Warm-up: Students learn about the CDC, life expectancy, and how life expectancy has been impacted by COVID-19.
Introducing the Resource: Students watch a video of four health experts discuss life expectancy and public health in the face of COVID-19.
Comprehension Questions: Students respond to comprehension questions in a timestamped viewing guide.
Extension Activities: Students can create an infographic, conduct a research project, write a response paper, or read more underreported news stories about public health and COVID-19.
For more curricular materials connected to "The Living Century" and "Extra Life" by Steven Johnson, visit www.pulitzercenter.org/thelivingcentury.
Student Viewing Guide for Living Longer, Living Better?
Students will be able to
- Describe the personal and environmental factors that contribute to life expectancy
- Analyze how COVID-19 has highlighted issues of equity in public health in America
The world's experiences with COVID-19 have brought personal and public health in focus, and the CDC has become a central voice in our national narrative. Search online for answers to these questions, ensuring that you are using reliable sources that are approved by your teacher.
- What is the CDC? What does the CDC do generally and what role has it played in the face of COVID-19?
- What is life expectancy?
- How is life expectancy calculated?
Listen to Elizabeth Arias, a demographer with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, discuss the impact that COVID-19 has had on life expectancy in the U.S. Answer the following questions:
- What drove the CDC to do a mid-year estimate on life expectancy?
- How has COVID-19 affected life expectancy in the U.S.?
- How has the life expectancy of the following communities been affected by COVID-19?
- Black Americans
- Asian Americans
- Latinx Americans
- Native Americans
- What prediction is Arias making on the future of life expectancy?
Introducing the Resource:
In this lesson plan, students will watch the following video of experts discussing life expectancy and public health in the face of COVID-19 at a roundtable event for the Consortium of Universities for Global Health, a nonprofit organization.
This conversation features the following participants:
- Steven Johnson, science author and media theorist, Extra Life
- Rhitu Chatterjee, health correspondent, NPR
- Sandro Galea, dean of the School of Public Health, Boston University
- Mariette DiChristina, dean of the College of Communication, Boston University
While viewing the Living Longer, Living Better? conversation, respond to the questions in this student viewing guide.
- Create an infographic. In the conversation, DiChristina states, “Social divisions that predated the internet, including discomfort around medical freedom and choices, are now getting the megaphone from influencers who can sometimes swamp the voices of experts.” Because more voices are contributing to public messaging, the public is more susceptible to misinformation. DiChristina recommends using a “trust sandwich” to dispel myths:
- Start with a fact (wearing masks helps reduce your risk of infection).
- Warn about the myth (many people are not wearing masks because they don’t think it makes a difference and/or it doesn’t look good).
- Explain the fallacy of that. Why is that a mistaken belief?
- Remind people of the fact (wearing masks saves lives).
Identify a myth you’d like to debunk. Create an infographic using the trust sandwich method that debunks that myth.
2. Assess your community’s assets. Galea notes that life assets like stable housing and food provide better health. Here is a list of some of the assets that Galea mentioned:
- Stable housing
- Economic function
- Clean air
- Drinkable water
Consider your own community. What assets does your community have? Are they accessible to everyone? What assets are your community lacking? Craft a presentation or write a short essay describing the assets your community does have and the assets they still need to cultivate. If your community is lacking an asset, can you explain why you believe your community has not invested in that asset and craft a call to action in order to acquire that asset.
As an extension, challenge yourself to evaluate the assets of a different community. You can choose to evaluate the assets of a neighboring city or a community in a different country. Does this community have enough assets? Why or why not?
3. Healthy life vs. life span. At the end of the discussion, the experts talk about the difference between the quality of life and life span. The CDC calculates a life span but does not calculate the quality of that life. The experts begin to discuss what a healthy life would look like. However, a healthy, quality life is different for everyone. How would you quantify a healthy life for yourself? What would it look like? What assets would need to be in place? Craft a short essay response to these questions.
4. Read underreported stories about public health and COVID-19. Read two to three news stories listed in the Pulitzer Center’s Health Portal or COVID-19 Portal and make connections to the themes reviewed in the video in small group discussions.
5. Research. Steven Johnson identifies the enlightenment as the first time that health inequality was introduced. Prior to enlightenment, it didn’t matter where you were born or how economically advantaged you were, everyone essentially had the same life span of 35 years. Research Johnson’s claims about the enlightenment and write an essay determining how this inequality happened and how it was justified.
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.