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Montage of images and link description. Rescue at Sea Imagemap: linked to kids and home
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The American Experience
Suggestions for the Classroom

Time Period: 1908-1909
Themes: Transportation and travel; communication; science, technology and society; class structure

    On January 23, 1909, two ships--one carrying Italian immigrants to New York, the other American tourists to Europe--collided in the dense fog off Nantucket Island. In a moment, more than 1500 lives became dependent on a new technology, wireless telegraphy, and a 26-year-old wireless operator who sent out distress signals as his cabin filled with water. A story of courage, luck and heroism at sea.

Before Watching

  1. Ask students to think of all the ways boats and airplanes can navigate and communicate with each other and with people on land today [answers could include cellular phones, GPS, radar, radio waves, computers, etc.]. How do they think boats communicated in the early years of this century? Tell students that at the turn of the century, boats were out of communication with land once they were out of sight. The film they're about to watch is about a significant technological advance that changed that.

After Watching

  1. Why do students think the Italian earthquake survivors were sent to America instead of a country nearby? Have students research and compare immigration policies and economic and social conditions in various European countries and America. What did America offer that other countries didn't?

  2. During this period, people were not used to having instantaneous access to information like we have today. How do you think this difference affected society back then? In what ways do you think improved communication has benefited society? What downsides do you think our many communication technologies have?

  3. What do students think have been the five most important technological advances of the 20th century? What technological changes do they expect to see in the 21st? Challenge students to design a technology that they think would significantly help their life in the 21st century.

  4. Have students write a first-person account of the night of January 23, 1909, from the point of view of Jack Binns. Their account could take the form of a letter home, journal entry, or newspaper article.

Educators & Librarians: You may order "Rescue at Sea" at PBS Video.