It is very rare that a major natural disaster occurs at exactly the same time that you begin teaching a class about that particular phenomenon, but when it does, as it did with my year 10 GCSE science students a couple of weeks ago, you would be amazed at the result. It would probably not be an injustice to those year 10s to say that they are often not overly inspired by science, and it can be a hard slog to get them to care about the definition of 'a wavelength' and the difference between longitudinal and transverse waves, particularly at 3 PM on a Friday afternoon. However, throw a magnitude 9.0 'quake with a possible nuclear meltdown into the mix and it's a totally different kettle of fish!
From the moment the class entered the room and saw the learning objective (that's the new, educationalist way of saying 'the title') "To learn to explain how earthquakes can cause catastrophic damage" on the board they were bursting with questions.
It is generally considered bad practice for a teacher to spend all lesson talking, the theory going that the students are only learning when they are doing the work, but when you have the entire class hanging off your every word, asking really probing and detailed questions and listening in awe to the answers it is difficult to know how to bring the discussion to an end!
It is also telling that the homework I set following this lesson was the first homework which they all completed on time!
It is perhaps stating the obvious to say that pupils are far more likely to become engaged with what they are 'supposed' to be learning if they can actually understand the point of it. What really dawned on me as I watched my class working harder than I had ever seen is that science is relevant to the lives of these pupils and our main job as teachers has to be getting them to realise that - when you have that connection in a lesson the rest is a piece of cake!