Lessons in Piracy - History Research Journal

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Monday, April 20, 2020

Lessons in Piracy


Arrrggghhh you ready to learn about pirates?

Johnny Depp and Disney started a pirate craze with the release of Pirates of the Caribean. With piracy becoming an epidemic off the coast of Somalia, we can use that craze to our educational advantage.

Now, the opportunity to learn about history, geography, international affairs and even story-telling and ethics while bringing a sense of action and adventure to the classroom.

Today, the US has reported that a US cargo ship had been attacked by pirates off the the coast of Somalia, captured and then retaken from the plundering thieves. The story seems like it was ripped out of the pages of an action flick while calling attention to a major problem in the international world.

Working piracy into your lessons? Here are a few ideas:
Social Studies
  • How are real life pirates different than fictional pirates you've seen in the movies?
  • What other times in history was piracy a problem? Why do you think there is a rise in piracy now?
  • Where is Somalia? Using a map, plot the places mentioned in the article.
English
  • Plotting the action of these real life events as if they were a fictional story. (protagonist, antagonist, fit it to dramatic structure)
  • Write the story as if you are one of the characters (a passenger on the US ship, a pirate, a Naval officer retaking the ship).
Science
  • Pirate booty is often precious medals and gemstones. What a better way to teach about the periodic elements and geology - questioning what traits make those natural resources so valuable.
Math
  • Counting pirate's gold, estimating the value of stolen ships, using specific numbers from the story in your practice problems.
  • Make a treasure map that requires students to count paces (answering unit-specific problems to determine how far to go) to find their way to the classroom treasure. This may seem juvenile, but I think it could be great fun in high school too. Students could track their way using locker and room numbers for a school-wide treasure hunt.
Outside the classroom, there are educational opportunities to learn about real life pirates as well.
Chicago's Field Museum is hosting the "Real Pirates" exhibit that has gotten rave reviews all over town (and from my pirate-obsessed friend who teaches 6th grade Social Studies). William Mullen of the Chicago Tribune writes:
As exhibits go, this one is full of surprises that explode a lot of popular ideas about who pirates were and how they lived and died.
Personally, I can't wait to unmask the real pirates behind the fiction of fantasy.

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