Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ending October with a Very Sharky Week

Another amazing week of Skype Classroom Visits has come and gone and I am still reveling in the unique, yet always inspirational experience of each visit. The Internet gods have been smiling on our little island and the connection has held for each visit. Writing that statement, though, will surely doom me for a Murphy’s Law moment of Internet failure in the near future. Fingers crossed for continued smooth sailing.

I kicked off the week speaking to 4th graders in Michigan followed by Kindergarteners in Wisconsin. I think Kindergarten and first grade might be my favorite age group to speak with. They have so much energy and excitement about the world around them and it is contagious. The way a child’s mind works at age 5, 6 or 7 is fascinating and I am always amazed at the statements and questions I get. Often times they are random, but I can usually find the logic that might have lead them to a certain conclusion and the journey is always a lot of fun.

Mrs. Harmann’s Kindergarten class wrote in their Skype journals after my visit and here are some of the JAWSOME things they had to say.

Sharks do not have bones-Jacob
Sharks lay eggs called a Mermaid’s purse –Cate
We should not be afraid of sharks –Adam
Sharks can smell their food before they see it –Bennett

This is continuously a learning process for me as well. The world is always changing and the interests often vary from class to class. I am constantly adding new elements and adjusting information to suit the needs of each classroom. They way kids interpret the information is also fascinating. What do they fixate on? What do they remember? What do they think is awesome? My lesson is about being a shark diver and underwater videographer, but is heavy on shark conservation as well. This is a lot of information and the direction each conversation goes depends entirely on questions the students have. I also ask the students a lot of questions because I want to know their ideas and thoughts about sharks. This is critical in providing information to them about sharks and shark conservation, while also making it fun. It is not about driving home the cruel reality of shark finning, it is about providing them with cool facts about sharks, debunking the man-eater myth and instilling the idea that they can make a difference. I want to encourage them to speak up and not be afraid to ask questions. They have a voice and it is important for them to gain confidence in using it.

I still get the, “have you ever been bitten by a shark question,” but not as frequently and I also get different versions including, “do I know someone who has been bitten,” and “has a shark ever tried to attack me when I am diving?” I (touch wood) have never been bitten, but I do know people who have and in each case it was the person’s fault. I am not going to say shark attacks do not happen, but I will always reiterate that we are NOT on the menu for sharks.

This week I was also asked by a few students whether I touch the animals I am filming, like sharks or dolphins. My answer is no. I ask them if they would want some stranger coming up to them and grabbing their shirt? No way, so why would an animal want someone to grab onto it? I talk about respect for wild animals and how important it is. I can see them processing the thought of a person grabbing their shirtsleeve and it not being okay and I know they understand this analogy in relation to wild animals. I do not grab sharks. I do not ride sharks or other wildlife. I don’t see the point and it is not something I support. Yes, sometimes we do swim sharks if they are not doing well and we need to get oxygen into their system, but it is not a joyride. “Sharks are NOT underwater scooters,” as a dear and respected friend in the industry, says.

After an awesome time in Wisconsin I spent 4 visits in North Carolina with Ms. Smith’s third and fifth graders. I finished up the week in New England speaking to fifth graders in Rhode Island. Always good to go home!
A lot of the students this week were very interested in goblin and cookie cutter sharks. I love when students ask about a more diverse range of species. Tigers, great whites and whale sharks are consistent, but goblin shark is rarely mentioned, but definitely deserves the attention for being such a cool animal. I think my favorite reactions came from discussions about tiger sharks being able to invert their stomachs and the fact that bull sharks pee more frequently in fresh and brackish water than they do in the ocean. The “ughhhh,” that is so gross, but so awesome reaction is one of the most fun parts of my classroom visits.

It has been another rewarding week and something I feel blessed to have the opportunity to do. Skype Classroom is celebrating Ocean Exploration during the month of November and I am honored to be a part of it. I have nine visits next week and I cannot wait to recruit more shark advocates around the world!

Thank you to Ms. Smith, Mrs. Naasko, Mrs. Harmann and Mrs. VanRossum for encouraging your students to care about sharks and our oceans.

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