Part III: The Great Wide Sea Across the CurriculumPart III: The Great Wide Sea Across the Curriculum

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Schools that have used The Great Wide Sea in their One Book/One School projects have shared ideas about how to use the book across the curriculum.  Having taught only English, I have added to these ideas to the best of my limited abilities and hope that you will share your more specific ideas.

The Arts



Visual Arts



1.Have students design different book covers for The Great Wide Sea.This activity is good for students who can capture the meaning of what they read through personal sketches and pictures.Hang the book covers on the wall and have other students and faculty members view them. Ask:Which book cover captures your attention the most?Would you want to open the book to find out more or purchase the book based on the book cover? (Doulton)

Dramatic Arts



1.Have students write and perform a short skit based on a part of the book.For example, students can act out some scenes on the island, sailing Chrysalis, or the rescue at the end. (Doulton)

2.Have students write a short dialogue between two characters in the book.For example, a great dialogue would be Ben’s interaction with his father at the end of the book.Have students pair up and perform their dialogues.(Doulton)




1.Students will want to learn what Goombay rhythms are.How do a cowbell and a conch shell make music?What makes Caribbean music sound like Caribbean music?One school’s band undertook a steel drum performance for the entire school.( Cypress Lake)

Computer Skills


One teacher had each student prepare a web page providing information on something relevant to the story or to the marine world in general.For example, one student did a web page on signal flags while another filled a page with information about the hammerhead shark.( Cypress Lake)



One journalism class prepared a newspaper filled with articles and advertisements that would be relevant to the Byrons.In addition to many other clever items, the newspaper included an article on Mom’s car accident and an advertisement for exactly the kind of car Ben seems to want. ( Cypress Lake)

Mathematics and Geometry


Math and geometry classes may be a particularly good match for The Great Wide Sea because navigation requires math.It is mathematics in the real world!Below, I have listed points in the book where math and geometry matter greatly to the Byron family.

1.On page 40, Dad tells the boys that at every hour during their watch, they are to record their speed and direction.Why do they have to do this?And why is Dad so upset on pages 46-47 when he finds Ben sleeping on watch without having made his calculations.

2.On page 42, Dylan is explaining light years to Gerry.If a light year is six million million miles, how would one write that out in numerals?How can the distance to various planets and stars be calculated and the numbers reduced so that we can manipulate them?

3.Using the information Ben provides on page 123, can you estimate approximately how many miles the family had traveled toward Bermuda by the time the storm struck?

4.When Ben says on page 128, “We have to make a one-eighty,” what does he mean?If they were heading north-northeast before they made a one-eighty, what direction would they be heading afterwards?

5.On page 135, Ben and Dylan acknowledge that they are lost.Why?What does Ben mean when he says there were too many variables?

6.On page 136, Dylan is doing the best he can with figuring out where they are.How does the fact that they are traveling with a current impact his calculations?What would he have to change if they were traveling against the current?

7.On page 152, Ben is trying to estimate how far they have traveled.What calculation is he doing?How far has he traveled?

8.On page 256 when Ben is sailing in the dinghy away from the island, he says that he kept the Pole Star “hard to starboard.”That means that he kept the Pole Star at a right angle to his direction of travel.Why did he do that?What could happen if he did not understand the difference between a right angle and a forty-five degree angle?(This question works with the simple fact that the directions of the compass are at certain angles to each other.Of course, a compass is a visual representation of the concept of degrees in an angle.)

9.Boats always travel at an angle to the wind.The different points of sail relate to thesedifferent angles.What is the angle of the wind to the boat when the boat is on a beam reach?A reach?Close-hauled?Running?(Teachers:Information about the points of sail is available on the website.)

10. The sextant works because it measures the angle of the sun to the horizon.A very advanced class could work with a sextant and try to calculate position.Such a class might be interested to know that in the days of the Napoleonic Wars, young gentlemen on board ship who were training to become captains were schooled in the use of the sextant.Class was routinely held at noon to shoot sun shots and calculate position.Naturally, those young gentlemen with a gift in math excelled in this endeavor.

The Sciences


Like mathematics and geometry, principles of science are critical to sailors.These principles fall under several different categories:



1.What makes boats go?While many people believe the wind pushes a sailboat, in fact most of the time the wind is pulling the boat.The principle is the same as the one that makes an airplane fly, Bernoulli’s principle.But for this principle, sailors could only travel in the same direction as the wind.Note all the different points of sail and the way that in each one, the angle of the sail relative to the wind is the same.The idea is to keep that angle so that it is most conducive to creating the “pull” described in Bernoulli’s principle.

(Teachers:Please note that the basics (the very basic basics) of sailing are on the website.)




The sun


1.Dylan takes “sun shots” in order to navigate.Why?What are the physical facts about the relationship of the sun, the earth, and the hour that make “sun shots” inform a sailor as to his location on the sea.

The stars

1.What would sailors do without the stars?Note how frequently the Byron family references them.Note Ben’s explanation on page 277 of why we can see certain stars at certain times.

2.If star charts are available, students might be interested in checking to see whether the author of The Great Wide Sea got the sky right!Are the stars in the book visible at the correct hours, dates, and places?I tried hard but I make no guarantees!

3.Students might be interested in mapping their own skies, particularly in noting whether and when the constellations and stars mentioned in the text are visible in their own sky.

Teachers:The website contains information on each star or constellation referenced in the text as well as an explanation of why the night sky changes.


The moon

1.The moon is an almost constant companion to the sailor.Surprisingly, many people do not know that the moon follows its own logic for appearing, rising, and setting.

Teachers:The website contains the basics for explaining these phenomena.


2.An innovative student might be interested in making a mobile that demonstrates the way the earth revolves around the sun and the way the moon revolves around the earth.One student made an excellent animation on the computer.

3.Students might also be interested in tracking the state of the moon for a month or so.One teacher asked the students to photograph the moon every night for a month.Unfortunately, this is not a workable assignment because the children were not necessarily awake when the moon was visible and they were flummoxed as to what to do when the moon was hidden!However, some version of this that takes into account these difficulties might make a very interesting project.



1.While the Byron family knows a lot about the world around them, there are questions they would like answered:

What is turtle grass?

What is sargassum?

Is the conch dead when it comes out of the shell?

Are Bahamian lobsters just like Maine lobsters?

How does a hammerhead shark find somebody in the water?

How do you get the eggs out of a sea urchin?

Are there, in fact, no rattlesnakes on the island?

Is there really such a thing as fire coral?

How can a cactus be edible?

When are sea grapes ripe?

Was there a plant that could have helped Dylan if they had known?

Sea gulls are scavengers; terns are not.What’s the difference?

2.The boys’ reliance on the reef around the island to protect the beach from waves and to provide a fishing spot highlights the importance of our coral reefs.A unit on the reefs could focus on the magnificent reef off Andros Island.



1.The importance of the Gulf Stream to a sailor can be highlighted by imagining Ben’s explaining to Gerry why sailing with or against the Gulf Stream affects how fast you get somewhere even though the number on your speedometer stays the same.

2.Another way the Gulf Stream matters to the boys is in the storm where the waves are the result of the head-on collision between the wind and the current.

3.What makes waves?What determines how big they are? What determines the space between them?(Teachers: An elementary explanation of this is on the website.)


4.Science and art converge in the book’s cover.Students studying the waves may want to examine the hardback cover and ask, “Is this situation possible?”(Teachers:This answer is, “Only with a miracle.”The boat is sailing into waves created by wind that is blowing the opposite direction it would need to be blowing for the boat to be sailing in the direction it is sailing.Moreover, no sailor would have all his sails up in such a wind!)

Writing in the sciences


Writing projects do not frequently show up in science class.Students, however, might enjoy the following:Imagine that you are Dylan and you are explaining things to Gerry.Every time you tell him something, he asks, “Why?”Keep explaining until you have to say, “I don’t know.”

Explain to Gerry what makes a sailboat go.

Explain to Gerry why the stars move.

Explain to Gerry why the moon rises and sets and why it does it at different times.

Social Studies


Our Caribbean neighbors are not always included in standard social studies classes.This is an opportunity to make sure students understand that a wide variety of nations, cultures, and topographies fills the Caribbean Sea.

1.More specifically, each location mentioned in The Great Wide Sea is an actual location in the Bahamas.There are many websites and books, especially travel books, that describe these locations.Students might create web pages or prepare travel brochures for these different locations.

2.Unfortunately, the Byrons could not travel through the entire seven hundred islands.Students might plot an alternative journey that takes in the eastern and southern islands and then prepare a cruise brochure to convince Dad to change his plans!

3.The culture of the Bahamas is rich and varied from the indigenous peoples (who left an underwater canoe in a blue hole on Andros), to the run-away slave community at Red Bay, to the former British Loyalists in Spanish Wells, to the modern day casinos of Nassau.Students will want to research goombay rhythms and the Junkanoo shuffle.Perhaps they will want to make a headdress for the Junkanoo parade.

4.Geography class is the perfect place to work with latitude and longitude to plot the family’s journey.A rough chart is on the website.

5.If in mathematics class the students can figure out approximately where the family was when the storm struck and then make an educated guess as to how far south they traveled in the storm, perhaps in geography class they can find the estimated latitude and longitude of both the storm’s beginning and the deserted island.