My Obsession with the Titanic
Earlier this month was the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Usually, around this time of year I sit down to watch Jack and Rose fall in love and die on screen, relishing in the music, the costumes, the exhilarating spectacle that is the James Cameron movie. I scour Wikipedia articles for details on the wreckage, how it was found, and what scientists have pieced together about the event, given new technology. It gets better every year.
Usually, I relive my childhood obsession over curiosity of the Titanic alone. My adult friends don’t find it so fascinating. My boyfriend thinks the movie is too long, and my mom is over it by now. She recalls how I watched it almost every night when it came out. and I was only seven, covering my eyes for all the “mature” parts. I think most people in my age-range are over it. I’m the only weirdo who’s still obsessed.
Sharing and Spreading my Obsession
Do you know who’s not over it? Children. Specifically, the students in my second-grade class.
When the students come into the room in the morning, they get their breakfast, retrieve their chromebooks from the charging cart, sit down at their desks, and take out a special notebook that we use for a game, called, “What’s going on in this picture?” I display a photo on the smartboard, and the kids have to talk to their partners about what they see, and try to infer what’s happening and why. They were greeted on April 14th by this photo:
A few students immediately recognized the rails, the “old fashioned” clothes, the theme music I was playing in the background, and gasped in excitement.
“OH I know all about this!!! The Titanic sank and EVERYONE died.”
“Those people are probably sitting there and have no idea they’re gonna die.”
“How many people were on the ship?”
“I heard it split in half.”
“I didn’t see the movie, don’t spoil it! My mom says I’m not old enough.”
“I saw it but movies aren’t real. Wait, the Titanic was real?!?!”
Days like this get my blood pumping. The kids remarked that I was doing the evil scientist face all day, a silly thing I do when I have fun projects and things planned for them.
Read all about It
We read some basic information about the ship and the series of events that led to the crash. We picked apart multisyllabic words, like “passengers” or “radio frequencies.” We watched a 3D-rendered recreation of the sinking, and listened to the scientists explain what they believe happened. Pausing, rewinding, and replaying to catch details. We looked at the deck plans of the ship, and read map keys. We talked about the difference between a primary and secondary source. About how naval safety was greatly improved after the disaster, and how something this horrible would likely never happen again, so please don’t be afraid to go on a ship!
The kids had so many great questions. Kara asked why the first-class passengers got on the lifeboats while the third-class passengers didn’t. (Good question! do you think that is a fair way to decide who lives and who doesn’t?).
Amy asked why the explorers on the submarines didn’t take treasures and things from the wreck. (They did, and it became a controversy. Should we take selfish little presents from a grave site?)
Mia asked how an iceberg could even break metal. Metal is harder than ice! (Good one, kid! We’re gonna have to look that one up!)
Jenny asked if it was time for lunch yet. (It was).
It was my intention for my students to go home with a few major takeaways:
- Really sad things happened in the past, but human kind learns from its mistakes.
- Reading and asking questions are the keys to learning about ANYTHING you find interesting!
- Your teacher will support you in learning about a variety of topics, including more mature ones, if you’re ready for them.
As a teacher, I get to make lessons any way I want them (sometimes). I can teach any topic, as long as I teach the standards dictated by the state; meaning, I have to teach you HOW to read and write, but the subject matter is up to me.
The Elephant in the Room
A school day like this, where I have the freedom to teach something I am passionate about, and share that passion with beautiful curious minds, is a rare thing. It becomes even rarer when school districts, parents, and state departments become paranoid that I am brainwashing their children with controversial morals, or something. Not a single parent called to complain that I taught the students about an event in history that involved wrongful death, classism, discrimination, or mature content, because I taught it in a way that was sensitive to the students’ ages and maturity levels. I touch on this day every year, and I only get better at it. But I do fear the day when a principal tells me I have to stop because a parent complained.
Trust your teachers. We love what we do, and when we can do it with freedom and without fear, we do it well.
See also: The Titanic 25 Years Later