The Titanic: Using a Thematic Unit
Although the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is a perfect reason to bring the topic into your classroom, doing so is easier said than done. As spring arrives, many teachers are scrambling to cover all the topics they are required to cover by the end of the year. Breaks and standardized testing take up even more class time, so adding in an entirely new and unrelated topic is a luxury most teachers can’t afford. In a perfect world, teachers would be able to intertwine the topic within the subjects they are trying to teach before the end of the year. In the real world, it takes a long time to integrate a new topic into tried and true lessons, and it’s easier to stick to the lessons from previous years.
What if you could find a unit of lessons about the Titanic that were already worked into different subject areas, teaching important history, math, science, and even P.E. lessons? With the type of sharing available through the Internet, today’s teachers can find lessons and units on more obscure topics than you might imagine. To demonstrate this, I searched for “Titanic” on the Gateway. The 40 results returned all looked interesting, but since I knew that I would probably be really short on time during the home stretch of the school year, I decided to only focus on complete units of instruction that would allow me to use the Titanic theme to sneak in learning in all different areas. When I narrowed my Gateway search to only include only this type of resource, I found 4 units of instruction about the Titanic. One of the resources was a complete thematic unit from Australia called the Unsinkable Thematic Unit. Thematic units can be really nice because they cover many subject areas under one theme. The last part of the school year is a hard time to keep student interest. Keeping all your lessons tied to a theme might help maintain student motivation.
Whether or not this unit will be useful in your classroom, you can find some really neat ideas and tie-ins to the Titanic theme. I like all the different hands-on lessons on sinking and floating. I also like the way students get to research passengers and take part in a simulation as a crewmember, or a passenger from first class through steerage. There are also fun P.E. Titanic games. Many of the math, reading, writing, and science lessons are teaching topics that students need to know anyway, and connecting them to the Titanic makes them a little more exciting.
If you don’t want to devote an entire unit to the Titanic, you can use some of the stand-alone lessons among the 40 Titanic resources on the Gateway. A couple good ones to try are the Nova activity, Camera Overboard! and Scholastic’s Summing up the Disaster. You can be sure you are covering everything you need by checking the alignment of the resources to your state standards with the Standards Suggestion Tool on the Gateway.
Another way you can use the Titanic theme is to give your students an open-ended assignment to make a comparison between the Titanic and the recent sinking of the Costa Concordia. One example of this type of comparison is from LiveScience. You could present this activity from many different angles, focusing on things like class disparity, social differences between 1912 and now, differences between the causes of the shipwrecks, and more. If you are looking for some good pictures of the Titanic to share with your students, try this collection from the Boston Globe.
I hope you can find a way to help your students learn from the Titanic disaster from 100 years ago. For more ideas, please visit the Gateway.