Warm-up: Students reflect on health habits, consider their engagement with news about global public health, and make predictions about life expectancy.
Introducing Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer: Students learn about the four-episode PBS series Extra Life, which explores the impact of medical innovation doubling global human life expectancy.
Introducing the Resource: Students watch seven video clips from Extra Life, answer comprehension and discussion questions, and engage in extension activities.
Discussion Questions: Students discuss the legacy of medical innovation in contemporary society and make predictions about the future of global public health.
Extension Activities: Students read “The Living Century” by Steven Johnson, watch a panel discussion on COVID-19 and medical inequalities with Johnson and other health professionals, and create an underreported health story PSA.
Additional Resources for Teachers: Teachers use instructional plans crafted by classroom teachers and Pulitzer Center staff to support student engagement with public health issues.
For more curricular materials connected to "The Living Century" and Extra Life by Steven Johnson, visit www.pulitzercenter.org/thelivingcentury
Students will be able to...
- Identify underreported stories about health innovations throughout history.
- Evaluate how vaccination, data, medical drugs, and changes in human behavior contributed to extended human life expectancy over the last century.
- Connect past global health challenges and innovations with our contemporary fight against COVID-19.
- Explore how international cooperation has been historically instrumental in fighting global epidemics.
1. Share your response to the following questions about your relationship with health:
- What are some of the things you do to stay healthy?
- How and where did you learn these health habits?
2. Share your reflections on global public health, and news coverage of global health, by answering the following questions:
- What are some of the biggest health challenges facing the world today?
- What are some things you hear about science or medicine on the news/social media/etc.?
- Do you usually trust the things that you read or hear about health?
- What makes a source trustworthy?
3. In this lesson we’ll look at life expectancy, which means the average number of years a person can expect to live. We’ll be examining why life expectancy has doubled over the last century. Before engaging with the reporting in this lesson, make predictions around the following questions:
- How might the following have led to the doubling of life expectancy?
- Human behavior
- What other factors do you think has led to the doubling of life expectancy over the last century?
Introducing Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer
In the first episode of Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer, we hear science writer Steven Johnson and David Olusoga introduce the impact of medical innovations and global collaboration on doubling human life expectancy.
Review this video, which introduces the series.
“If you were born before 1900, you could expect to live, on average, just 32 years. Today, global life expectancy is more than twice that. It’s one of the greatest achievements of human history,” says science writer Steven Johnson in the opening clip.
“This is the story of the ideas that have in the space of just a century or two, changed what it is to be us by transforming the kind of lives we might live. No longer short and under the shadow of disease, but healthy and long,” adds historian David Olusoga.
In their four-part series on PBS, Johnson and Olusoga describe how vaccines, data, medical drugs, and human behavior have all effectively extended life expectancy. As we face another global pandemic, Johnson and Olusoga share stories about the forgotten heroes of global health and explore what history has taught us about epidemics, public health, and the nature of civilization to meet immeasurable challenges with tremendous resilience and invention.
You can find all four episodes of Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer here. (Link will be added in June 2021 after all four episodes have aired. Full episodes will begin to air weekly starting May 11, 2021.)
Introducing the Resource:
In this lesson plan, students watch one to two clips of each episode from the series Extra Life. Each video clip has an accompanying viewing guide that includes warm-up activities, key vocabulary, comprehension questions, discussion questions, and extension activities.
Episode 1: Vaccines
In the first episode of Extra Life, science author Steven Johnson and historian David Olusoga discuss how vaccines have been a powerful tool in extending human lifespans across the globe.
Episode 2: Data
In the second episode of Extra Life, science author Steven Johnson and historian David Olusoga recount how data has been a powerful tool in extending human lifespans across the globe.
Episode 3: Medical Drugs
In the third episode of Extra Life, science author Steven Johnson and historian David Olusoga reveal how medical drugs became one of the most powerful tools we have in the fight for extra life.
Episode 4: Human Behavior
In the fourth episode of Extra Life, science author Steven Johnson and historian David Olusoga explore how changing human behavior has become one of the most powerful tools that human beings have in our fight for extra life.
- What most surprised you about the causes and effects of increased life expectancy?
- What challenges come with an increased life expectancy? How do you think increased life expectancy might generate challenges for individuals, families, countries, and the environment?
- Given the current stage of global health and innovation, what do you think the next major medical innovation will be? Why?
- Why do you think health reporting tends to focus more on challenges rather than solutions?
- Many of the stories chronicled in this series are underrepresented in our collective knowledge of global medical history. Some may argue that the general public doesn’t know much about these tremendous, life-saving breakthroughs. How do you think an increased public awareness of the health discoveries explored in the series might impact society?
1. Read Steven Johnson’s article, “The Living Century,” published in The New York Times Magazine. Examine underreported stories of the medical discoveries that doubled life expectancy over the past two-hundred years. You can read the full article here. The Pulitzer Center’s education team has developed a full lesson plan to support student engagement with this article.
2. Watch a panel discussion on life expectancy and COVID-19 with Steven Johnson and other health experts in Living Longer, Living Better, a roundtable event for the Consortium of Universities for Global Health. This full lesson plan includes a video recording of the conversation (approximately 58 minutes), and explores the concept of life expectancy, the role of the CDC, and the variables that contribute to health inequities.
3. Create a video Public Service Announcement highlighting an underreported innovation in the history of health. Include details from “The Living Century,” along with your own research, as part of your piece. As Johnson and Olusoga did in their pieces, include at least two of the following in your video:
- Narration and direct address to the camera
- Interviews with experts
- Images from primary source documents
- Archival footage
Additional Resources for Educators:
Visualizing The Pandemic: An Exploration in Descriptive Statistics and Personal Stories: In this five-day unit plan written by Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellow Susan Zoë Greenwald, students will create a descriptive statistics data visualization to go with a chosen underreported story about the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. They will reflect on their graphic journalistically, mathematically and personally.
Voices in the Shadow of Death: The Lost Narratives of the Bubonic Plague and Covid-19: In this three-lesson unit plan written by Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellow Adam Guerrero, students analyze reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and historical research on the Black Death in order to evaluate the purposes and biases of sources, compare and contrast pandemics from two time periods, and evaluate whose stories are underreported. Students then create profiles that imagine underreported stories from the Black Death.
Evaluating "America's Medical Supply Crisis": In this lesson plan, students explore a news story from PBS FRONTLINE, the Associated Press, and the Global Reporting Centre about the limited supplies of personal protective equipment in U.S. hospitals throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Viewing Guide: Jon Cohen and the Race to a COVID-19 Vaccine: In this lesson plan, students discuss the road to a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and science journalist Jon Cohen's experience covering past epidemics and infectious disease outbreaks.
This lesson plan and the accompanying viewing guides are written to align with the following standards:
Common Core Standards:
Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.1
Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
Next Generation Science Standards:
Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.
Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.
Evaluate evidence for the role of group behavior on individual and species’ chances to survive and reproduce.