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