Here’s a great story of the birth of MIGHTY MAHI from Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw, a story that sprang from project-based learning with excited and engaged students. Authors will enjoy learning about the genesis of the book, and educators will surely find inspiration for their own classrooms. While Suzanne wrote the book as a result of the project, I think a project could also spring from many picture books. This was truly a hands-on, “hearts-in” endeavor!
“CLIMB ABOARD THE YELLOW SUBMARINE: A Study in Research and Activisim” by Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw
My newest book Mighty Mahi was inspired by the Yearlong Themed Project-Based Learning Approach I created to provide my developing readers access to curriculum and their individual reading goals in an authentic, motivating, and engaging manner. Each year I’d choose a science theme my students and I would delve into for an entire year. During the 2014-15 school year, my upper elementary reading students boarded an imaginary yellow submarine from Northville, Michigan and embarked on a yearlong journey to explore the undersea world!
Our favorite port was Jekyll Island—home to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center—a remarkable facility whose mission is to rescue and rehabilitate injured sea turtles. As an introduction to our sea turtle unit, I surprised my students with a virtual field trip to the center. Our tour guide, Kira, taught us basic facts about sea turtles and how those found sick or injured are cared for in the center’s hospital. One of the first turtle patients we met was Mahi, a juvenile green sea turtle who was missing her right front flipper.
We also learned about the dangers sea turtles face because of human disregard. This was when Kira helped me carry out a secret mission—to inspire my students to advocate for and help these endangered creatures. Kira explained Mahi’s care was expensive and to help with the costs, people could symbolically adopt Mahi for fifty dollars. Without hesitation one of my fourth graders jumped out of his chair, pumped his fist into the air, and shouted “Yes! We can do that!”
When the virtual field trip ended, the students were on board to raise money to adopt Mahi. We spent several class periods formulating a plan. Students decided to inform our school about the threats to sea turtles. To accomplish this, they chose to put on a taped “virtual assembly”. They divided up into small groups and each group researched and created a presentation about a human related threat to sea turtles focusing on what we, even in Michigan, could do to protect our flippered friends.
While researching, another fourth-grade boy discovered the center also had a loggerhead hatchling named Sprout available for adoption. He learned center volunteers found Sprout at the bottom of an otherwise empty nest. Sprout was taken to the GSTC for study and care. Excited again, my students set a new goal to raise $100 to adopt Mahi AND Sprout.
Yet, their drive didn’t stop there. As part of the donation process, the center sent us biweekly updates on Mahi’s and Sprout’s condition which my students added to their research. However, one update included another problem sea turtles face. Winter came early that year, and the unexpected cold weather stranded many Kemp Ridley sea turtles along New England beaches. The news of the cold-stunned turtles further motivated my students to make a difference. They decided to sell reusable collapsible water bottles for donations of $5.00 or more to help with the plastic problem plaguing our oceans. Students designed a logo with “Protect Sea Turtles” imprinted on the water bottles and introduced the fundraiser at the end of their virtual assembly.
The assembly was successfully received, and donations came pouring in. To showcase the progress to the Moraine community, the students developed a bulletin board highlighting their sea turtle research and a “thermometer” depicting the donation levels. The bulletin board was in front of the exit of the school lunchroom. Students gave up their lunch and recess periods to count money and man the board and were given high fives and congratulations from the school community as students and staff saw the red line on the thermometer grow each day. At the end of our fundraiser, my readers were thrilled to donate $1,711.38 to the center!
For the remainder of the year, we continued to partner with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on additional projects and receive updates on Mahi and Sprout. That summer we learned of Mahi and Sprout’s release dates. One of my students happened to be in Florida the week of Mahi’s release and cheered her on as she was placed back into her ocean home.
I dedicated Mighty Mahi to my students and included their journey in the backmatter. After all, it was their hard work, research, and commitment that contributed to my story. Looking back, working with my students on writing their own books about Mahi would have added another level to the project and given them an incredible physical takeaway of their adventure on the yellow submarine. Educators, climb aboard and use your class projects to inspire student stories!