It’s Shark Week! The Discovery Channel dedicates an entire week of TV programs about nothing except sharks. Although it is a very American thing, it’s not only for a certain type of person. It’s for everyone, including teachers and students.
The only problem is that Shark Week happens during the summer when almost no one is in the classroom, and there is so much that can be done with Shark Week to engage students. So how can Shark Week live on in your school? Here are some ideas for how to bring shark week to your classroom so that students can actively learn almost any topic, even if it’s not specifically sharks.
I think it’s pretty obvious that a science teacher can teach a few lessons about sharks, but in what context? In middle school and high school, students study the topic of evolution at some point. Teachers can use the shark as the species of study. Ask students some of these guiding questions throughout the lesson: How did the shark change? Why were specific adaptations beneficial? What environmental conditions possibly led to changes?
Scientists also tag sharks to monitor their movements. Students can practice collecting and analyzing data throughout a quarter, one semester, or even the entire year. It can be part of a larger project for monitoring shark movements and behavior related to changing ocean temperatures, the weather, geographic locations, and other aquatic life.
Students in lower grades can look at specific shark features and think about how these characteristics might be useful in different environments. For example, the Mako shark is the fastest shark in the world and has a body shaped like a torpedo. Salmon sharks have endothermic bodies which means their bodies pump warm blood to their muscles, enabling them to survive in arctic waters.
Use A Little (or A Lot of) Math
Students can bring their data collections into their math classes and use it as needed for a particular lesson. For example, they may be learning to create data tables and look for patterns of movement by location; calculate and compare mean, median and mode for the number of sharks in an area; analyze scatter plots and line graphs of the data; or make predictions about shark movements.
Elementary grades can measure the lengths of different shark species as well as the number of teeth and heights and widths of their teeth. Students can create a table and compare the measurements of these species. They can also look at the temperatures of the different shark habitats and compare them, or students can use the tracking data and determine the distance any shark travels during a specific time period.
There is an abundance of literature about sharks, especially informational texts. You can choose the appropriate text for your students and allow them to do a Close Read. They can practice highlighting key words, identifying main ideas, and making text annotations.
For more challenging texts and opportunities for cooperative learning, students can perform a jigsaw activity with the text. Break students into groups of 5 or 6 and assign each group a section of the text. The teacher breaks the text into a number of sections corresponding with the number of students in a group. The reading sections should have enough information for one student to process and not be overwhelming with concepts or vocabulary. Each group will have a leader that assigns one section to each group member. Each student will read the assigned section. Then the teacher will allow students to organize into “expert” groups, where students that read the same section group together. The “expert” groups will discuss the main points from their sections and present questions to the group. Students will then have a chance to practice a presentation of their section they will share with their jigsaw groups. Once students return to their jigsaw groups, each member will present their section to the group following the order of the reading. The teacher monitors this activity by circulating the room, listening, and only intervening when the group is not moving forward with discussion or when the leader is having difficulty moderating the conversation.
Students can take their learning in a more creative direction by providing reading summaries through a video. It would highlight main ideas, vocabulary, author’s purpose, and real-world connections and implications. If it is fictional literature, they can create alternate endings, make predictions, or even do character analyses.
Write about It!
Writing presents an opportunity for students to bring in their work from other classes. They can relate to something they did in another class or tie it all together. They can write persuasive essays about what they found in their research about evolution or informative essays using data they collected about shark movements. Even the lower grades can write about their discoveries using qualitative or quantitative data they found together in class. (They don’t have to use those words!)
If you’re the only teacher that decided to take on Shark Week, no problem! Allow the students to take you on a shark adventure. First, they can write about it on paper. Allow students to do peer reviews, and then have them revise. Ask students to “publish” their work online with a class blog. Again, students can make a video summarizing key details from their own stories or even stories of other classmates. One essay can turn into an entire shark project!
Sharks in the Hallways
Why not have a theme week at your school? Get everyone involved by having a door-decorating contest. The art teacher at your school can help plan and promote this event. Set the rules and expectations, and gather a group of students, teachers, and maybe an administrator to be the judging panel. Give each classroom one week to decorate their doors, and at the end of the week choose the winner.
You might even decide to have an entire hallway contest. Maybe your hallways are divided by grade level or subject area. Each hallway, or “team,” can decorate more than their classroom doors. They can use the walls and even the ceilings for the more creative teachers and students to take!
School Shark Week
Here’s an even bigger and better idea: Have your own Shark Week at your school! Take all of these ideas that I have just shared and plan carefully with your administrators and team of teachers to make this happen all in one week. The electives teachers at your school can be a great support coming up with creative ideas and expanding the theme into their curriculum.
Consider having a shark event night and allow parents to explore the hallways. If your class has been working on projects, give students an opportunity to share their projects. You can really get all stakeholders on board and have sharks everywhere!