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CNHI Special Projects

April 5, 2012

Children drawn to Titanic tale; educators use caution

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

Lucy Sullivan spares no detail during a Titanic unit for her seventh-grade language arts students in Brookfield, Conn. For seven years, she has assigned each real-life Titanic characters as she slowly lets the tragedy play out in class over a week or so.

She arranges their desks by type of ticket she issues them at the beginning, with first-class passengers assigned prime spots. They journal about the story throughout, learn of the mysterious missing locker key that left a lookout without binoculars and watch as she rolls a cardboard model of the ship around the classroom on a cart to demonstrate the crash itself.

At the end, her students discover whether their characters lived or died.

"When you're replaying something for 12-year-olds, the amount of information that allows you to put this puzzle together minute by minute is very powerful," Sullivan said. "Those students who never really liked fiction find this to be delicious and those who hate fiction and love nonfiction find this to be delicious."

Why? "It's a combination of gaudy details and tragic events. It doesn't get any better than that. You own the kids if you use even a small percentage of what's available on this to teach," she said.

The effort wasn't lost on her groups this year. Sam Petriccione, 12, calls the Titanic "a day that will always live in infamy."

He added: "It shows me that being cocky and arrogant doesn't really pay off. The people in the cockpit were so positive that the ship couldn't sink that they refused to shut down the ship and stop because of the icebergs."

Jasmine Davis in Pittsburgh wasn't one of Sullivan's students, but she was definitely a Titanic-obsessed kid. She's 23 now but at 9 couldn't get enough of the subject, including Robert Ballard's 1985 discovery of the wreck strewn half a mile across the ocean floor. The oceanographer and marine biologist's video and photos ignited interest in the wreck among a new generation of kids.

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