By Olivia E. Jackson
As part of Cyrus Peirce Middle School’s “Read Around Nantucket” program, coordinated by Rebecca Hickman, Middle School Librarian, the entire sixth grade participated and engaged in hands-on learning activities, with a focus on English Language Arts subjects, at the Nantucket Atheneum and the Nantucket Historical Association’s Quaker Meeting House, Research Library and Discovery Center. Throughout the mornings of Monday, November 4 and Wednesday, November 6, the six individual classes comprising the sixth grade spent an hour at the above locations. The cultural and historical venues facilitated the students’ immersion with Nantucket’s vast history and enriched the educational content by providing unique and experiential opportunities for students to interact with the academic material.
During the morning rotation, Evan Schwanfelder, Egan’s Manager of Maritime Education, taught a “Survival at Sea” lesson at the NHA’s Discovery Center. He began the morning by sharing shipwreck stories with the students, providing groups of five with nonfiction articles detailing a dramatic encounter at sea. After reading the excerpt and extracting main themes and key details, each group shared their findings with the larger class. The students were tasked with recounting when the shipwreck happened, how and why it occurred, what resources were needed to survive, how many days the crew was at sea, and how far the wreck was from shore. Following the synopses, the groups were put into mock shipwreck situations, and their survival instincts, knowledge and skills were tested.
At the beginning of the “Lost at Sea” activity, each group of students was presented with a scenario in which their vessel wrecked and they are now stranded at sea. After a brief introduction and explanation of the 15 items that the crew has managed to salvage on board, the group was tasked with determining which resources were vital to their survival by ranking them one to fifteen. Once completed, they compared their answers with the United States Coast Guard’s expert analysis and rationale. Based on the numerical difference between their own ranking and that of the Coast Guard, the students learned whether they were rescued, or forever lost at sea.
When asked about the lesson, Evan commented, “In my experience, this is a great team building activity that incorporates English Language Arts skills with working in small and large groups to solve a problem in a collaborative environment. The lesson combines basic mathematics and language arts with experiential learning, intriguing content, and fun team building. This activity is always very well received by both educators and students.”