Responding to the Boston Marathon Bombings with Inquiry-Based Learning

Responding to the Boston Marathon Bombings

Andy Jones, University Writing Program

University of California, Davis


In my “Writing in Fine Arts” (UWP 102J) class on the day after the horrific bombings in my former hometown of Boston, I began class with a quick lesson on inquiry based learning, which Indiana University, Bloomington calls “Learning [that is focused] around a meaningful, ill-structured problem that demands consideration of diverse perspectives.” I then had my students self-select (via voting, no more than seven to a group) into four groups with different tasks.

  1. They could analyze a Louis Menand New Yorker that was quickly written on the Marathon bombings;
  2. They could discuss and apply concepts raised in Arthur Miller”s 1949 essay “Tragedy and the Common Man”;
  3. They could support an assertion on the ways that photography is insufficient to represent tragic events;
  4. Or they could answer the question “How does art heal?”

Note that the students themselves had to research answers to the final two questions, using the computers in the classroom to find the content of the lesson, and then to organize their thoughts with enough time to offer insights and supported arguments about that content. I was impressed with my students” analysis and assertions, and I did my best to facilitate the discussion, sometimes noting connections between the findings of the different groups.

That night I received this email from one of my students:

“Dear Dr. Jones,

I just wanted to say that I really appreciated you adjusting the lesson plan today to talk about the Boston bombing. Most of the time when things like this happen, other professors go on like nothing had happened. It always confused me and made me feel like I should cover up the sadness. I am very glad that you decided to talk about it. Thanks again.”

Classes like Tuesday’s class remind me how appreciative I am to have had an opportunity to pose challenging questions to smart people on the radio every week (on my KDVS radio show “Dr. Andy’s Poetry and Technology Hour”), for that”s exactly how I ran the class. UC Davis students excel at meeting high expectations, and helping us all grapple with incomplete answers to the national and global problems that vex us.

Post Author: Simon Dvorak

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