Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pirate Day

As a teacher, you quickly learn there are certain times of year the kids are going to be hyped up and you might as well just go with it and channel that energy in a positive direction.  In other words, "if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!"  That’s what my coworkers and I had in mind several years ago when we decided to deem one of the last school days in October as Pirate Day.  

What started as a desperate attempt to focus on something that might hold attention more strongly than costumes and candy has turned into a memorable, fun, AND curriculum-based tradition.  Since we teach state history in fourth grade, we cover the influence of pirates on the early Carolina coast in social studies.  On Pirate Day, we spend the whole day covering this topic in social studies, and we also integrate pirate activities so that we can spend the whole day talking about (and talking like!) pirates.  We allow the students to dress like pirates if they wish, and we have extra pirate supplies on hand for those who don’t dress up (bandanas, eye patches, etc.)  Just be careful to be clear that hooks, swords, and other plastic weapons aren’t allowed. 

There are so many pirate-themed activities out there that the possibilities are endless.  We focus a lot on Blackbeard, since he lived in Beaufort and was killed at Ocracoke Inlet, but we also read about and discuss other pirate of the Carolina coast such as Stede Bonnet, Charles Vane, Calico Jack, William Kidd, Anne Bonney ad Mary Read.  We study and design jolly rogers, we play Pirate Place Value games in math, we read books like How I Became a Pirate and write imaginative narratives.  We discuss the diet of a pirate and what type of impact their nutrition probably had on their health.  Each year, we change the activities somewhat as we find new resources and tire of old ones.  There are many websites, books, and other resources that make the only problem with planning Pirate Day narrowing it down to what you’d like to cover.  One of my favorite websites is, which is an organization devoted to the shipwreck of Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. 

Most of all, we try to get the students to understand the motivation of the pirates and who they really were.  The most challenging part of teaching fourth graders about pirates is separating fact from fiction, myth from reality.   My favorite part of pirate day is using an excerpt from the National Geographic TV movie Blackbeard: Terror at Sea to do just that (click the title to watch on YouTube).  I learned about this film at a workshop a few years ago, and it is the most realistic depiction of the pirate era that I’ve seen.  The entire film wouldn’t be appropriate for fourth grade (violence) but the first ten minutes allow students to experience a pretty accurate idea of what piracy and the life of Blackbeard was really like.   After showing this excerpt, I pose the following questions: (answers in italics)

-What did Edward Teach want?  Compare/contrast to what Charles Vane wanted.
Charles Vane wanted money and power.  Blackbeard just wanted to be remembered.
-Why do you think Mr. Hands and Blackbeard became friends?  Give evidence.
Mr. Hands saved his life.  They seemed to want the same things.
-What kind of person makes a pirate?  What do they all have in common?
First and foremost, a pirate was a sailor.  All kinds of people were pirates.  The sea bound them together.
-Who elects a pirate ship’s captain?  What qualities must they possess?
The crew of the ship elected the captain.  He must be strong, fair, and successful.  
-Why were the colonies concerned with pirates? 
They stole from trade ships and threatened violence. 
-At what point in American history was the Golden Age of Piracy?  How long was Blackbeard’s reign?
The Golden Age of Piracy took place late 1600’s-early 1700’s.  Blackbeard’s reign was 2 years long.

If you too decide to attempt Pirate Day this year, your day won’t be complete without serving up Pirate’s Pot Luck.  

Pirate’s Pot Luck
Goldfish ~ "Rotten Tadpoles"
Pretzels ~ "Smoked Dried Eel"
Mini Marshmallows ~ "Whale Blubber Bits"
Potato Sticks ~ "Pirate Toothpicks"
Candy Corn ~ "Pirate's false teeth"
Chex Cereal ~ "Wood Chips"
Chocolate Chips ~ "Squid Eyes"
Raisins ~ "Ship Bugs"
Bugles ~ "Peg Fingers"

If my coworkers and I, who are true landlubbers, can pull this off, anyone can!  Good luck, mateys!

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