There are some books I could build an entire multi-disciplinary unit around. “Distant Waves,” by Suzanne Weyn, is one of them.
The book is subtitled “A Novel of the Titanic,” but most of the action takes place before that event, leaving the reader anticipating how the destiny of the characters will enfold with what is already known about history. And there is a lot of history in this book. There are a lot of “side trips” that a class could take in this book.
Take a look at the “Book Tralier” by Scholastic (more on Book Trailers later).
Angles for Research
The “Book Trailer” describes the sinking of the Titanic as “One of the most documented tragedies of all time,” which makes it idea for teaching about sources.
Numerous pictures of the Titanic ship and rescue exist on the Library of Congress website. They could be a starting point for writing from the point of view of a survivor:
Example: You are a survivor of the Titanic, on board this lifeboat on the way to the Carpathia, the boat which is rescuing you. What have you been through for the last 12 hours? How did you get aboard this lifeboat? What are you thinking right now?
Photo source: Library of Congress
Science and spiritualism play against (and with) each other in this book in interesting ways. The book talks about the rivalry between contemporaries Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. Here are their PBS web pages:
Nikola Tesla – http://www.pbs.org/tesla/index.html
Thomas Edison – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/edison/
It would be interesting to ask students to pretend that they worked for each of these scientists and ask them to talk about how they feel about the “rival camp.” In the book, Tesla’s assistant gives us Tesla’s opinion of Edision. This could be background research for a class debate of which scientist contributed more to society.
Hoaxes, Conspiracy Theories, and Controversial Science
The Philadelphia Experiment
Both of these topics have sources that support and debunk the topic. It would be a great time to talk about source evaluation, bias, and point-of-view. There are numerous websites about The Philadelpha Experiment, but here are four I’ve picked out which I think would be interesting to have students compare and evaluate.
- Which of these sites seems most credible, and why? Rank the sites on a scale of 1-10, 10 being highly credible, and 1 being not credible at all.
- After reading all four sites, what do you think were the basic issues behind The Philadelphia Experiment? What claims do we have solid evidence for? What claims do not seem to be backed up by evidence?
Turn of the Century Spiritualist Movement
The family in the book moves to a community of mediums known as “Spirit Vale,” which the author modeled after the true-to-life “Lily Dale, NY” spiritualist community. The community survives today, and there is enough information available to talk both about the concept of “intentional communities” – communities of like-minded people who choose to live together, and about point of view:
Gilbert, Bill. “In Good Spirits.” Smithsonian Magazine Online. Smithsonian Institution. June 1, 2001. Accessed: January 4, 2010. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/interest_jun01.html
Lily Dale Assembly: http://www.lilydaleassembly.com/
Compare these two sources of information about the Lily Dale community for point of view.