Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Scientific Frontiers Logo
TV Schedule
Alan Alda
For Educators
Previous Shows
Future Shows
Special Features

Mysteries of the Deep
  Teaching Guide
Activity 1: Grades 5-8
Life Sized Drawing

In an attempt to break the Union blockade of Charleston harbor, the Confederates pursued the development of a human-powered submarine. Named the CSS H.L. Hunley, this vessel became the first submarine to sink an enemy warship in battle. On the evening of February 17 1864, the Hunley attached a torpedo to the hull of the federal sloop-of-war, USS Housatonic As the Hunley pulled away from its target, an attached cord triggered the explosion that sank the Housatonic. Although the Hunley signaled a successful mission, it never returned to port. Over 130 years later the Hunley wreck was discovered and eventually raised.

Image of brain map

National Science
Standards and
Curriculum Links
Print version (PDF)
Main Menu

This activity page will offer:

  • Insight into the actual dimension of the Hunley
  • An opportunity to sketch a full-scale drawing of the Hunley
  • The opportunity to use math and measuring skills

Scaling Up a Drawing
Scale drawings are often used to represent objects that would be too large or too small to reasonably illustrate at their actual size. In this activity, you'll use a scale drawing of the Hunley as a model from which to draw a full-scale version of this vessel.


  • Chalk
  • Kite string
  • Ruler

    CAUTION: Remind students not to inhale the chalk dust. It is an irritant and can be harmful if breathed in.


  1. Work with a small group of students in an outdoor area identified by your instructor.
  2. Brainstorm a technique for laying out a 40- foot long and 6-foot wide grid on the ground. The gird will be drawn with chalk onto the exposed ground surface. The lines must be spaced 2-feet apart.
  3. To produce the grid lines, cover a length of kite string with chalk dust. Two students hold opposite ends of the string against the ground. The third student "snaps" the chalked string to the ground recording its impact in chalk dust. You might need to thicken the line by drawing over it with chalk to make it easier to see.
  4. To simplify the copying process, you might want to number the squares on both the scale drawing and the full-scale chalk grid. Then, box-by-box, copy the outline of the submarine from the page to the ground.


  1. If each chalked gird box represents a two-foot by two-foot square, how long is the submarine?
  2. How could you create a larger drawing of the submarine, but still retain its scale dimensions?
  3. How might increasing the number of lines in the scaled down grid affect the accuracy of the final drawing?


Tight Fit
The hatch through which the crew entered the Hunley was a tight fit. It was an oval shape that measured 14 inches by 15¾ inches. Cut out a piece of string and arrange it to these dimensions. Then, imagine older sailors slipping through this tight portal during an emergency.

Reporting for the Confederacy
Suppose you were a Civil War reporter who was allowed to examine the Hunley and interview its crew before the submarine's final mission? What might the crew confide concerning the upcoming mission? Think about it. Then create a story that would be published in the Charleston Gazette on the morning following the sinking of the Housatonic and loss of the Hunley.

Submarine Defense
Suppose that the Confederacy had perfected and produced a fleet of Hunley-like submarines. If you were a Union admiral wishing to protect your blockade vessels, what sort of anti-submarine measures would you develop? What types of antisubmarine weapons could you implement using the technology of the 1860s?

During World War I, about 50 years after the sinking of the Hunley, the German navy nearly dominated the seas using its fleet of U-boats. Research these vessels and prepare a presentation that addresses the advancements in these weapons. How were the German U-boats of WWI different in design and stealth from this Confederate prototype? How did the action of the torpedo change? How do today's submarines compare to the undersea vessels employed during this "war to end all wars"?


Confederate Submarine CSS H.L. Hunley
A richly illustrated site that describes the Hunley and its role as a Confederate weapon

The Hunley Reconstruction
A richly illustrated site that describes many aspects of the submarines reconstruction.

Surfacing Hunley
US Naval Institute proceedings on the Hunley

The activities in this guide were contributed by Michael DiSpezio, a Massachusetts-based science writer and author of "Critical Thinking Puzzles" and "Awesome Experiments in Light & Sound" (Sterling Publishing Co., NY).

Academic Advisors for this Guide:
Corrine Lowen, Science Department, Wayland Public Schools, Wayland, MA
Suzanne Panico, Science Teacher Mentor, Cambridge Public Schools, Cambridge, MA
Anne E. Jones, Science Department, Wayland Middle School, Wayland, MA
Gary Pinkall, Middle School Science Teacher, Great Bend Public Schools, Great Bend, KS

© 1990-2002 The Chedd-Angier Production Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Uncivilized Engine of WarInto the Deep: The Early PioneersInto the Deep:Remote Control ExplorationInto the Deep:Deep Ocean ArcheologyInto the Deep: A Scientific Revolution Teaching guide Science hotline video trailer Resources Contact Search Homepage