The purpose of this project is to promote maritime literary nonfiction and ocean literacy – to blend art, history, science and geographic awareness in a multidisciplinary and engaging manner. Hopefully, teachers and adventure book lovers will find the material useful and keep these works alive. I am a high school science teacher in New York State where I teach Regents Physics, AP Physics, Earth Science and Marine Science. I have a masters degree in geology (Cretaceous palynology). Prior to teaching, I worked as an environmental consultant for eleven years.
Sail The Book uses Google Earth to take the reader on a virtual journey to locations in seven inspirational books of maritime literary nonfiction. The reader will be able to select a book and embark on chapter tours. The tours/chapters consist of from one to twenty Points of Interest (POIs). Each POI has an info window, with a passage from the book. At the bottom of the text is an activity page link. Activities consist of questions related to the info window passage, vocabulary, language, history and science. The later questions are colored green. These are specific Google Earth activities. “Green questions” draw on Google Earth layers, such as: Photos, Ocean, Gallery, Borders and Labels and 3D Buildings. Other Google Earth activities employ the Ruler tool, Historical Imagery and Street View.
The project had it roots aboard the SSV Corwith Crammer. I was selected as a teacher at SEA. When I wasn’t on watch, I read books from the ship’s galley. I stumbled upon Richard Henry Dana’s ”Two Years Before the Mast”. Like Dana, I was assigned to the forecastle. Unlike the crew of the brig Pilgrim all the teachers were treated very kindly. The book resonated with me. I became immersed in the culture and the experience of learning the duties of a sailor. We even sang sea shanties! Reading Dana brought me back to early nineteenth century California. His description of the period and people was mesmerizing. I wasn’t aware of maritime history, nor did I know about sailing around Cape Horn. It was an experience too rich to keep to myself. How could this book not be required in high school history or English class?
During the cruise, as we approached Georges Bank I had an epiphany – to develop an elective marine science course with a maritime primary source component. When I got my land legs back, I set about choosing books, writing chapter assessments and incorporating the literature into a high school marine science curriculum. I had every belief that this was going to change the way my students would experience science. I introduced the following books:
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr.
Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum
In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
The Secret Live of Lobsters by Trevor Corson
The Edge of the Sea by Rachel Carson
My original paper assessments can be found under the heading page – Literary Nonfiction Assessment
It didn’t take me long to come to realize that most teenagers don’t like to read big old books about the sea. Temporarily, the wind was taken out of my pedagogical sails. I needed to find a more enticing way to present the books – enter Google Earth. I thought it would be fun to introduce computer lab days based upon “Sailing Alone Around the World” by Joshua Slocum. During the labs, I carefully monitored student engagement and much to my dismay many students were distracted by the flight simulator. So I tweaked the activities to included some volcano fly overs, with remote sensing type questions. I also used historical imagery for students to interpret land development and learn about environmental issues. I linked bathymetry to the oceanographic topics. Using the Google Earth Ocean layer I had students watch short videos about marine biology. The activities in this project are a continuation of what I began in my course. I have added primary source, literary nonfiction that are well suited for geographical touring. Points of Interest (POIs) mentioned in the literature have been carefully selected. I have also used the books as threads that weave their way between past and present – between first hand historic accounts and satellite imagery.
When one Sails the Book they are reading the book in segments that are tied to a geographical location and then being encouraged to wander a bit. Its similar to someone that looks up a word in the dictionary and in the course of locating that word stops at ten additional ones along the way. I believe that this method of presenting adventure books is an adventure in itself and is a good and sound way for students to come to know these classics and learn about the sea.