Sunday, November 24, 2013

Exploring Shark Filled Oceans: Week 3

As I sit here and write this I am completely overwhelmed with the amazing week that has just passed. I did fifteen Skype Classroom visits from Northern France to California with students ranging in age from f1st grade to 7th. One teacher actually asked me to do a video message about why I do Skype visits. There are a lot of reasons why I love doing these visits, but I wanted to give her a concise answer. I have been visiting classrooms for about ten years, but physical visits are limited by time and location. Skype Classroom allows me to speak with students in France at 8:00 EST and then a school in Georgia at 9:00 EST and a school in California at 11:00 EST.

The current plight of sharks is devastating, but I honestly believe children offer hope not only for sharks, but also for our oceans and the planet. No matter where children live they need to understand that we are connected and their actions can make a difference around the world. I want them to feel empowered and able to speak up on behalf of the voiceless and I can only hope these talks inspire them to do so. Via Skype I was able to share my love of sharks and why they are so important with over 300 students this week alone. I was able to give them facts and tools to help spread the word for sharks!
I began the week with Mrs. Garland’s students in Boston, Massachusetts. This is by far one of the most incredible visits I have ever done. They had great questions and knew a lot about sharks already. Below is the note she sent me after the visit, which made me tear up. This is why I love my job. Connecting with people all around the world and sharing my passion with them.

“Thank you so much for Skyping with our class today. Not all students were visible to you (several chose to sit outside the viewing box). They have been waiting for this opportunity for weeks. These students have emotional and social needs that often get in the way of their abilities to function with a traditional class, but you touched them - I have NEVER seen them sit for such an extended period of time. Many thanks!”

I also visited with two great groups of 3rd and 1st graders. The 1st graders in Illinois had a lot of questions and were really excited to know that things they were already doing (recycling) could help sharks.

The following day I started off in Georgia with some super excited 1st and 2nd graders followed by a group of 2nd graders in California that were actually a little nervous about sharks. We talked a lot about how sharks are not monsters or man-eaters, but are actually in a lot of trouble and need our help. I could see the change as students looked at pictures and thought the sharks were cute.  It is amazing how just a short amount of time can change perceptions. It also shows how critical it is to educate children at a young age, so they do not carry those incorrect stereotypes into adulthood.

I finished off the day with Mrs. Thiessen’s students in Surrey, British Columbia and wow, they JAWSOME. They had a microphone and ipads going! It was such a fun visit! Absolutely blown away by the technology being used in the classroom. It has really changed education and opened up the world. Check out their Video Blog Here! 

FINS UP For Sharks: Group Photo 

The following day was another busy one with four visits to schools in Texas, North Carolina, New Mexico and Nebraska. I love visiting such a dynamic range of ages and locations in a single day because it really highlights the importance of ocean education for everyone. Just because students cannot be near the ocean does not mean they should not care. The fifth graders in Texas were really keen to help sharks and seem pleasantly surprised that some of the things they were already doing were in fact helping sharks and our oceans. 

Some feedback from that day :

From Mr. Horst in Nebraska on twitter:  This group of 80 students knew a lot about sharks even though they do not live near the ocean! 

“Want keep kids riveted for 45 minutes?  Have @SharkyJillian skype your school!  "

From Mrs. Pender:

“Thank you so much! My kiddos have done nothing but talked about this morning. They are so excited. In fact, they are even taking about how you said your husband dives, so now they want to Skype with him! Lol thank you so much! “   I think Duncan might have to make an appearance on the other side of the camera!

My final day start all the way in Northern France with Mrs. Silvert’s 7th grade students. The students asked about La Reunion, a location recently made infamous by several shark attacks. I was impressed that they were concerned and wanted more information about the situation. We spoke a long time about efforts being made to protect beach goers and the sharks in the area. I was also thoroughly impressed with their English. My French is not even worth mentioning, save the content of this sentence.  Friday also took me to a group of very enthralled first graders in Canada followed up with some extremely well informed 4th graders. They had each picked a shark to learn about and had some of the best questions a class has asked me.

This entire month of Exploring Oceans with Skype Classroom has been nothing short of remarkable. The smiles, laughs and excitement that each visit brings are priceless. I know these kids will make a difference. They will speak up and fight to save sharks. I know this in the way they listen, the questions they ask and follow up feedback I get from teachers and parents. I love the synchronized “WHOA,” I get when I show them an image of me filming a great hammerhead and the, “awww, it’s so cute,” reaction from an image of a baby nurse shark. They also seem to really understand the fact that sharks are in trouble and life for a shark can be pretty tough. I feel blessed and truly treasure these moments.

I even got a note from the principle this week! Luckily it was a good one! Thank you Mr. Schuyler for taking the time to send such a kind note.

“I want to thank Jillian for the great experience she provided our grade 1 students and teachers at Briardale School this morning.  They were very impressed and excited about the lesson.  The kids and teachers learned a lot!”

Thank you to Mrs. Brokaw, Mrs. Lachel, Mrs. Garland, Mrs. Harrison, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Thiessen, Mr. Hernandez, Mrs. Mendoza, Mrs. Pender, Mr. Horst, Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Rios, Mme. Silvert, Mr. Hyman and Mme. Moccio for inviting me into your class and for sharing sharks with your students! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sharks in Ireland: A JAWSOME Visit with Mr. Russell's Grade 4 Boys

 Due to filming commitments and travel, my Skype Classroom schedule this week was limited to 3 visits, but wow what a week.  I started off visiting with Mr. Russell’s grade 4 boys all the way in Ireland. The whole concept is so remarkable and breathes a new sense of energy and hope into the conservation and shark education movement.  

Mr. Russell’s class was JAWESOME! They were really enthusiastic and had some great questions including, “if baby birds get food from the mom, do shark babies also get food from their moms?” This seems very logical, but no, sharks do not get any maternal care. The world is tough for a baby shark. Most people think of sharks as these mighty predators ruling the ocean, but in reality life is pretty tough for sharks. When lemon sharks are born they are on their own immediately. 

In Bimini, they must seek refuge in the mangroves for the first three to four years of their lives. Very few of the pups born each spring make it to see their first birthday.  Barracudas and other sharks, including larger lemon sharks, will happily make a meal out of a neonate or juvenile lemon shark. 

Other questions included who would win in a shark vs. piranha battle and shark vs. a moray eel battle. These cracked me up because boys will be boys.  I did my best to answer in a fun and logical way and the kids exchanged high fives.  The students took turns asking questions and also sharing shark facts they already knew. I get really excited when students already know some interesting and important information about sharks.  The lesson flew by and I look forward to connecting with the students again on a shark project they will work on in the spring.  
A student asking a question via Skype

After the lesson Mr. Russell hit Twitter and some wonderful things to say.
“We learned about underwater filming, looking after our oceans and all about different types of sharks. It was SO good we're calling it epic! “

He also emailed me this note a couple of days later.
 It was the highlight of the school year for our class. The boys were so excited coming in to school today having been looking forward to this lesson for weeks - and it didn't disappoint! You could have heard a pin drop in our room for 46 minutes today as Jillian us about underwater photography and filming, about the different kinds of sharks, how we can all help to save these magnificent creatures, care for the oceans and our planet, before then taking some (a lot in fact!) of questions about her work with sharks, the sharks themselves and much more.

You've such a wonderful way with the kids, it really comes across that you're so into your work and really got the best from the class - they were hooked on every word and so enthusiastic to get involved and ask questions - as I'm sure you noticed with the sheer volume of them!

I feel that if things don't go well people are very quick to send emails/make phone calls and highlight it. Today, I felt that I had to let you know about what a positive experience we had in our class.

Thanks for making it a memorable Monday in our 4th Class!

I'm working on the photos at the moment. I'll let you know later when I have them all done.

Best Wishes,

I was absolutely floored with his kind words. I by no means do this for recognition, but it makes my heart so happy and hopeful when I know that I am really connecting with kids.
You can check out more images on Mr. Russell’s website and hear a podcast from his students HERE.

Thank you so much Mr. Russell. You are offering students and incredibly opportunity and encouraging them to be global citizens. I look forward to collaborating in the future. 

I also visited with Mrs. Crahen's second graders in New York and Mrs. Whyte's first graders in Canada. Both classes had great questions including, 
"What is my favorite shark?"
"What is the biggest shark?"
"How old was I when I saw my first shark?"
"When did I first go diving with sharks?"
"Why do I like sharks so much?"
I absolutely love answering the questions and hope the experience makes an impact. It is so critical to get students at this age excited about sharks and our oceans and really push the fact that they can make a difference. Hopefully there are a few more shark advocates out there in the world going home and telling their parents they want to swim with sharks!
 Thanks to Mrs. Whyte and Mrs. Crahen for encouraging your students to care about sharks and our oceans! Keep up the amazing work. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Month of Exploring Oceans: Week 1 Skype Classroom Visits

Inspired by Fabien Cousteau's record-breaking Mission 31 expedition, Skype Classroom is celebrating our oceans during the entire month of November. I am really excited to be participating in the Exploring Oceans program and kicked off the event with 9 classroom visits last week. This provides such an incredible experience for students around the world, whether they live near the coast or are completely landlocked. No matter where or what, we all need to know about our oceans and this is a great way to connect the world.

I started off visiting a third grade class in Texas, who were also Skyping with a class in South Africa. The technology is remarkable and really opens new doors for educators on a global scale. My next visit was with 5th graders in Connecticut followed up by 4th graders in New Hampshire. This class was a lot of fun because I was familiar with the area, being that my parents live about 90 minutes away.

A student asking my a question via Skype 

Lots of great sharky questions!

I started my next day of visits in North Carolina with a group of special needs students ranging in age from 16 to 22. I am really honored that I was asked to speak to such an incredible group and this was by far, one of my favorite lessons. Thanks Ms. Katie for reaching out! I always tell teachers they can email me additional questions if we run out of time or students think of new ones. Ms. Katie’s class asked if sharks speak English? I answered that I assume sharks speak, “shark,” whatever language they may be. We know they communicate, but there is not yet a full understanding of how this is done.

I then spoke with a group of 3rd graders from Indiana before heading back to North Carolina to finish of the day with another group of 3rd graders. My final day of visits included classes in North Carolina, Canada and Oklahoma. Blows my mind to think about my travels and how many more students I am able to reach through the Skype Classroom program. There is no way I could fly around and do all these visits in person, but through the computer we are connecting the world and creating an army of global citizens.

Speaking to Mrs. Davie's Students in Oklahoma

Hammerheads were pretty popular during the week with questions about their eyes, vision and head shape. Talking about hammerheads is always fun for me because great hammerheads are my favorite animal on the planet. I always get excited when students ask about them or want to see more images or videos. I try to include time for as many questions as possible because I think the interaction is the most important part of the lesson. I have a message about sharks I want to spread, but I also want to make sure students are feeling as though they are being heard and hopefully by answering their questions I am doing this.

Each visit is different and tailored to the age of the students and to their questions. Some classes just want to know more about sharks, while others want to know more about what I actually do. I love the diversity, as it keeps it excited and keeps me on my toes. Looking forward to nearly 30 visits during November, so stay tuned.

Thanks to Ms. Musa, Mrs. Jones, Mr. Ferguson, Mrs. Benevides, Ms. Katie, Ms. Jackson, Mrs. Weaver, Mrs. Moore and Mrs. Davies for such a JAWSOME week and for encouraging your classes to care about sharks and our oceans.

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.