Researching Online

Most students begin a research project online, so why not help them learn to surf the Web effectively? WebQuests are today’s version of scavenger hunts: learning activities where students gather and interact with information
on the Internet. WebQuests typically include an introduction to the subject, a task, links to websites, a way to evaluate the info, and some “takeaway” value.

A simple WebQuest for the Titanic might look like this.

  • Introduction: 1,517 people died when the Titanic sank in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912.
  • Task: Create a pie graph showing how many first-class passengers died versus the number of second- and third-class passengers who perished.
  • Process: Visit to find information on the ship’s passengers.
  • Evaluation: Use a rubric to assess students’ pie charts.
  • Conclusion: Using your pie chart, what can you conclude about the role class played in who got to board lifeboats first? Do financial and social status play a part in who is taken care of first in an emergency today? In what ways?

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Interviewing an Expert

Being able to interview and be interviewed are valuable life skills. To give students practice asking and answering questions, have them research a real passenger or crew member from the Titanic so they know the person’s name, age, occupation, and so forth. Next, invite a group of students to come in costume as their subjects. The rest of the students can play journalists and interview the surviving “passengers.” The next day, have students switch roles.

To further learning, have students brainstorm what real-world expert they might interview about the sinking of the Titanic (for example, a ship’s captain or an oceanographer). Contact the experts (or, better yet, have students contact them!) and invite them to speak at school.

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Finding Primary Sources

A primary source is any document or object that was created during the actual time of an event or by a historical figure (e.g., books, speeches, news film footage, photos, official records or artifacts). Unless you’re near an exhibit, it may be impossible to see actual Titanic artifacts. (But thanks to modern technology, you can view them online. See link below.) To help students understand what a primary source is, have them create a classroom time capsule about a modern-day disaster or accident. Ask them to bring in newspaper articles, photos, or artifacts, if possible.

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Exploring Secondary Sources

A secondary source is one that interprets a primary source (for example, a textbook or documentary about the event or person). After learning about the Titanic and researching newspaper reports, have your students create their own “secondary sources” in the form of a timeline of the events of April 14–15, starting when the ship hit the iceberg until the time it was completely submerged or when survivors were picked up by the RMS Carpathia. If your kids are video-minded, challenge them to create a documentary about the shipwreck that they can then screen for younger students.

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Utilizing Personal Experience

Personal experience can be a great research tool. Even if students never use the information in a report, these kinds of details help them better understand what the people involved went through. Most of the Titanic victims didn’t drown; they died of hypothermia in the frigid Atlantic Ocean. (The temperature of the water was approximately 30 degrees Fahrenheit.) Challenge your students to get a sense of that night by having them put their hands in a bowl of ice water. To further learning, discuss the factors that could speed or delay hypothermia, such as a person’s age and weight, amount of clothing worn, and amount of time in the water. Or experiment with various insulants, such as gloves and vegetable shortening.

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Evaluating Sources

Evaluating sources is often difficult for students. To help your students distinguish a good resource from a poor one, help them create a “Don’t Make a Titanic Mistake” bulletin board. To start, make cards with a variety of clues that will “save” a researcher from poor sources. For example: a good online resource has an expert author, cites other sources, has clear intent (informs rather than entertains), is up-to-date, and frequently ends in .edu, .gov, or .org. Next, make cards with clues that show how a source can quickly “sink” a research paper: the resource doesn’t list an author, or come from a “free for all” forum such as Wikipedia. Cover a bulletin board in blue paper and a construction-paper lifeboat. Hand out the cards and ask students to place them either in the lifeboat or in the ocean as “icebergs.”

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