The Halifax Explosion-A Webquest

This post is from Carol Duffy who teaches in Lamoine

Richmond neighbor in Halifax after the explosion:
Richmond neighborhood in Halifax after the explosion:

On December 6, 1917, Halifax, Nova Scotia experienced the largest man-made explosion the world had ever seen when the Mont Blanc, filled with explosives, collided with another ship.  “The Halifax Explosion” webquest ( )provides links to the CBC site ( ) containing many primary resources.  Students can read about a fireman who was blown from his vehicle, caught in a tidal wave, and survived both to live another 54 years.  In addition to the CBC resources, YouTube has several good videos about this event.  My favorite is an interview with Peggy Gregoire who was a young student at the time.

After exploring these resources, the webquest task is to assume the persona of a person affected by the explosion and to write a letter about the day.   To help students use the correct tone for their letters, there’s a link to war letters written in 1917.  If your students want to make their letters look old, there are links to sites with directions for aging paper.

I used this webquest with a mixed grade level grouping of middle level students.  Many of them told me that this was one of their favorite writing activities for the year because of the interesting resources.

Advice from Mike Muir on Engaging Tasks–Part 1

Almost everyone in middle level education in Maine knows Mike Muir!  We have …

  • taught with him in Skowhegan
  • taken a course with him when he was a professor at Farmington
  • heard give a keynote at MAMLE
  • been mentored through a team project at MLEI
  • attended one of his state, regional, or national presentations
  • read one of his articles or blog posts
  • worked with him in Auburn where he is the current Multiple Pathways Leader

Mike gets around!  In fact he is just about to become the new President of AMLE.

Mike Muir

Mike is passionate about finding ways to ensure each student is given an even chance at succeeding in school. He believes that one important component in this quest is creating engaging and meaningful learning environments.  He has described engaging tasks in a three-part series on his blog Multiple Pathways, a blog well worth following.  He has given MAMLE permission to repost this series.

Here is Part 1.

What’s an Engaging Task?

Are you looking for a teaching strategy that can hook and engage your students? One that can work with almost any content area? Then you’re looking to use an Engaging Task.

Engaging Tasks are an easy-to-implement real world learning strategy.

Engaging Tasks are the part of a WebQuest that make them so engaging to students. But they are such a strong pedagogical strategy that they can be applied to nearly any subject or topic, don’t need to be part of a WebQuest, and don’t even have to be used for an activity that requires technology (although technology can be it’s own motivator!) – THE place for everything about WebQuests – defines a WebQuest as an inquiry-oriented lesson format in wich most or all of the information that learners work with comes from the web. Some educators mis-identify a WebQuest as a series of low-level questions that students use the web to track down answers to, but this is far from a WebQuest. WebQuests require that students apply higher order thinking strategies.

The idea of WebQuests was developed by Bernie Dodge and Tom March.

WebQuests follow a specific format and include these 6 components (although sometimes one or two of them might be combined):

  • Introduction
  • Task
  • Procedure
  • Resources
  • Evaluation
  • Conclusion

In my opinion, the part of a (good) WebQuest that makes it so engaging is the task. What makes a task so engaging?

Instead of simply charging students with an assignment, an Engaging Task tells a little story (only a paragraph or so!) that gives the students a reason for doing the work. The engaging task is made up of three parts:

  • The compelling scenario
  • A role for the student
  • The thing for the students to do

Engaging Task Resources: