Monday, June 4, 2012

Program: Aboard the Titanic

When I realized that this year would be the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I definitely wanted to do a program related to the tragedy for my tweens. I wasn't entirely sure what I could do that wouldn't be too upsetting or wouldn't minimize the tragedy too much. I knew one thing that I definitely wanted to do - create a sort of passport or ticket for the kids with information about a real passenger on the ship. I thought this would help personalize the tragedy and make it more relevant to them today, 100 years later. From that baby idea, I scoured the internet and tried to find some ideas. Here's what I ended up doing.

I had originally anticipated a lot more kids coming to the program than the number that actually showed up, so I planned on splitting them into groups and running activities concurrently. However, when I realized it was a small group, I decided to just keep them all together and move from each activity to the next as a group. I started by asking them what the knew about the Titanic. Lots of little hands went up and they especially relished the chance to show off their "expertise." Then I explained to them that I was going to give them passenger tickets and asked them to please not turn the pages (there were 4 pages total) until I told them to. The first page contained the actual invitation to sail on the ship that passengers in 1912 saw and a small scale drawing of the liner. We headed to our first activity station: shuffleboard.

I wanted to give kids an idea of what sorts of activities the passengers might have engaged in to pass the time during their transatlantic trip. I chose shuffleboard because I figured it was easier to explain than a card game and also still relatively popular a pastime. It is very difficult to explain a game to someone who has never played it before (I also had trouble with this when I was working on my take-home packet for the program, which I'll talk about later). But, after some initial struggles, the kids got the gist of it. We didn't keep score (mostly because they were all really terrible and barely scored any points) but the kids didn't even seem to notice; they just practiced trying to get the puck across the line. We played for about 10 minutes and then moved on to our next station. The kids turned the pages in their tickets and saw a photo of their passenger, as well as a brief biography on them.

Here's where I subjected the kids to morse code. What I didn't expect: one kid absolutely did not understand this and really, really struggled. To the point where he was the only child still working and the rest were ready to move on. Thankfully, I had some teen volunteers who could stay at that station and try to help him figure it out (I had given the kids a message in morse code and provided the morse code alphabet). I think part of the problem was that with morse code, it's sometimes difficult to tell where each letter and each word ends (I think this is what the child was having the most trouble with). On the whole, though, they seemed to like trying to decode the message and proudly handed me their completed telegraphs. I explained a little more information about morse code while they were working and they all seemed very interested. We worked on this for about 10-15 minutes and then moved on to our final station. The kids turned the pages in their tickets again, this time reading about what their passenger was doing the night of the sinking.

Our last station was a water station. I didn't really have a solid plan for this, but I think the kids ended up really enjoying this part. I made a couple of icebergs beforehand (by filling balloons with water and freezing them); they hadn't actually frozen completely (despite being in the freezer for approximately 36 hours) but they worked well enough. I used an empty ice cube tray to talk about the compartments that were compromised by the iceberg and the demonstrate how the sinking happened. Then, the kids got to put their fingers in the water to get an idea of how cold it was (obviously my water was not as cold the Atlantic that night). They loved challenging themselves to see how long they could keep them in the water, though I did make sure nobody overdid it. They turned the final pages in their tickets and read about the fate of their passenger (most lived but a few died - those kids were very disappointed).

Our final activity was to watch about 15 minutes of the documentary "Ghosts of the Abyss". I wanted them to get an idea of what the Titanic looked like now. They were all fascinated by this. We talked briefly about whether or not we believed people should take things from the wreckage site (general consensus seemed to be no) and then I sent them on their way, though not before a number of them begged to take extra passenger tickets home for various family members. I gave them each a packet with some more information: a list of books about the Titanic, a list of adventure/survival books, more morse code practice (and a copy of the alphabet), and more information on other pastimes enjoyed by passengers aboard the ship, including whist and patience. I had also set up a table of all the books about the ship that were available at the time; a good majority of them were checked out.

Overall, I think the kids enjoyed the program, but I felt lackluster about it. I'm not really sure why. I guess part of it was that I expected a bigger turnout; lots of kids are fascinated by the Titanic so I expected to have bigger numbers. Additionally, I felt like after all my planning, I really didn't have that much to do. Part of it is that the passenger tickets took a long time to create and the majority of my planning time. So, I think there are some things that I would do differently next time around but overall, the kids seemed to have fun.

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