Journal: Really Current Events

One challenged I faced this morning (poor me!) was talking about the tsunami that hit Japan on Friday.

I had finished my lesson planning for this week on Thursday, and over the weekend I was taking care of things in my non-teacher life (laundry, for example) while keeping half an eye on the unfolding information about Japan.  I was literally out of the house from 9AM-11:15PM Sunday and was not up to date on the major fears of a potential nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

And so (yes, poor me) when the class came in talking about Japan’s tsunami, I was not really prepared to teach about nuclear meltdown, radiation, or that aspect of the disaster.  I had no pictures queued up or strategies ready to go.  Nuclear reactions get so technical so quickly that few students had the vocabulary to even know what I was talking about when I brought it up. 

Pictures would have helped to some degree, but as I said, it was impossible for me to be prepared to teach today about something that really developed yesterday.  Sometimes when I quick need a picture I’ll do an image search right in front of the class.  I do this for words like “tree” or  “glacier.”  I did not do this for something like “nuclear meltdown” or “uranium” that could result in disturbing hits.  (Note: not image searching for “uranium” in front of the class was a good call.  I don’t recommend it even alone.)

So what did we do?  Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and general destruction are not too difficult to explain and/or demonstrate, and we did talk about those aspects of what Japan is facing.  I related it to the class by pulling up a Google Map of Japan and putting markers in the Miyagi Prefecture in Japan and in Seoul, South Korea.  This way we could see that the place where half our students are from and the troubled part of Japan are at least 800 miles apart, and one of our Korean students told us that the prevailing winds at this time of year tend to run from Korea toward Japan instead of vice versa.  I think everybody learned something, and many students contributed questions or information. 

Tomorrow, I might show this BBC video about how an earthquake can cause a tsunami, but narrate it myself in my American accent.  I haven’t really found anything clear and basic on nuclear meltdowns in my limited search time, and the weak video I did find on nytimes.com is supported by a video ad that I don’t want to show my class.  If you see anything that does a great job at this, please let me know!

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3 thoughts on “Journal: Really Current Events

  1. How old are your students, and where are you guys located (states-side, or abroad)? Do they share the same L1, or do they come from different language background?

    1. Jana,

      They’re adults in the USA. I usually have at least three L1s in the class at any given time. They also seem to have really varied educational levels from their home countries.

    2. On my very limited time, I found two basic videos on the National Geographic website: Tsunami 101 and Earthquake 101. (I don’t have the link handy, but they should appear right on the home page). Perhaps those could be adapted to fit your group’s needs?

      I read your post from this morning and loved the “chalk drawing” idea. In fact, that’s what my suggestion was going to be. A [theoretically] neat variation might include students themselves drawing up rough sketches of their understanding of what is going on, in pairs or small groups, before the whole class puts the pieces together. They are adults, after all, and if they are not absolute beginners, they might surprise you (as in anyone) with their collective knowledge. As of right now, the above sums up what my first attempt at dealing with this sad and catastrophic event might be.

      I am currently not teaching, but I like to play out different classroom scenarios in my head. I enjoy browsing through your journal because your detailed entries provide me with a lot of learning material – it’s as if I get to observe your class from a distance.

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