One of the terms heard most often in education is the notion of the “teachable moment.” The idea, of course, is that there are some moments in life when students are so consumed by interest in a subject that they want to learn as much about it as possible.

Perhaps the most dramatic of all teachable moments occurred just over 20 years ago when the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff. At that time, millions of kids were watching this event in their classrooms because a teacher, Christa McAuliffe, was making history as the first civilian to travel into space.

The rest, sadly, is history. Those same children were left in shock as the shuttle exploded–right in front of their eyes. At that moment, of course, everyone in the world was wondering how something like this could happen. Even the least inquisitive students were suddenly interested in knowing how the shuttle worked and what mechanical failure was involved. They might also have been curious about past space tragedies and what this particular historic event would mean for the space program.

Back in 1985, there was no internet. So if these kids were intrigued enough to do some of their own shuttle research, they had to go to the library. I’m sure many of them did–but this required a change of rooms and probably was a frustrating exercise for those not already well versed in card catalogs or the Dewey decimal system.

What a difference a generation makes. Today’s students and teachers have the full breadth of the internet at their disposal when such teachable moments arise. For instructors, this means the instant ability to come up with lesson plans or other relevant information to use in the classroom. For students, it means going online in the classroom, school library, or at home to expand their knowledge of the subject. Needless to say, the importance of early information literacy instruction is infinitely more important today than it was in 1985 because, unlike visiting the school library, students can’t expect to trust everything they find on the web.

While few events could top the Challenger explosion for sheer drama and terror, in the past year or so there have been some very powerful teachable moments. These include the 2004 presidential election, the devastating tsunami that ravaged Southeast Asia, major news events related to the ongoing war in Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina, which directly changed life for hundreds of thousands of students and whose shock waves carried to every school asked to take in displaced hurricane victims.

In the wake of Katrina, eSchool News Online posted a great deal of education-related news coverage, as well as links to numerous resources for people wanting to donate money or determine how to explain the tragedy to students. The response to these online resources from our readers was overwhelming. Many sent us their own suggested links, while others asked us get the word out about free services they were offering to schools. You can find all of this information here:

Katrina was an important lesson for all of us at eSchool News, because it showed just how important it is to meet the needs of a teachable moment instantly. eSN Online has always been determined to put educators in touch with relevant resources, and there were no shortage of these in Katrina’s aftermath.

The significance of reliable information at such a time–both for students and teachers–really hit us in early September, and you can be sure that when the next teachable moment surfaces, we’ll be looking to help educators in this way again.

New content this month

Speaking of using the web in instruction, November brings the return of one of our most popular Educator’s Resource Center topics of all time. It’s called “Enhancing Curriculum with Web-Enabled Resources,” and it’s sponsored once again by netTrekker. Here, you’ll find a wealth of information about how teachers are integrating the web into their instruction. We’ve updated it with dozens of new stories from our recent archives, so if you remember it from the past, it’s time for a return visit.

Also, this month features the debut of our “Interview the Experts” audio feature, where you get to ask leading figures in educational technology about the challenges your schools are facing. Our first group of experts includes NASA’s deputy chief education officer, Dr. Bernice Pinkney Alston; Columbia College Chicago film and video department chairman, Bruce Sheridan; and Virtual High School CEO Liz Pape. You can hear their answers to eSchool News readers’ questions about school technology at:

We hope these new features will give you plenty to think about as we head into 2006–a year sure to be filled with many more teachable moments.