Tsunami/Teaching Guide

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Tsunami: Teaching Guide

Overview of Process and Constituent Learning Tasks

In this course, students work through three successively richer phases of engagement with text, rich media and activities about tsunami. A mission/game framework situates learning about tsunami both as an interesting adventure and as an act of social responsibility. This cross-curriculum unit challenges students to build an understanding of tsunami as a physical phenomenon, a social phenomenon, an opportunity to develop a sense of personal power and agency, and an opportunity for personal and community preparedness.

  1. The first phase asks students to discover how to identify and describe tsunami through real life lenses (physical characteristics and warning signs, international standardised signage) and to develop understanding of the physical causes and processes associated with tsunami. This initial level of familiarity with tsunami builds awareness of tsunami as a potential danger / natural disaster.
    Learning tasks include: engaging with rich media, reflective responses, multichoice quizzes, multimedia presentation, tsunami simulation experiment
  2. The second phase asks students to explore and respond to the physical, social and human impact of tsunami. The course seeks to evoke a personal response from students, developing a sense of empathy with disaster victims and survivors, and motivating students to be prepared for tsunami.
    Learning tasks include: engaging with rich media, reflective responses, multichoice quizzes, multimedia presentation, creative writing
  3. The third phase asks students to develop preparedness for tsunami (survival plan, escape route, getaway kit) for themselves and their community. This promotes an inspiring sense of their own potential agency as community life-savers, and builds a community which is better prepared to encounter tsunami.
    Learning tasks include: online tsunami game, a full survival plan which constitutes the summative assessment for this course - see assessment criteria.

Analysis of the role of specific learning tasks and activities (within the larger course structure) can be downloaded here.

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Intended Audience

The intended audience for this course is middle school students world-wide aged approximately 11-14 years (years 7-10 in New Zealand). This audience has an English proficiency within or near the literacy level years 5-8 (ages 9-13) in the New Zealand curriculum. The intended audience is able to access the course online and may also be attending classes in a school setting. To support this, developed materials can be used to resource a class room type learning environment or as a stand alone, interactive learning module suitable for home schooling, self-directed learning, supervised extension etc. Some of the activities require students to use equipment from around their environment.

The materials will however be able to be tailored for use in other countries since a) tsunami can occur in any coastal area world-wide and b) the course materials have been developed for world-wide distribution via the Internet. The materials can also be adapted for use with younger or older age groups of students by modifying learning activities so that students use and develop cognitive skills that are appropriate for those age groups. Further suggestions for adaption can be found in the following section of this teaching guide: Suggestions for Adaptation And Other Uses

Links to NZ Curriculum Objectives

The following Level 4 Achievement Objectives of the New Zealand Curriculum are relevant to this course:

Investigating in science

  • Build on prior experiences, working together to share and examine their own and others’ knowledge.
  • Ask questions, find evidence, explore simple models, and carry out appropriate investigations to develop simple explanations.

A three-stage structure lets students develop their knowledge, working in groups on various activities to build understanding. Students investigate the physical forces involved in tsunami. For example, group activity experiment invites students to simulate a small-scale tsunami and share their observations with other groups both within and beyond their class.

Communicating in science

  • Begin to use a range of scientific symbols, conventions, and vocabulary.

International standard tsunami warning signage and appropriate technical vocabulary are introduced and used consistently throughout the unit.

Participating and contributing [in science]

  • Use their growing science knowledge when considering issues of concern to them.
  • Explore various aspects of an issue and make decisions about possible actions.

Students develop disaster preparedness planning for themselves and their communities.

[From the Science Achievement Objectives: ‘Nature of Science’]

Understand that events have causes and effects.

  • Understand how formal and informal groups make decisions that impact on communities.
  • Understand how people participate individually and collectively in response to community challenges.

The causes and effects of tsunami, and possible minimising or mitigating strategies for tsunami damage, are explored. Tsunami are presented as a catastrophic event in the life of a community, and students are encouraged to develop a sense of agency as well as explicit preparedness for such a disaster in their community.

[From the Social Sciences Achievement Objectives: ‘Social Studies’]

Communicating and interpreting

  • Explore and describe ways in which meanings can be communicated and interpreted in their own and others’ work.

[From the Arts Achievement Objectives: ‘Visual Arts’]


Processes and strategies
  Students will:

  • Integrate sources of information, processes, and strategies confidently to identify, form, and express ideas.
  1. uses an increasing understanding of the connections between oral, written, and visual language when creating texts
  2. creates a range of texts by integrating sources of information and processing strategies with increasing confidence
  3. seeks feedback and makes changes to texts to improve clarity, meaning, and effect
  4. is reflective about the production of own texts: monitors and self-evaluates progress, articulating learning with confidence.

[From the English Achievement Objectives: ‘Speaking, writing and presenting’]

Students are encouraged to respond empathically and artistically to the experiences of those who have lived through tsunami. They are invited to share their constructed understanding about the physical processes associated with tsunami, and to report on their own experimental observations. These opportunities for creative and factual response can be used to assess students’ interpretation and expression of ideas.

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  1. To support and guide students to engage with ideas of what tsunami are, how they are caused and how to recognise the signs of one by (tactic) setting learning tasks and assessments that develop and test this knowledge
  2. To facilitate students’ understanding of the personal relevance of the topic and students’ motivation to be disaster-prepared by (tactic) using examples from places and people they can identify with, explicitly encouraging students to identify with examples by setting reflection and discussion tasks that ask them to relate examples and scenarios to their own circumstances.
  3. To facilitate students’ preparedness for a tsunami by (tactic) setting assessment tasks whose deliverables are the elements of disaster preparedness.

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Phase 1, 2 and 3 teacher support

Session plans

Detailed session plans for each of the 3 phases can be found in the file below.

Session plans

Discussion spaces within and beyond your class

While this unit is designed to be accessible to a range of student situations, including self-directed study, certain components of the course aim to provide avenues and ideas for class teachers as they adapt this unit of study for their context. One element that aims at serving both of these interests is the occasional strategic links to discussion threads outside of Wiki Educator.


At certain stages of the course you may notice a discussion link. Each of these discussion links leads to a page on http://tsunamiwiki.wikispaces.com where questions and starters are given related to the activity of the corresponding Wiki Educator page. For example, in page 1.1.3 of the WikiEducator Tsunami unit, the students can complete a short quiz; the discussion link on this page connects to a wikispace discussion thread that gives students an opportunity to talk about the quiz experience and share their views with other students taking the course currently and in the future.

While each of the links provided on the course pages take the user directly to the relevant discussion thread, there is also a directory in the main page of http://tsunamiwiki.wikispaces.com, which provides links to each discussion thread and parallel links back to the corresponding Wiki Educator pages.

The wikispaces discussion space is especially well suited for connecting with other teachers and classes who are using this unit.

List of wikispaces discussion links within WikiEducator course

Phase 1

Phase 2

Phase 3

Alternative discussion spaces, online and offline

As the class teacher, you are most welcome to introduce these discussion links to your students and have them take part in discussion with other classes and with students who are working through the course on their own. If you would prefer to keep the discussions within your class then you might consider recreating the same discussion threads

  • on a new wikispace page
  • on your school's Moodle, intranet or other web-based learning management system
  • on any other email forums or electronic bulletin boards your class uses

where your students can interact with their classmates online (instead of clicking on the links in Wiki Educator, your students would simply open the relevant thread in your class wikispace or other forum in each case).

If you are planning to run the course offline, or aim to emphasise vocal discussion in the classroom, you might also consider using the questions posed in these discussion links as a basis for vibrant discussions in the classroom.

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Suggestions for Adaptation and Other Uses

  • Remember that WikiEducator is a publicly editable site. You can update the resources if you wish, and others may have done so before you.
  • This course is suitable for adaptation for geographically dispersed groups: the use of wikispaces to facilitate class collaboration is recommended.
  • This course is somewhat suitable for groups who do not live in a coastal area. Phases 1 & 2 of this course are most suitable for such groups, and could be delivered as short modules. Possible summative assessments include multi-choice quizzes, presentations about the characteristics and impacts of tsunami, and creative responses to survivor stories. Phase 3 (planning and preparedness) could potentially be undertaken for a designated coastal area.
  • Phase 3 of this course could be adapted to other natural disaster preparedness contexts for a variety of groups.
  • This course is suitable for adaptation to offline use. Apart from the use of the print-friendly versions of course resources (links below), the following changes are recommended to facilitate offline use:
Adaptation for Offline Use
Lesson Learning Task Offline adaptation
Teacher Resources
  • Content.
  • Blackboard or whiteboard presentation.
  • reference books if available.
  • Introduction to session plans, extension activities and course environment.

  • Quiz.
  • Print quiz and marking key.

  • Experiment – create a tsunami answer questions.
  • Print experiment instructions to carry out tsunami simulation using locally available materials if possible.

  • Quiz.
  • Web research and discussion.
  • Prepare a situation report.

  • Print and copy situation report template

  • Review survivor video.
  • Media release.

  • Media release template can be printed and photocopied.
  • Print quiz and marking key.

  • Identify and photograph tsunami signage in own residential area.
  • Design tsunami warning poster.
  • Plot location of tsunami warning signage on map of own residential area.
  • Determine numbers of signs required, materials to make them out of and colours used.

  • Print pictures of signage or draw on black/white board or on paper, photograph local signs or download and print photos of signs.
  • field visit potential if local signage is within easy reach.
  • draw local map, or obtain from a) internet, b) tourism bureaux.
  • design posters, signs etc (offline activity.
  • Examine satellite photographs of before and after tsunami impact to determine differences in physical landscape.
  • Presentation to classmates or family members.

  • print before and after pictures.
  • presentation (offline activity.

  • Video review and questions.
  • Write a short story or a few days in a diary.

  • print or audio interviews/survivor stories.
  • diary or story (offline activity.

  • Complete a household emergency plan for family.
  • as at left

  • Using a map of own residential area, draw tsunami escape routes from home, school, mum and dad’s workplace etc that can be followed on foot.
  • Using same map, mark where tsunami will impact and where welfare centres and safe places are.
  • Find out what own school’s evacuation plan is and inform parents.
  • Find out what arrangements are in place if a tsunami hits when you are at school.
  • Practice evacuation route.

  • same as prescribed.

  • Complete household emergency checklist and assemble survival kit.
  • Assemble getaway kit.
  • Inform family members where kits are located.

  • List key information about tsunami learned so far to help prepare the community.
  • Online ‘stop disasters’ game.

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Rationale for Teaching and Learning Time

As this course is primarily designed for the online learner its aim has been to minimise the number of instances of pure ‘click and read’ learning and include as much authentic interactivity and practical application of knowledge opportunities as possible. Preparing for emergencies such as tsunami requires knowledge of the hazard itself and an understanding of how the hazard ‘works’ and the implications it has for communities. This content must be conveyed in an engaging and interactive manner with the student provided enough time to pause, think and consider the information they have just read about, viewed or listened to.

Some learning tasks are introduced online but are in fact completed offline. For these learning tasks particularly, teacher guidance or facilitation time is required.  Teacher guidance/facilitation will increase significantly when suggestions for delivering or adapting this course for offline delivery are employed. For ‘class mode extension activities’ (links provided in Suggestions for Adaptation And Other Uses table), teacher guidance and some degree of preparation, as noted in each guide, is essential for effective facilitation of these collaborative activities. Time allotted to extension activities in class is over and above time estimates provided for the course in Session plans and the estimated totals provided below.

A practical approach has been taken to learning tasks in all three phases of this course. Students are provided opportunities to apply their knowledge through a range of practical learning tasks which are aimed at preparing students adequately for a tsunami.

  • Phase 1 of this course is the most content heavy of the three stages and it is anticipated that students will need approximately 7 hours to complete the learning and associated learning tasks including the carrying out of a scientific experiment and familiarising themselves with tsunami signage in their local area. Actual teaching time is approximately 5 hours.
  • Phase 2, the briefest of the three phases, requires considerable reflection/group discussion, culminating in a short story or diary task. Anticipated learning time required is approximately 5 hours. Actual teaching time for this stage is approximately 2 hours.
  • Phase 3 learning and learning tasks are heavily practical suggesting students will need a further 10 hours to complete this stage. Actual teaching time in this phase is approximately 3 hours.

Approximate total learning time required: 22
Approximate total teaching time required: 8

(Teaching time does not include time spent marking assessment.)

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Assessments (formative and summative): overview, rationale and marking criteria

Formative Assessment

The formally identified formative assessment activities for this course are the multichoice quizzes in Phases 1 & 2. Successful completion of these activities will indicate that learners have effectively constructed an understanding of how to identify tsunami and the impacts of tsunami, both factors which enable and motivate preparedness. These quizzes are self-marking, but marking keys are given in the suggestions for adaptation section under the relevant lessons. (Many activities within the course could be adapted for use as assessments: see this section for suggestions.)

Summative Assessment

The summative assessment activities for this course involve:

  • the completion of a household emergency plan
  • assembly of emergency survival items and a getaway kit
  • plotting and practising a range of tsunami escape routes
  • the successful completion of an online community preparedness game.

On successful completion of these assessed activities, learners and their families will be well prepared for the possibility of natural disaster. These assessment activities have been selected and designed to be authentic, useful and relevant in the real world. The theory section(s) of this teaching guide expand on the (pedagogical) role of authenticity and genuine context in effective learning.

The summative assessment criteria for each learning objective are detailed in this file (click to download): Summative assessment criteria

Also see this section for other assessment suggestions.

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Relationship Between Audience, Views of Learning, Pedagogy, Learning Tasks and Assessment

Theory (pedagogy, theory of learning) Examples of relevant design choice in this course

Aspects of the theory and how it applies to this course

What makes this theory appropriate for our audience?
Lave: Situated Learning
  • Actual tsunami video footage showing tsunami, tsunami physical impacts and social impacts.
  • Familiarity with own residential location and its level of risk of tsunami.
  • Guided/facilitated discussion requiring social interaction and collaboration between Survival Agents.
  • Cognitive apprenticeship as a Survival Agent.
  • Class mode extension activity guides provide teachers with opportunity to emphasise collaboration and social interaction in class.
  • "Knowledge needs to be presented in an authentic context, i.e., settings and applications that would normally involve that knowledge." (Kearsley 2010).
  • Though tsunami is not a normal context for anyone, we're emphasising how the possiblity of tsunami should be understood as it affects their communities.
  • "Learning requires social interaction and collaboration" (Kearsley, 2010).

The learning activities in this course include:
(a) those that increase the awareness of what tsunami are: which is of specific relevance for people living in New Zealand, where tsunami are a real risk
(b) those that focus on what the students can do to assess the tsunami risk in the situations and locations where they live
(c) those that focus on what the students can actually do to prepare for a tsunami in terms of the design of a survival kit for their own family

This theory is important for the target audience given the recent proximity of major tsunami events and the relevance of tsunami to residents of island/coastal nations. This theory helps pick up on the importance of personal preparedness for this type of emergency.

Skinner: Operant Conditioning
  • Community resilience game as final learning task to provide positive reinforcement for correct action and negative reinforcement for errors.
  • Quizzes to check information retention and provide positive reinforcement for correct action.
  • Media release, situation report and other learning tasks to positively reinforce personal preparedness behavior and messages in a variety of ways.
  • Stimulus-response in preparedness & survival activities is meant to reinforce students' capability to deal with real disaster event.
  • "Behaviour that is positively reinforced will reoccur" (Kearsley, 2010).
  • Presentation of small amounts of information (Kearsley, 2010).
The use of games is appropriate for the age group that the materials are aimed at as for many of this age this is a medium that they engage with willingly.

The use of the online quizzes provide students with immediate feedback on what they have learned, and on what the correct answers are for the questions that they did not provide the correct answer for.

As Survival Agents, students are charged with showing leadership by educating their communities of the risk of tsunami, how to respond when one strikes and how to be prepared for one. Messages are simple but need to be reinforced.

Mager: Criterion Referenced Instruction
  • Use of performance related learning outcomes.
  • Staged/phased learning modules with some flexibility for learners to sequence own instruction within the online environment.
  • Instructional objectives are derived from job performance and reflect the competencies that need to be learned (Kearsley, 2010).
  • "Students study and practice only those skills not yet mastered to the level required by the objectives" (Kearsley, 2010).
This theory is important for the target audience as a key aim of the course is for students to achieve the desired level of competence through fulfilling the role of a Survival Agent. Practical learning tasks are focused on providing opportunities to practice not yet mastered skills in authentic contexts thereby increasing own resilience to disaster.
Gagne: Conditions of learning
Gagne has given us a framework for structuring the course in terms of learning stages.

Sequencing instruction as follows:

  • Gaining attention through use of emotive/dramatic video footage and themed audio messages.
  • Identification of objective through questioning.
  • Drawing on prior learning or information through linking from stage to stage.
  • Present stimulus – e.g tsunami wave definition.
  • Demonstration of how to create a tsunami wave in a tub.
  • Opportunity to provide feedback on the experiment and observations through wikispace or in class group discussion.
  • "Different instruction is required for different learning outcomes" (Kearsley, 2010).
  • "Learning hierarchies define what intellectual skills are to be learned and a sequence of instruction" (Kearsley, 2010).
  • This sequence is loosely repeated for each of the three phases of our course.

This theory is important to the target audience as it highlights the need for a logical and authentic sequence of instructional events to reinforce positive behavior and messages.

Bruner: Constructivist Theory

This course is designed from a constructivist perspective and is the overall guiding principle.  This allows for scaffolding of learning outcomes.

  • Use of emotive video and photographic footage.
  • Survival Agent game approach.
  • Online research tasks and class mode discussions encourage students to extrapolate beyond the information given and apply it to their own individual contexts.
  • "Instruction must be concerned with the experiences and contexts that make the student willing and able to learn (readiness)" (Kearsley, 2010).
  • "Instruction must be structured so that it can be easily grasped by the student (spiral organization)" (Kearsley, 2010).
  • "Instruction should be designed to facilitate extrapolation and or fill in the gaps to go beyond the information given" (Kearsley, 2010).

This theory is appropriate for this target audience as it promotes and supports the important concept of engagement.

  • Real tsunami, real danger.
  • Spirals through three phases of engagement, building from superficial physical through deeper social and emotional to a mastery/ ‘control’ - or at least preparedness in the third phase.
  • students are invited to reflect on experiences, to develop empathy, to plan for emergence.
Gibson: Information Pickup Theory
  • Use of videos, images and photographs to evoke emotion, engage early and explain theory in a way that allows knowledge building and memory by visual association.
  • "Since perception is an active process, the individual should have an unconstrained learning environment." (Kearsley, 2010).
  • Relevance of authentic visual clues to learning process.
  • "Instruction should emphasize the stimulus characteristics that provide perceptual clues" (Kearsley, 2010).
Repeated use of images of real tsunami, actual warning signs, etc. These authentic images remind students that the context is genuine, not artificial
Sternberg: Triachic Theory
  • Development of a range of media throughout the course.
  • Inclusion of public education responsibilities.
  • Assembly of own survival kit and getaway kit.
  • "Training of intellectual performance must be socioculturally relevant to the individual" (Kearsley, 2010).
  • "Training program should provide links between the training and real-world behavior" (Kearsley, 2010).
This theory is important to the target audience as it highlights the relevance of tsunami and real-world behavior to the audience with a view to taking preparatory action.


Stimulus Sampling Theory

  • Staged/phased learning modules that are cumulative modules of learning.
  • Summative assessment located at the end of phase 3 as a culmination of learning which is immediately applied.
  • "While learning of a particular instance is all or none, the overall learning process is gradual and cumulative" (Kearsley, 2010).
This theory is important to the target audience as it enables the reinforcement of key messages of preparedeness for tsunami.  Reinforcement helps actions to become intuitive and performed naturally when under pressure.


Social Development Theory

  • Use of wikispace discussion areas in all phases of the course.
  • Cognitive testing prior to publication with target age group to check appropriate audience reach.

  • "Cognitive development is limited to a certain range at any given age." (Kearsley, 2010).
  • "Full cognitive development requires social interaction" (Kearsley, 2010).
This theory ensures that the language used throughout the course is not out of scope for the target audience and provides an opportunity to maximise the benefits for cognitive development as a result of social interaction.

Detailed analysis of learning tasks can be obtained by following the link below:
Learning task analysis

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The links below are to authoritative sources that were referred to in the development of this course:


Kearsley, G. (28 September 2010). The Theory Into Practice Database. Retrieved from http://tip.psychology.org

Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management (2010) Working from the same page. Consistent Messaging. Tsunami

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