Pandemic Math: Students Analyze COVID-19 Infection Models

Analyzing COVID-19 modelling and the course of infection has worked its way into many conversations throughout this past year. For St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) students enrolled in Grade 12 Advanced Functions, this became the focus of their year-end culminating assessment. 

The goal was for students to take the concepts learned through course work and use them to research, analyze, and compare Ontario COVID-19 infection rate models in a short video presentation.  

“Our objective for this video production was to connect the somewhat abstract concepts from our senior pre-calculus math course, Advanced Functions, to their lived experiences during the pandemic,” says Dr. Peter Zavodny '97, SMCS faculty.

A COVID-19 modelling graph from a SMCS student's Advanced Functions project.

Using concepts covered since the beginning of the course such as intervals, domain and range, asymptotes (limits), students were tasked with preparing a short video that included a graphical display and robust analysis of the iterations of a minimum of two COVID-19 growth rate models. Videos were to include a brief but mathematically precise analysis of these models and associated projections, along with the use and effectiveness of public health restrictions to improve projections. 

“Administration has encouraged us to use various forms of assessment to evaluate student learning,” says Zavodny. “Our Mathematics Department decided to couple the final exams with this timely video production demonstrating their knowledge acquisition. The associated skills and competencies developed through our curriculum lent themselves neatly to our lived reality dealing with the pandemic.” 

Throughout the 2020-21 school year, students were mentored regularly during Zoom sessions and various email check-ins.

A COVID-19 modelling graph from a SMCS student's Advanced Functions project.

“Students worked on the concepts underpinning the analysis of these models from September, however, their ability to apply these to Ontario's COVID-19 models was limited to our two week exam period,” adds Zavodny.

“I found this evaluation piece to be very rewarding,” notes Zavodny. “It allowed a unique and novel insight into how our students are able to integrate their learning of the curriculum with their own interpretation of it as it applies to their reality. 

“I was blown away by the quality and creativity that went into many of these videos, along with the students’ ability to extract the often abstract concepts inherent in our Advanced Functions course and apply them with such precision in a concrete application.” 

Check out some of our students’ videos below: 

Stefan Cosentino

Stefan Cosentino, Gr. 12 SMCS student

“The video I prepared primarily focused on official Ontario COVID-19 epidemiological projections models and how an in-depth analysis of forecasting data using our understanding of logarithms can be employed to provide valuable public health information,” says Stefan Cosentino, Grade 12. “Unique assessment opportunities like this COVID model analysis video enable us as students to excitingly and engaging explore relevant concepts while being consciously reminded of the endless applications of classroom material, like logarithms, in everyday real-world problems.” 

Calum Leaver-Preyra  

Calum Leaver-Preyra, Gr. 12 SMCS student

“My video focused on analyzing how mathematicians, doctors, and scientists have utilized exponential and logarithmic functions to model COVID-19 infection rates,” says Calum Leaver-Preyra, Grade 12 student. “I also highlighted how certain lockdown and vaccination measures are projected to change these infection rates. This project helped me gain perspective on the importance of these types of mathematical principles in our modern society.” 

Adam Sinapi

Adam Sinapi, Gr. 12 SMCS student

“My focus was on understanding the characteristics of growth and decay models used to model cases of COVID-19 and definitively prove the effectiveness of the December lockdown,” says Adam Sinapi, Grade 12. “I enjoyed applying these learned concepts to real-life situations, especially one as relevant as COVID-19. This project also helped develop our self-learning skills. We learned about the aspects of these functions in class, but it was up to us to figure out how to apply these concepts to COVID-19 modelling.”