By Bill Brooks, Sixth Grade Teacher in Irvine, California
As a teacher , I am always looking for lessons I can teach that have a purpose. I want my students to work in real-life situations and solve real-live problems as much as possible. In September, my sixth grade class became very interested in sharks after watching the movie Sharkwater, which graphically depicts how sharks are finned alive and thrown back into the ocean to die a slow death. We did research, and we learned that roughly one-third of the world’s shark species are in danger of extinction. Students also learned that, as apex predators, sharks play an integral role in the overall health of the ocean.
Six of my students formed a leadership team for a project they named “I Love Sharks.” The team and the class began work on the project. They contacted Dr. Andrew Nosal, a shark researcher at Scripps Institute of Oceanography to find out more about sharks. He shared with them film clips of the ways sharks have been portrayed in film. He sent them background music played when sharks are shown, and students found the music sinister in nature. They created a PowerPoint presentation using music and film clips in order to educate others to love sharks instead of fear them. In addition, they developed a website called www.ilovesharks.org that has science, writing, and math lessons for middle school teachers to use to teach about the unique adaptations that sharks have.
Our school in Irvine, California has a large Asian population, and students soon discovered that there are several restaurants in our community that serve shark fin soup. They debated whether or not to contact the restaurants or to try and educate the public as well as to propose a shark fin ban in the city of Irvine. They chose the latter, and I think the most exciting day of the project was when the Monterey Bay Aquarium contacted the team and class to ask if they would be the student group to help pass California Assembly Bill 376, which bans shark fins in the state. The leadership team is planning on traveling to Sacramento to attend the hearing process. In the meantime, they have posted persuasive letter writing materials on their website so that they can get other sixth grade classrooms to write letters in support of this bill. They have personally met with their assemblyman Donald Wagner on AB 376, and they plan to attend two environmental fairs.
Working on our shark project has been one of the more memorable events of my teaching career, and I’m pleased my students are part of the solution that will help ensure the health of our oceans.