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Kids not rattled by quake interrupting science exam … on earthquakes

Sixth-graders at a Jewish day school outside Philadelphia get a real-time lesson in experiential learning.

A close-up of a seismograph machine needle drawing a red line on graph paper depicting seismic and earthquake activity. Credit: Inked Pixels/Shutterstock.
A close-up of a seismograph machine needle drawing a red line on graph paper depicting seismic and earthquake activity. Credit: Inked Pixels/Shutterstock.

In a case of life imitating art, so to speak, during the 30-second or so 4.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled areas in the U.S. Northeast on April 5 at about 10:20 a.m., a group of students at a pluralistic Jewish day school were studying the issue—quite literally.

Sixth-graders at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy outside of Philadelphia were in the middle of a test on Friday morning when they felt the room rumble. What was the subject that had pen to paper?

Earthquakes.

It was a teachable moment, said Aaron Silver, head of the school’s science department.

“My class was in the middle of their earth science test on ‘Shaking and Shaping.’ The first question was between P waves or S waves, with a follow-up of how scientists use them to determine the location of an earthquake. While they didn’t do any calculating, they certainly did get to feel the delay between the two waves,” he said.

“I thought that maybe someone was running down the hallway to cause the shaking, but many of them started asking if what we felt was an actual earthquake,” he continued. “After I looked online to check, I confirmed that their observation and inference skills were quite accurate. Not to make light of an earthquake, but it was experiential learning at its best!”

Asher Alter, 11, who was in the class, said, “We were like, whoa! What are the chances that it was an earthquake?”

“We started talking, a side conversation, even though you’re not supposed to talk during a test, and then afterwards did some research on it,” he said.

And how did the exam go amid the disruption? He replied: “I think I did pretty good, but you never know.”

The quake has been reported as originating in Lebanon (not the country but a borough in New Jersey) and felt in cities along the East Coast.

The head of school, Rabbi Marshall Lesack, sent out an immediate email to parents, noting that the impact there “was minimal—a mild rumbling for a moment at the beginning of third period—after which we ensured that all people and places on campus were safe. Our school day is continuing as usual.”

He continued, “In a rare teachable moment of true synchronicity, our sixth-grade science students happened to be taking an exam about earthquakes at the precise time it occurred.”

And he concluded with a blessing that can be said upon experiencing an earthquake:

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, whose power and might fill the entire world.”

Next up for natural awareness: a total solar eclipse (which comes with its own blessing) on April 8 that is expected to darken 15 U.S. states as the moon’s shadow crosses the continent.

The students are slated to study that, too, but no test required.

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