Monday, January 16, 2006

Titanic Unit Study


Written by and used in SmallWorld
Geared to 2nd-6th grade but can be adjusted and used with multi-ages

Day 1: Background

* The Titanic: Lost and Found (nonfiction)
* You Wouldn't Want to Sail on the Titanic! (nonfiction)

Internet: Eyewitness History: The Sinking of the Titanic. Read about the sinking from the perspective of a governess on board.

(arts and crafts, handwriting, research)
Begin writing a book about mistakes made surrounding the Titanic tragedy. What are some ways that the tragedy could have been prevented or lessened? What could have been done differently? The whole story of the Titanic is full of little mistakes that added up to a big disaster. We used the first two books (above) and websites for research.
To make this book, we folded construction paper in half for the cover and stapled plain white paper inside. We have titled the book Oops! The Titanic's Book of Hindsight. On each page, we describe one or two mistakes that were made by various participants. For instance, "Oops….I forgot my binoculars! The lookouts left their binoculars back in England." And "Oops…Do we have any more lifeboats? The Titanic's lifeboats only had room for 1,178 people." The kids can write and illustrate each page, according to his/her ability level.

DAY 2: Background
Titanica: An Imax Presentation (95 min.)--from library

Reading: Titanic Crossing (begin--this is a rather long fiction book)

Do more work on the Oops! Book
Titanic sketch: Draw a sketch of the Titanic. Use lots of books as resources, and encourage your child to add lots of details. He or she may want to work on this over several days. We did this with about 8 pieces of paper taped together.

DAY 3: Getting Personal
Video: Titanic: The Truth Behind the Legend (55 minutes)--from library

Titanic Crossing
Titanic (Victoria Sherrow)

• Add another page or two to the Oops! Book based on today's reading and watching.
• Family history: Make a family tree, going back as far as you wish. Be sure to write the surnames of your ancestors. Talk about whatever family history you know. Where did your ancestors come from originally? Point out the different countries on a map. Trace the route they may have taken over. Afterwards, search the passenger/crew list for names that belong to your child's family tree. (Titanic: Fortune and Fate has a nice passenger/crew list at the end of the book.) We found our surname and a couple other names on our family tree. (You may like to find names of friends if you can't find any of your own family's names.) Talk about the names you've found. What class was the passenger in (first, second, steerage)? Where may they have been going? How might their lives have been changed after the disaster (particularly if one family member was lost and others survived). This project will be continued on another day.

DAY 4: Passenger Stories
• Family history: Choose one of the names from your family tree. Write a story from this person's perspective. For instance, we found that the chief firefighter on the ship shared our surname. We wrote a journal-style essay of his last hours, from the moment that Captain Smith sounded the alarm until the ship went down (he was lost at sea). To spark ideas, I began each journal entry with a sentence, and then Jesse wrote several sentences on his own.

Titanic: Fortune and Fate. This is a wonderful book with lots of photos, letters, mementos and personal effects from passengers and crew members.
Discussion: Class structure. This is a good time to discuss class structure. Ask your child if we still have a class structure today in the United States. He or she will most likely say "no." We launched into a long discussion about our own class system, ranging from homeless people to tycoons. We also briefly discussed the caste system of India.

Science activity: Floating
Materials: 20 paper clips, foil, ruler, bucket of water
1. Have your child state why he believes heavy ships can float and what he thinks will happen with this experiment.
2. Cut two 12-inch squares from aluminum foil.
3. Wrap one of the metal squares around 10 paper clips and squeeze the foil into a tight ball.
4. Fold the four edges of the second aluminum square up to make a small one square pan.
5. Place 10 paper clips in the metal pan.
6. Set the metal pan on the water's surface in the bucket.
7. Place the metal ball on the water's surface.
8. Record what happens when in steps 6 and 7. The metal pan should float and the ball should sink. Have your child write an explanation of why this happened.
9. Discuss buoyancy and how it allows huge ships like the Titanic to float. *
* At this point your kids will most likely want to test all kinds of different objects to see what floats and what sinks! Try to have them predict beforehand if an object will float or sink based on its density.

Reading: Continue reading Titanic: Fortune and Fate.

Activity: Graphing lives lost and saved
Using a passenger list, begin tallying statistics on passengers. We divided these into Lost and Saved, and then 1st, 2nd and 3rd class within each category. Our goal is to graph a few hundred names of each class passengers both lost and saved. We will spread this activity over several days, as the tallying becomes tedious after a few pages!

Polar: The Titanic Bear. This is the true story--told from the POV of a stuffed bear--of one family's experience on the Titanic. This is such a wonderful story, with so many topics for discussion. Note especially the lifestyle of the rich and famous in the early 1900s.
Activity: Write a story from the POV of a favorite toy. For example, Jesse's story is about getting lost in the mountains, told from the viewpoint of his hermit crab.

Internet: Mary Jane's Q&A Page
Questions and answers about the Titanic, including myths and legends surrounding the disaster.

Day 6: The Sinking

Reading: Continue reading Titanic: Fortune and Fate. Begin reading: Titanic: The Story of the Disaster in the Newspapers of the Day. This is a wonderful collection of newspaper articles dating from the launching of the Titanic through the sinking and its aftermath. It is very interesting to note, on the first several pages, how inaccurate the reports were. (This is a good time to discuss—briefly—how we can't always believe everything we read!)
Read The Heroine of the Titanic. This is a fun story about Molly Brown.

Activity: We graphed another 50 names or so of the passenger list (saved or lost, which class). We then discussed our results (i.e., that so many more third class passengers were lost than either first or second).

Add another page or two to the OOPS book.
Activity: Lifeboat crisis:
• Discuss the issue of lifeboats and why they were such a factor in the number of people who died on the Titanic. Ask questions about what/who determined who got into the lifeboats.
• Figure out how many lifeboats there were on the ship and how many people each could hold.
• How many people would be without a lifeboat?
• How many lifeboats should there have been?
• How many people would be without a lifeboat

On Board the Titanic by Shelley Tanaka
This is a really excellent, comprehensive book about the disaster, told through the eyes of Jack Thayer, first class passenger, and Harold Bride, assistant telegraph operator.

Titanic (part 1)
I was able to record this when it was on television and edit out all of the sexually explicit material. I would NOT recommend allowing a child watch the unedited version unless you are right there to fast forward. Some parts are very inappropriate for children. However, the movie as a whole has some wonderful images, social customs, views of the ship, etc. We paused often to talk about various parts of the movie.

Construct the Titanic! Jesse made a wonderful model of the ship with black construction paper. He used about 8 sheets to make it about 3 feet long by taping the paper together. He cut out all the details around the outside of the ship and used a white gel pen to make the windows, etc. Looks really great! A great book to read along with this is Inside the Titanic.

Reading: Skim the rest of Titanic: The Story of the Disaster in the Newspapers of the Day. I would have enjoyed reading this a lot more if we had time. Some of the stories in here are fascinating. We did take quite a while to read one near the end of the book that was written for Harper's Weekly. This is a narrative told by a passenger who escaped in one of the early lifeboats. These articles give a lot different details than some of the modern books.

Movie: Titanic (part 2)
Again, this movie should be watched with careful guidance. I had edited out quite a lot of material in the first part, especially. You know your child best. You should definitely watch the movie first yourself to decide if it is appropriate for your child.

Take an icy plunge! Fill a large mixing bowl with a lot of ice and add some cold water. When the water gets really, really cold, have your kids try keeping their hands in as long as possible. Talk about hypothermia.

Day 9
Finish OOPS book.

Titanic: Lost and Found by Judy Donnelly
You Wouldn't Want to Sail on the Titanic by David Stewart
Titanic by Victoria Sherrow
Titanic: Fortune and Fate (letters, momentos, and personal effects from passengers and crew)
Polar: The Titanic Bear by Daisy Corning Stone Spedden
Heroine of the Titanic by Joan W. Blos
On Board the Titanic by Shelley Tanaka
Titanic: The Story of the Disaster in the Newspapers of the Day.

Titanic Crossing

Titanica: An Imax Presentation (95 min.)
Titanic: The Truth Behind the Legend (55 minutes)
Titanic (Leonardo di Caprio) --home edited version, about 3 hours

Internet Sites:
Eyewitness History: The Sinking of the Titanic.
Read about a young girl's account of the sinking.

Take a tour of the Titanic.

PBS Titanic

Mary Jane's Q&A Page, includes myths and legends surrounding the disaster.


  1. A few years ago, I was asked to use my genealogical sleuthing skills to help track down the final resting place of a Titanic survivor. It was both an interesting and very moving experience for me. I look forward to reading through your Unit study and sharing it with Kacy.

  2. Thanks for compiling all of this wonderful information and resources. We have just recently begun a more traditional form of homeschooling and I pulled tons of useful ideas from your work. Thanks again.


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