Guest Blog: Tsunami Teachable Moment

Cicely A. Day teaches 4th and 5th graders at PLACE @ Prescott Elementary in Oakland, CA.  Check out how Cicely used BrainPOP’s Featured Tsunami movie to teach the science behind the natural disaster occurring in Japan; inspiring her students to ask questions and explore answers! Empower your students to learn something new every day with our BrainPOP Featured Movie. This go-to free resource changes regularly, providing timely and calendar-aligned digital content!

The recent tsunami and earthquake brought devastation to many citizens of Japan; it also brought an important teachable moment into my classroom.  The night before the lesson, I was on my computer finishing up report cards and decided to see if BrainPOP had any new featured movies or free resources available. I spotted the featured Tsunami movie and thought, “Wow, how cool is that!  My students need to know about this, I’ll share it with them soon.” I woke up the next morning, turned on the news, and saw what had happened in Japan.  I thought about the BrainPOP movie from the night before and quickly got prepared to address what happened with my students.

When I got to school that morning my students were scared of the coming tsunami. They didn’t understand the science behind a tsunami, how or why it was caused, and if it could possibly reach them.   I first made sure they understood that the tsunami was not going to reach them or hurt them.  I then shared with them that I had a special movie to help them better understand tsunamis.  Together we watched the BrainPOP Tsunami movie and had a group discussion about natural disasters and what causes tsunamis.

We then watched the movie again to focus specifically on the science behind the tsunami. During the movie we paused and discussed where tsunamis start, how the waves act while they are traveling across the ocean, and how they act when they come on shore.  After watching the BrainPOP movie, I felt my students had a solid grasp on the science behind what was happening and clearly understood that they were not in harm’s way.  The BrainPOP movie piqued their curiosity about what exactly was happening in Japan and the questions began flowing in. I decided we would let their questions guide additional discussion and lead us into conducting more research as a class.

Together, we watched actual footage from CNN covering the earthquake, waves coming ashore, and we saw one of the huge whirlpools that occurred after the tsunami.  I then took the students to the USGS website; we looked at animations of earthquakes occurring in California and compared data from the earthquakes occurring in Japan. We also went to the NOAA website to explore their questions further.

We were able to use BrainPOP combined with unfortunate real-life events to do explorative learning and grab on to that teachable moment. The Tsunami movie provided my students with the background information they needed to better what happening in Japan. Together, we learned that natural disasters can be both scientifically amazing and unbelievably harmful.

Cicely A. Day
Oakland, CA

How did you address the natural disaster in Japan with your students? Post comments below.