Shark Week: A Case Study in Education

It’s that time of year again, when the Discovery Channel has their week of programming known as Shark Week.  As a boy, I can remember being glued to the television watching program after program about something that intimidated me so much.  I am so scared of sharks, that I really don’t like swimming in the ocean and I used to be scared  in the deep end of the pool.  That being said I still tune in every year to see the new programming that is basically the same thing over and over.  Then I ran into this article about Shark Week and it struck me that it informs millions of viewers each year about marine biology and most of those people probably aren’t interested in science at all outside of this week.  What can we learn from Shark Week as teachers?

There is Emotional Attachment

There are two types of people that watch Shark Week, the shark conservationists and the people that want to watch people or animals getting eaten.  We all know people will rally to a cause like saving a species, especially when it is being harvested in huge numbers.  Discovery Channel is not the only group that has taken on this topic, but they do a pretty good job of making this issue with shark populations.  I wouldn’t say that this is the forefront of their shark coverage, but they do promote shark conservation on some level to a huge audience.  The there is the sadistic side of humanity that is really only watching to see blood in the water.  These are the same people (like myself) that watched Nick Wallenda walk across the Grand Canyon just to see if there was a chance he would fall.  There is something about watching an animal that chances are most will never come into contact with ripping apart fake seals, whales, boats, etc.  The funniest part about watching for this reason is most of the action in Shark Week is directed toward inanimate objects or is allusions or dramatic reenactments of actual events.

What if we could illicit these types of feelings on a daily basis in our classrooms?  The number one question I get in class relates to how concepts or ideas apply to kid’s lives.  Can we create emotion in our methods of teaching that would create meaning for kids?  Is it possible to conjure up such strong emotions in a classroom on a consistent basis?

It Brings Together All Kinds

Between the conservation of sharks and the bloodlust of shark programming, a variety of people are brought together for a single week.  A huge percentage of people I run into are excited about the beginning of Shark Week from all parts of society.  Old friends from high school on Facebook, peers on Twitter, and children I’ve talked with at church have all mentioned Shark Week without any prompting from me.  Imagine the conversations that could be started with such a common bond.  Background, political beliefs, economic background, and even race all are minimized when the topic of Shark Week is brought up.

Is it possible for me to teach concepts in class in such a way that it brings together all types of kids?  Is it possible that there are inherent topics that are so provocative that children are so interested that little else matters?  Is there a way to tap into such topics without renting a national TV station for a week every year?

The Information is Reliable

Outside of a few random programs trying to find new information about a species, most of the information is repeated hundreds of times in a given Shark Week.  It’s a wonder that after this many years we still want to watch the same basic show premise hour after hour in repetition.  In reality, there are very few new shows every year, and this year they are adding a live program to end the day, which is not necessarily scientific in nature.  With all this boring content, what we do find is that the information presented is repeatable, which is huge when it comes to scientific experiments.  Multiple sources are all drawing similar conclusions about a topic, which is a huge desire in data collection and research.

This makes me reflect on my preparation for class as well as my students collecting of data.  Do I do a good job of checking the sources of some of my material or do I trust that the textbook is providing me all the answers I need?  Am I challenging my students to find multiple research sources that say similar things before presenting it as facts?  Do I look at things in a scientific way, or do I shoot from the hip sometimes?

Conclusion

I hope that when a student leaves my history classroom they are as passionate about Texas History as many people are about Shark Week.  Hopefully, as I continue to feed my nerdy desire to know more about sharks, I’ll continue to glean new ideas and ways of thinking about teaching through an expert like Shark Week.  Whatever they started all those years ago has become a universally recognized phenomena that masterfully teaches all types of people about marine biology.  Hopefully, one day, all education can do a job as wonderful.

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