Monday, April 16, 2012

Sink or Float: Titanic Edition

Had you heard about this past weekend being the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic? There have been enough new books on the subject released in the past few months to remind everyone in the library of this historically significant date, and both adult and children's services at my branch have Titanic-themed materials displays this month. Since children's always has more fun, though, we went beyond the display to commemorate this event: we had a Titanic-themed sink or float program. History and science! Perfect.

Books and building materials
The school-age program opened with my asking the kids what they knew about the Titanic. I had a few mention the whole iceberg-sinking thing, a few talk about there not being enough life boats for all the passengers, and one who pointed out the 100-year anniversary. All of the kids were really into hearing as much about the Titanic as they could--what is it about a good disaster story that captivates kids? After we had exhausted everyone's general knowledge, I dimmed the lights and projected a great, short educational video about the disaster on the wall. So much information fit into a four-minute video! When the lights came back on, we quickly recapped what the kids had learned (how luxurious the ocean-liner was, the number of passengers on board, how long it took the Carpathia to get to the survivors, etc.).

Our demonstration vessel, the R.M.S. Pesto
It was then time to discuss how an "unsinkable" ship could, in fact, sink. Using a big, clear tub filled with water and an ice cube tray, I talked a bit about the sealed compartments in the Titanic's design--how the ship was created to withstand an event in which four compartments were filled with water, but ultimately six filled compartments spelled the ship's doom. Using the ice cube tray to demonstrate how water-filled compartments affected the ship worked well; the kids were really able to visualize at what point our "ship" would go under.

The rest of the program (the majority, really, at 30 of the total 45 minutes) was spent in our "sink or float" activity. Kids could work individually or in groups to try to create their very own seaworthy (or, in our case, tub-worthy) vessels. Everyone had the same materials: a few sheets of paper, a few feet of aluminum foil, some modeling clay, some twist ties, and as many pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, and plastic straws as they wanted. The goal was to create a boat that would not only float on its own, but would also support a passenger: a plastic rat. (I was trying to be historically accurate...)

Rat overboard!
Piecing together a pontoon
Some of the young engineers drew sketches of their plans first, others got right to the creation of their boats. I walked around the room asking questions about what materials and designs they were using, and for the few who seemed to finish building quickly, I asked questions about what they thought would happen once the boat was in water. I got some really in-depth, thoughtful answers--the kids were obviously really getting into the challenge of creating a boat that would float.

My, she was yar.
With five minutes left, we began testing the nautical creations in our tub. I am happy to report that while we did have a few capsizes, no boat completely sank--and our rat would have had time to be rescued based on each of our trials. Nonetheless, a few kids remarked that they should have made lifeboats to go with their creations. Just look at that combined application of historical AND scientific knowledge!

I'm happy to report that all of our remaining Titanic resources were checked out following the program, and many of the kids were excited to take their creations home to share with siblings and family members. For a program based around an historical tragedy, our history-and-science day was surely a success.

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