Monday, October 25, 2010

Scorched Earth

A few weeks ago in Hungary, a reservoir ruptured, flooding several towns with 185 million gallons of toxic red sludge. The 12-foot high river of sludge killed nine people, with scores more hospitalized with chemical burns and other injuries. The effect on the environment and the people there is still unknown, and the scope of any lasting damage is likely to be unknown for many years. The sludge is a byproduct of refining bauxite into alumina, and is contained in numerous reservoirs in communities surrounding the aluminum plant. A few days after the disaster, a report surfaced that the plant had appeared on a short list of potential environmental disasters several years ago, while photographs taken of the Hungarian reservoirs months before the rupture clearly show degraded and leaking reservoir walls. As of this writing, the manager of the aluminum plant is the target of an official investigation, and the plant’s assets have been frozen. In the meantime, the people in the villages surrounding the plant are trying to put their lives back together in a devastated landscape.

Disasters, whether man-made or naturally-occurring, are an unfortunate fact of life. Pliny the Younger wrote vivid descriptions of the devastation caused by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, while today, haunting images of toxic mud-splashed houses and flooded buildings in Hungary flash across our TV and computer screens. Disasters are a common thread in human history, binding past to present in a very real, dramatic way. The ability to stream live images or publish real-time descriptions of disasters has made such occurrences more personal regardless of where they occur: as fellow human beings, we are able to truly empathize with the afflicted communities, even as we experience it secondhand.

Students typically begin learning about disasters that occur in the natural world, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions. Older students are able to delve more deeply into the topic, perhaps studying human-induced disasters, including their causes, their effect, and what preparations can be created to help prevent against a reoccurrence in the future.

My picks this week all focus on some aspect of disasters, including how stress from experiencing a disaster affects the human body, and how communities can plan for economic recovery after a disaster has affected their community. Throughout the week I’ll be featuring all types of disaster-related lessons and resources for all grade levels on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so please be sure to check those pages frequently.

Are You Prepared?
Subjects: Science, Language Arts
Grade: 3
Natural disasters come in many different forms. In this lesson, students conduct research into the different types of disasters and create brochures that highlight an event and feature ways to protect themselves. What I like about this lesson is that the focus is on safety preparations, which helps to reduce some of the “scare factor” of disasters for younger students. This lesson is a product of the Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX), which offers lesson plans and educational best practices, as well as Alabama professional development opportunities. The lesson is aligned to Alabama Content standards.

Rebuild Your Community
Subjects: Economics
Grade: 9-12
This lesson focuses on priorities for a community's post-disaster economic recovery. It specifically examines the importance of the revival of the cultural, educational, and religious institutions in the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Students examine the concepts of scarce resources, cost-benefit analysis, opportunity costs, and economic incentives in determining how to rebuild and revitalize a neighborhood. This is vital information that gets students to think more broadly about the aftermath of a disaster, and is a topic that is often overlooked in discussing disasters. This lesson is a product of Thirteen Ed Online, the educational online outlet of WNET, PBS’s flagship station in New York. The lesson is aligned to McREL standards.

Mental Health and Disasters: How Your Body Reacts During and After a Tragedy
Subjects: Health, Psychology
Grade: 7-12
In this lesson, students learn about how the body reacts physically to stress, and evaluate the long-term affects of stress on those whose lives have been impacted by disasters. Students evaluate and discuss the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and apply this concept to situations in their own lives. This lesson was produced by PBS Newshour, which offers news for students and teacher resources. This lesson is aligned to national standards.

~Joann's Picks - 10/21/2010~

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