Today, in celebration of World Oceans Day, we have caught up with Jillian Morris from Sharks4Kids to find out about the ingenious way they’ve used Skype in the Classroom to connect to over 40,000 students since 2013, and educate them about the importance of sharks in the balance of the oceans’ ecosystems.
When one thinks of sharks, the first thing that goes through most people’s minds is a menacing fin emerging through the water, gliding stealthily towards a group of swimmers… razor sharp jaws… and then—well, we’re sure you’ve seen that famous shark movie to find out the rest.
Jillian’s organization specializes in introducing children to sharks and the world they inhabit—the murky bloody depths of the ocean that are filled with skeletal remains and sinister shadows. Actually, we’re exaggerating. Far from the infamous image of these fascinating creatures, Jillian tells us that there is far more to sharks than the bloodthirsty Hollywood movies would lead us to believe:
“Most kids have yet to develop the media sensationalize hysteria of fear that surrounds sharks; so introducing them to the world of these incredible creatures is always amazing. I always ask kids what words they would use to describe a shark and despite their fascination, the word “scary” is the most common answer I get. We also get “awesome”, “amazing”, “beautiful” and “misunderstood” which are words I prefer to “monsters” or “man-eater.”
Bringing “sharky” education to children the world over
Sharks4Kids have connected with 37 countries, including China, Brunei, South Korea, Kenya, Indonesia, Guatemala, India, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Cambodia.
“During the Skype lessons, students are exposed to our lives with sharks; our work as marine biologists, videographers and photographers. They see us diving with sharks and working with them and realize how truly interesting these animals actually are.”
And what do students usually ask you about your encounters with sharks?
“The questions evolve from, “have you ever been bitten” to “what is it like to be in the water with sharks” and I love seeing this transition. Their interest is piqued and they want to know more about the lives of sharks and their behavior. Seeing a live shark is an extremely powerful tool for education. Students realize they can be small and vulnerable, not always a top ocean predator.”
A very hands on approach to learning about sharks
Using Skype video calling is the ideal way for children to get closer to the world of sharks… without the obvious risks of course. Jillian explains a particularly memorable moment she experienced while on a Skype shark class:
“One of my most memorable Skype connections was with Livingstone Kegode at the Cheery Children’s Education Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. The classroom was very small and the kids were a mix of ages. They were connecting on a single iPad and were very eager to learn. They asked great questions and even sang a song for me. I will never forget this Skype call, as it was a strong reminder of how we really are all connected. “
So what does the future hold for Sharks4Kids? Jillian tells us that they’re getting ready to head to the Dutch Caribbean to visit schools on Saint Maarten and St. Eustatius. With an ever-growing team of ambassadors in the UK and Florida, more ambassadors are being announced in the coming months—holding more Skype classroom lessons to even more children worldwide.
They are also developing new content, curriculum and activities for the website, with a new shark anatomy app available in September.
Jillian on a school visit
And that’s not all. Jillian explains even more updates:
“We are also putting together another Shark STEM program at Seacamp, in the Florida Keys. This program allows middle school girls to learn about shark science first hand. We developed the program along with shark biologist Dr. Jeffery Carrier and last year’s programs were a huge success. We want girls to know that science jobs are available for women and how accessible and amazing the marine biology field can be.”
They also have their first book coming out at the end of June, featuring Norman the Nurse Shark who gets lost and goes on an epic journey around the Bahamas. Along the way he makes some unlikely friends and learns about the type of animal he actually is. Sounds FIN-tastic.
So what do Sharks4Kids aim to achieve through their Skype lessons?
“Our end goal is to create a generation of shark advocates who are going to speak up and the make a positive change to save sharks and the oceans.”
Parents: Why not ask your school to get involved with Skype in the Classroom so your kids can experience the world live from their classrooms?