Posted by: markhowell101 | March 13, 2011

Floating teaching and the Japanese tsunami

The events in Japan over the past few days have been shocking. Whilst I have had a busy few days and have seen little news coverage I have of course seen some of the amazing and shocking footage of the tsunami. What has struck me is that this is a disaster in a major MEDC country and therefore there has been high quality footage shot by people experiencing the disaster and filming with phones etc. There has also been an array of helicopter and news crew footage which films the event as it take place. I can’t remember a natural disaster with coverage like this and in many ways it reminds me of the scenes around 9/11 more than other natural disasters. When the previous tsunami, on boxing day 2004, hit in the Indian Ocean, there was limited TV footage and later footage that emerged was grainy. Certainly I never saw any live helicopter shots. I know that details are still becoming clear about the number of casualties and the numbers continue to rise with the nuclear plant issues but it seems this disaster will not have a death toll anywhere near as high as the terrible numbers in 2004.  In spite of this I dont remember the 2004 tsunami getting round the clock coverage on the news channels 4 days after the event, there simply was not the amount of footage to keep the news tickers going.

All this coverage meant that even as early as Friday this was all my students wanted to talk about. I am currently not teaching tectonics with any of my classes, having recently finished with year 9 and am about to start with both y10 and 11 but it seems to make sense to me and many other teachers I have spoken to strike while the iron is hot and deal with this while the students are impassioned about it. I therefore dropped 20 minutes from my lessons on Friday and will do so again on Monday to tackle what is going on in Japan. Issues as great as this I think are so significant that we should be able to float them into the curriculum and just step back from whatever is being done even if it is just for 20 minutes.

However, in the immediate hours after the event it is difficult to know how to resource a lesson on an event such as this for many reasons. Although clearly in the years that follow this will become a case study for many text books and revision guides, right now it seems senseless to trivialize it in this way. I decided the best approach was not to have them produce work of any kind but simply just to discuss what was going on. I of course opened up with revision on tectonics and we looked at the specifics of how this event was caused. This was followed by looking at video footage and images of Japan and discussing the scenes and issues which came out of this. The understanding of the causes and consequences and management of this event among the students was on a level you could never expect from teaching a cold and unknown to them case study. They engaged in a very high level conversation and strong differences of opinion emerged on how we should manage and recover from events like this. This contrasts greatly with teaching normal case studies where students need to learn facts about the event in order to answer exam questions.

Whilst you can never of course plan a floating curriculum, the ability to be flexible and teach reactionary and relevent issues creates some of the best learning I have experienced in quite a while. At technology improves our immediate coverage of global events such as this will improve and speed up and this will enable us to teach issues as soon as they arise. The students live in an age of immediacy where information spreads very quickly and interests seem to fade equally quickly, I think it is important that we as teachers do just a little to capitalise on their sometimes passing interests.

My thoughts of course go out to anyone who has been affected by these disasters and from the conversations I had on Friday the students of East Northamptonshire are thinking of you too.

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