Weighty Decisions

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SWBAT determine which items would have been most important on Sir Ernest Shackleton's heroic journey.

Big Idea

You are the captain of a sinking ship. What will you do?

The Set Up

10 minutes

Thanks to an awesome idea from PBS.org, I have found a fun way to hook my students into some amazing informational text!  After completing this activity, my students will be ready to learn all about Sir Ernest Shackelton and find out how his adventure ended.  

Students will imagine they are a man named Sir Ernest Shackelton who led an expedition to the arctic in the year 1914.  Your ship, the Endurance, has become frozen in Antarctica's  Weddell Sea and has now been there for 9 months.  It has become clear that the ship is going to sink due to the increased pressure from the ice, and as a leader you will need to make some decisions.  What should you take with you as you disembark from the ship and attempt to save your crew?  You have 27 men and 70 dogs with you.  You cannot possibly take everything with you.  You will be journeying on a sheet of ice.  You must prioritize the items.  

Here is some info on the story behind the expedition.  I will share this with my students before we begin.  

Since my students don't have much of a frame of reference for this topic, and since we live in sunny Arizona where some students haven't even seen snow, I figured that I should front load their minds with a few pictures!









20 minutes

I will have students meet with their table groups to decide if each of these items are a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd priority. We'll use the checklist designed by PBS.org.   I'll remind them that they have no idea how long they might end up being stranded.  


When they have finished, I'll have them answer the questions on the worksheet as a group.  

1.  What principles or guiding questions drove your group's decisions?

2.  What were the most difficult items to agree on?

3.  How did your group resolve any difference of opinion?

We will share some of the results from the charts and questions out with the class.  

*This is only an issue in middle school alert:  

My students almost died when they saw the word "sextant."  To prevent excessive giggling from sixth grade boys, show this SEXTANT before they begin and explain how a sextant works.  : )  

Decision Time

15 minutes

Now I will ask the groups to imagine that they only had room for 3 items.  What would they take with them.  I am going to ask them to attempt to come to consensus as a group, but I realize that it might not happen!  I'm fine with that, and I love the dialogue that they might have was they are trying to justify their ideas!

After a few minutes of discussion, I'll ask the students to share their top 3 items with the class, and I'll record them on the chart.  Next,  I'll have students individually decide which 3 items they would bring and write a short explanation as to why they chose these specific things.  

Finally, we'll go over the answers.  I'll share with them what Shackleton actually brought and why.  Please note that he did not take the dogs, and in the answer guide it says that he shot them.  : (   I chose to leave that little tidbit out of our conversation.  My students were distraught enough after I told them that the dogs were left behind!