Baja, Mexico. It can be difficult as an educator to incorporate events like these into the curriculum. The sensitive nature can make students uncomfortable and upset, and as an educator you risk appearing callus or cold. But, if handled with careful thought and sensitivity, using events like these can open students' minds to new ways of relating science to their everyday lives.
Massive geologic events like earthquakes can be dealt with in the classroom by sticking to the science. Rather than spending too much time talking about the human consequences of a specific earthquake, you might consider discussing the factors involved (such as plate tectonics or the structure of earth). Discussions in class can revolve around why we have seen so many significant earthquakes in a short period of time. Independent research assignments might include finding out whether these events fit into the known pattern of earthquake occurrence, or if there is a connection geographically to these three in particular (e.g. Are they all occurring along the same plate?).
However the subject is approached, just be sure that nothing you do has the potential of alienating students. By playing up the scientific inquiry and objective thinking, and playing down the emotional energy, you can push students to engage with science outside of the classroom and light a spark where there otherwise may only have been a dying ember.
For learning and teaching modules on earth science, including explorations of earthquakes and boundary forms, visit Visionlearning.com. Have suggestions on how to teach sensitive topics in the classroom? Share them with us here!