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Hypothermia on the High Seas

In this lesson, students will examine the effects of hypothermia on the human body, investigate survival techniques to avoid this condition, and consider some of the mental health issues surrounding these situations. This will be accomplished by researching topics, organization of information into presentations, demonstrations, and hands-on experimentation. Upon completion, students will have a greater understanding of the severity of cold temperatures on the body, and associated concerns.

Students will have the opportunity to:

  • identify and present the effects on humans when the body temperature falls.
  • demonstrate and explain how the body loses heat
  • understand hypothermia and cold water survival techniques
  • understand hypothermia on land and survival techniques
  • experience the effects of cold on body

For extension activities students will have the opportunity to:

  • compare their own dreams/goals with those of the passengers
  • investigate real life threatening situations involving hypothermia

Necessary Materials

  • PBS video Lost Liners
  • TV, VCR
  • Computers with Internet connections
  • Worksheets One and Two
  • Poster board (suggested)
  • Markers (suggested)
  • Buckets, pennies, small jars, ice water, and ice cubes (for activity two)

Estimated Time
Activity One: 5-6 hours
Activity Two: 4 hours

Relevant National Standards
National Health Education Standards: Achieving Health Literacy, 1995 (available for review online at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning, http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/standardslib/health.html)

  • Students will comprehend concepts related to health promotion and disease prevention.
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to practice valid health enhancing behaviors and reduce health risks
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to use goal setting and decision making decisions to enhance health.

Teaching Strategy - Activity One

  1. Begin class discussion by talking about immigration. Explain to students that the population of the United States consists largely of immigrants and that many of them were brought to the United States in ocean liners in the early 1900's to seek new lives and new fortunes. In any family, the first people who immigrated to the US are called the "first generation" Americans. You might ask students, "How many of you are first generation, second, third? How did they get to the United States? How could you find out more about them?" Let students talk about their ancestry.

  2. Explain to students that they will watch the video "Lost Liners," which tells of three ocean liners whose fate turned tragic. They will learn about the ships themselves, how each one sunk and about the people aboard. But they will focus on hypothermia, the cause of death for most of the passengers, while also learning about some of the other health components concerning these tragedies. Remind students that as they watch the video they should be attuned to all 5 aspects of health: physical health (condition of the body), emotional health (how we feel), mental health (ability to learn, also decision making abilities), social health (interacting with others, and having satisfying relationships), and spiritual health (belief in some unifying force). You might print these on a blackboard for easy reference. Ask students to use notebook paper to jot down examples as they recognize them in the video. Discuss their findings after viewing the video, listing the students' observations under each category on the blackboard.

  3. Tell students that they will work in groups to investigate various aspects of hypothermia and present their findings to the class. Divide students so that there are a total of five groups. Assign each group a topic from Worksheet One. Give each group its assignment. (See group assignments in Worksheet One.)

  4. Students might perform their research independently, taking notes and thinking of ideas for presentation by their group. See the Online Resources below for starting points.

  5. The next class might be reserved for students to meet in their groups, compile information and create a format for their presentation. Students will work in their groups on presentations for the next day, rehearsing presentation in their own groups. The last day is "show time." Question and answer allowed, after each presentation. Presentations should be at least 8 minutes.

Teaching Strategy - Activity Two

  1. Explain to students that they will watch the video "Lost Liners," which tells of three ocean liners whose fate turned tragic. They will learn about the ships themselves, how each one sunk and about the people aboard. But they will focus on hypothermia, the cause of death for most of the passengers, while also learning about some of the other health components concerning these tragedies. All of the people who were in the water, as well as many of those in the life boats, suffered from hypothermia. Ask students if they know what hypothermia is and how cold water can induce it. Explain that they will perform an experiment to help them better understand hypothermia.

  2. Have two or three buckets of ICE water with 30-50 pennies in the bottom of each. Place a small jar in the bottom of each bucket. Have volunteers (or all students) put their hands in the buckets. While students have their hands in the ice-cold water, give them an introduction to the video (at least 2-3 minutes), explaining about the tragic fates of the many passengers aboard the Lost Liners. Afterward, ask them to pick up the pennies and put them into the jar, without taking their hands out of the bucket. Ask students to observe what is happening to their classmates' ability to manipulate the pennies, as well as the speed with which they are able to carry out the process. Allow them to compare their observations.

    A variation on this activity is to have student put their hands in cold water for about 2 minutes, and then put them in front of a fan, or fan with a piece of cardboard, to feel the effects of the heat loss by convection. Their hands will feel even colder when the wind is put on them.)

  3. Print and make copies of Worksheet Two. The worksheet contains instructions for student research and their project goals. There are four separate activities on the worksheet, so students should be divided into four separate groups: RED, GREEN, BLUE, and YELLOW. (The worksheets might be color-coded for students). Distribute the worksheets to students and have them work together (1-2 on computers) in gathering information from Web sites and recording the information. Students should be encouraged to develop a consensus on the information they find. They need to become experts on their question, because the following day, they will be teaching the information to other students.

  4. The next day, students should be prepared to teach the others. The groups will break up and divide into new groups of four, each group containing a RED member, a GREEN member, a BLUE member, and a YELLOW member. Starting with RED, each group member will teach the other three members of the group. Listening members should take notes on information received. All members will teach their respective lessons

Assessment Recommendations
Score student work to the following scale:

  1. Content was presented, but needed more planning and participation.
  2. Content was fairly accurate, and some group members participated.
  3. Content was accurate, displayed or demonstrated, presentation lasted at least 6 minutes, with participation of all group members.
  4. Content was accurate, creatively displayed or demonstrated, presentation lasted 6-8 minutes, with participation of all group members.

Extension Activities

  1. The narrator of Lost Liners mentions that "So many people's dreams ended in these ships." Have students discuss the dreams/goals of the third class passengers. Tell students to write at least 3 long-term dreams/goals that the have. Compare and contrast them to those of the passengers of the Lost Liners.

  2. The narrator of Lost Liners notes "thousands of lives were affected" when these lost liners sank. Dealing with loss of family members and close friends is an incredibly difficult process. Have students write about how families might have been affected by losing their parents, their children, and/or their siblings; be sure to have students include information on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' 5 stages of grieving.

  3. Research real life threatening stories where victims were revived after hypothermia and write about them.

  4. Have students create a survival plan for themselves based on the occurrence of one of the following emergency situations:

    • You are in your stalled car with blizzard conditions.
    • You are boating on Lake Superior and your boat capsizes.
    • You are ice fishing and fall through the ice.
    • Recall a 'real life' situation.

    Students should answer the questions: What would you do prior? What would you carry with you? How would you preserve body heat? How could you avoid this situation? The work could be completed as a homework assignment.

    Online Resources


The Blame Game

Bigger, Faster, Stronger . . . Higher

Titanic Artifact Activity

Hypothermia on the High Seas

Lost Liners Scavenger Hunt

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