When Math infects Biology: The coronavirus disease

Authors: Teacher Rosanna Busiello Teacher Mario Di Fonza in collaboration with Teachers Sabrina Nappi & Aiese Rosa Krizia – ISIS EUROPA, Pomigliano d’Arco, Naples, Italy

As Wheeler affirmed: “It is more useful to know how to mathematise rather than to know a lot of mathematics”.

The skills of the citizen, to whose achievement mathematical education contributes, are for example: ADEQUATELY EXPRESSING INFORMATION, INTUITING AND IMAGINING, SOLVING AND POSING PROBLEMS, PLANNING AND BUILDING MODELS OF REAL SITUATIONS, OPERATING CHOICES IN CONDITIONS OF UNCERTAINTY.
In particular, the teaching of mathematics and science (starting from fields of experience) should help students with the use of language and mathematical reasoning as tools for the interpretation of reality and should not constitute solely an abstract background of notions.

Coupling mathematical theory to the real world, in addition to stimulating interest, promotes active learning, helps to face study as a discovery and promotes the understanding of mathematical concepts. Today it is possible to propose an elementary approach to mathematical modeling since high school, thanks also to the new technologies.

Starting from elementary problems, with the aim of their mathematical formalization, concepts and tools are introduced and acquired and tested in the study phase of the model. Subsequently, the evaluation of the efficiency of the model allows you to refine the tools, reflect on the theory and highlight further needs.
This process allows children to appreciate the potential of mathematical language and provides them with a key to understand the theory with awareness.

This lesson was the opportunity for a genuine and concrete peer to peer activity among students. Students were asked to look for sources related to the following news about Coronavirus and to evaluate its scientific foundations:

1-The “very effective” vitamin C, is it used as a drug for patients in the hospital?
2-Does drinking water and hot drinks kill the virus?
3-Are the viruses alive?
4-Do you have to disinfect everything from cell to clothing?
5-Does the virus stay under your shoes?
6-Is washing your hands with amuchina or soap effective?
7-What is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic?

Take a look at the students answers here.

Students used math and biology to understand why the virus started in China and spread in Italy and all over the world.

The so-called flock immunity is a mechanism whereby, when the majority of a population (we are talking about 15%) is immune to an infection (because it contracted or has been vaccinated), the pathogen does not find any subjects to be infected, making the few who are still susceptible protected indirectly. Herd immunity cannot be voluntarily induced by leaving the largest number of people infected, it is rather a goal to be achieved through vaccination campaigns which, starting from an immune population base consolidated after the first wave of an epidemic, upon arrival of the vaccine are conducted on a carpet basis by health personnel, at risk or weaker subjects.

Then we used statistics to answer the following questions: 1. When will all humanity be infected? 2. In which day was the patient 0 infected?

The two answers were:
1. All humanity will be infected in 74 days.
2. The patient 0 was infected in the first days of January (between the 1st and the 2nd of January).

Students used this website to create graphs about the spread of the disease.

The math of contagion or the SIR
Coronavirus math distinguishes the population in 1. Susceptible (S), that is, people who could be infected; 2. Infected (I), that is, those who have already been infected; 3. Recovered (R), that is, those who have been infected, have come out of it and no longer transmit the virus
Inside the SIR model, inside the heart of every infection, there is a number, different for each disease: R0, “err with zero” is the number of people that, on average, each infected individual infects in turn.

The activity was carried out between February and April 2020. While started in the actual classrom, the activity was completed remotely.

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