resource Center knows how we teach math at LCC, is familiar with our textbooks and Moodle, and in general is the best way to get freee tutoring.

To use this tutoring during Spring term 2020, please follow these steps after getting Zoom working:

First, make a reservation for a 30-minute appointment using the website WC Online. This is quicker if you use the pull-down menu to select the topic in which you want tutoring.

Second, five minutes early before your appointment go to a Zoom meeting room named Study Annex Tutoring, where a front desk person will greet you and assign you to a "breakout room" in Zoom. The front desk person can also help you get Zoom working with text chat, audio, and/or video to best suit your needs and what tools you have available at home.

Third, your tutor joins you in the breakout room. Enjoy your live tutoring!

Math Resource Center online hours are Monday through Friday 9:00am to 4:30pm, and also 5:00pm to 8:00pm on Tuesday through Thursday. The Math Resource Center is considering offering some weekend hours. Please let them know if that would help your schedule.

Also, between 9am and 5pm you can e-mail or call Early Outreach at 541-357-7209.


The link to start TRiO tutoring is


Since 2016 LCC has also paid to collaborate with eTutoring Online.

In theory, going to the website should be a free way to get tutoring during the hours when the Math Resource Center is closed.

However, the current shift nationwide to distance learning has made eTutoring Online really busy. The wait times for an appointment are currently as long as three days!

So feel free to try eTutoring Online, but be warned.

Roles in Online Group Work

This is contrived, but it works.

We can pay attention to the social dynamics within a productive conversation. What naturally happens? Then we formalize those features that keep a conversation productive into roles we can use intentionally in our own group work.

Imagine a Throne Room

the monarch For a moment, imagine a movie scene where a king or queen is holding court. People are coming for this wise monarch's help resolving problems. Currently two merchants are before the throne. They wish to work together, but their contract was poorly worded and they disagree about its obligations.

Being wise, the monarch is not making decrees, but using proper counseling techniques to help people more deeply understand their own needs, ideas, plans, and goals. The monarch speaks as little as possible. Like an orchestra conductor, he or she directs the flow conversation. "And what do you think of that idea?" "I think we need more information before deciding that." "Remember, you both want a consensus." "Enough brainstorming, let's make a decision." The monarch's leadership keeps the agenda clear. Everyone is on the same page, trusts they are not wasting their time, and feels more comfortable.

the princess Next to the big throne is a smaller throne with a young child: the prince or princess, who is too little to understand legal matters of merchant contracts or property lines. But this young royal is not passive. Her or she is already skilled at observing group dynamics, and works with the monarch to set the mood and keep the conversation going, by offering coveted encouragement or praise.

The monarch maintains an attitude of amused mastery: caring, and genuinely wanting what is best for people—but always calm and a bit dry. He or she has seen these issues many times before, and never gets surprised, invested, or emotional while being supportive. In contrast, the prince or princess gets clearly excited. "Well said!" "I like that idea." "Now we're getting somewhere!" "You finally spoke, and did great!"

the scribe On the other side of the throne is a scribe, writing what happens. Of course the scribe records a public report: what new business deal will the merchants agree on? But the scribe also writes about the process. When did the discussion stall, or move quickly towards a resolution? Who spoke the most and least? Which ideas these these two merchants get excited about, which might be important the next time they appear before the monarch? What broadly general policies or laws should the monarch and court advisors privately discuss after the public court time concludes, to keep the kingdom running as smoothly as possible?

the jester Lounging nearby is the court jester. He alone is expected to be clever. And he alone is permitted (rarely!) to be critical and make tangential comments—only to quiet someone who is dominating the conversation too much. "Your first two sentences were genius, but you should have quit while you were ahead." "Hush, only musicians are allowed to interrupt!" "That idea reminds me of a time I was really bored." "That plan might work if you were as capable as you think you are." "Now now, first reply to what she actually said before sharing you own new idea." "Can you paraphrase that idea with less hot air?" "I have neither the time nor the crayons to explain this to you." The jester's roasts are well-received. Everyone knows he is doing his job to correct someone else's rude behavior, so the monarch need not stoop to condemnation.

the sage Finally, a pensive sage considers which thoughts are deep or shallow. Do some ideas need more clarity, details, or consensus? Have we really resolved the problem, or are we fooling ourselves? Would this solution still work in a slightly different situation? Everyone knows the monarch is wise, but the monarch's attention is focused on the flow of conversation. The sage is also wise, and has the luxury of focusing all of his or her mental energy on the ideas being shared.

Student Group Discussions

I encourage students to form study groups of five or six people.

For each math topic, each group member uses one of the above five roles. If the group has more than five people, the extra people get to take a break from an assigned role.

When the group moves on to the next topic, rotate roles. The monarch becomes the prince/princess, the prince/princess becomes the scribe, the scribe becomes the jester, the jester becomes the sage, and the sage becomes the monarch.

While discussing that math topic, everyone except the monarch is responsible for asking two new questions about that topic (on two different days), and contributing towards three answers (on at least two different days). No slackers! The monarch alone has freedom from discussing the actual math, because of the burden of conducting the orchestra.

Each time the group moves on to a next topic, that topic's scribe turns in a written report that briefly answers seven questions:

No one is being graded for doing group work this way. These roles are merely hokey suggestions.

But these roles are well-proven suggestions. They provide structure. They exaggerate what works in successful business meetings and successful asynchronous online classes.

It can be really awkward to do online group work with people you have never met before. So admit it is awkward, embrace some hokey behavior, and get started! You will be pleased by how quickly these roles move everyone over the awkwardness into productive math discussions.

These conversational roles come from the group dynamic studies of Karl Bailey and Peter Collett.


Fezzik: Why do you wear a mask? Were you burned by acid, or something like that?
Westley: Oh no. It’s just they’re terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.

- The Princess Bride

What is the Big Deal?

A normal flu has an average "incubation time" of about 2 days. People who catch a normal flu soon know they have it, and usually behave in ways that minimize spreading it. The main reason that COVID-19 is a pandemic is that its incubation time is usually between 5 and 11 days. People have it for much longer before they know they have it, and spread it around during those extra non-symptomatic days.

The other reason that COVID-19 is dangerous is that for certain people who are in the "high risk" category it is more deadly than a normal flu. This most dramatically includes the elderly, a problem in Italy, which has the oldest population of any European country. The "high risk" category to a lesser extent includes heavy smokers (a problem in much of China), people with respiratory issues, and people with weakened immune systems (this includes pregnant women).

Why Act Now?

A great summary of the social issues is at the Flatten the Curve website.

The TL;DR is that there will be a "high risk" population of elderly, smokers, and those with respiratory conditions who will need hospitalization. A responsible society slows the spread of a pandemic, so when those "high risk" people inevitably get sick their cases are spread out over time and they can all have a turn getting the hospital beds they need.

An article by Harry Stevens has nice animated pictures that demonstrate how much the spread of a disease can be controlled by "social distancing".

The New York Times has a map of national cases.


The website has a bunch of numbers.

The TL;DR is that the number of known cases in this country is still small, so let's keep it that way.

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The podcast This Week in Virology is full of information.

For the long term, percent change in new cases per day matters more than the total cases. Worldometer has a chart and table for new cases per day.

I am trying to avoid discussing politics, but articles about the national numbers of general and critical care hospital beds unavoidable include it.

Actual vs. Known Cases

Thomas Pueyo wrote an essay with a dumpload of graphs.

The TL;DR is that the number of actual cases lags way behind the number of known cases. Therefore it makes sense to treat the situation as much more severe than it appears to be. So far COVID-19 is much less of a problem in this country than the H1N1 flu variant was in 2019. But we should treat the problem as if it is a really big deal to "flatten the curve" as above.

There will probably be a day in the future where the actual cases are dwindling towards zero but the known cases appear to still be growing exponentially. The goal is to make that day happen as soon as possible.

Comparison to H1N1

Finally, some H1N1 numbers from 2009.

The TL;DR is that for H1N1 there were 60.8 million known U.S. cases (12,469 deaths), the vaccine for H1N1 took 8 months to develop, the death rate was about 3x as high as the usual seasonal flu, and children had the highest rates of spread. (47 percent of children between 5 and 19 developed symptoms, compared to 11 percent of people ages 65 and up.)

So far for COVID-19 there are 1,885 known U.S. cases (39 deaths), a vaccine is under development in two countries, and the death rate for the "high risk" people is unknown but somewhere between 4x and 40x as high as the usual seasonal flu.

In other words, H1N1 was largely a snotty nose kids' disease that was a medium-size threat to the elderly people who caught it. Good luck trying to control that by cancelling college classes.

On the other hand, kids seem to be mostly immune to COVID-19, and COVID-19 is a much larger threat to the elderly. A very different situation, in which it makes sense for adults to do "social distancing". The COVID-19 death rate for the "high risk" people changes dramatically based upon how a country behaves during the early days of the pandemic.

If you live with or care for someone in that "high risk" category, your lifestyle should probably be very different now than a month ago. Most of us are not in that situation, have no reason to panic, but should act as part of a responsible society.

Being responsible includes not catching the normal seasonal flu, which is also going around town. Worry and panic will lower your immune system. Resist. Make time to take care of yourself.

So stay calm. Get enough sleep. Eat healthy. Spend time outdoors in the sunshine. Wash your hands a lot.