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Hotchalk Global

news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Disaster Science

The catastrophe in Haiti is going to be in the news for months. Your students and mine will be paying attention and interested in what is going on. Many schools have organized fundraising activities. For those reasons and hundreds of others it is a teachable moment.

Whether you focus on earthquakes and faults or the science behind building earthquake resistant structures, rescue or survival there is a lot of science behind those heroic efforts in Haiti. Giving students a chance to see how science connects to these big events may create a spark that helps guide one of those kids to a career in science. We all know we are going to need more scientists working on these large scale disasters in preparation, prediction and response.

For earthquakes and predictions there are a ton of great sites. The best activities I have found are at the RAFT site

Click on “view idea sheets” and then search “earthquake”. Their activity titled “Shake Table” gives your students a chance to build toothpick structures and test them in a simulated earthquake. This will give them a chance to understand and appreciate the building codes we have in place in the United States that help make our buildings a bit safer.

The USGS has an entire curriculum with lots of great information sheets available at their web site.

There is a series of short articles for students. These will work in science or social studies or language arts for 6-12th grade students. The “teaching box” link takes you to an entire series of lessons. Again this is grades 6-12. The teaching box is a great resource for elementary teachers to become familiar with the science behind earthquakes.

The survival aspect of this disaster produces a more widespread set of questions from students. How long can someone live without water? How do the disaster dogs find people? How do the rescue folks get into buildings that are not safe? Why can’t we just fly planes over and drop food and water by parachute? These are all common questions and many can be answered by watching CNN. Most web sites on teaching about disasters do not include Haiti. They soon will.

The Science Museum of London has an exhibit on the science of survival for elementary students.

The BBC has a wonderful site that takes you through how they find survivors. This site is a must see.

One that covers a range of disasters comes from an ESU in the United States.

The best resource for a disaster that is so recent and ongoing is to have the students search for relevant articles and share them with the class. I would suggest a bulletin board to store the materials and have the students add to it daily. The labs you were planning could take on a survival theme. I am doing quite a bit with the water molecule right now in my class. I am shifting to make sure I include how water is necessary for life (it does have to do with structure) and some easy to explore purification methods that may be used in Haiti.

I remember when the Challenger disaster occurred. The students seemed to quickly tire of the relentless focus on that one news event. It is possible to focus too much on this story. However, the disaster in Haiti will frame science studies for a decade. It is an important event. Students will be interested and teaching the compassionate side of science and the application of our knowledge is often neglected for the analytical science.

I will tell my students tomorrow that I am deeply concerned for the people who will suffer through and those who will not survive this disaster. I will focus on the heroism of the people who are surviving and helping others survive. I am hopeful that science will learn a great deal from this tragic event so that the next disaster will be met with greater knowledge, tools and that science will be able to ease the suffering of folks who are impacted by natural disasters.

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Disaster Science

In the wake of the devastating earthquake I thought it would be appropriate to give my kids some science related to disasters. We always have a current events folder and bulletin board and it seemed to be full of disaster related news.


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