Columbus’s Mermaids

January doesn’t usually remind us about Christopher Columbus, but on January 9, 1493, he described seeing mermaids swim near the Dominican Republic. (See the History Channel’s “On this Day in History.”)

Photo courtesy of Broward.org

Photo courtesy of Broward.org

However, Columbus was mistaken. What he saw were not mermaids swimming, but manatees. These animals are exceptionally lovely. Large and slow-moving mammals, manatees eat plants and swim in shallow water. Their faces hold a kind sweetness. It’s easy to see why Columbus thought they were mermaids.

Teacher reflection had a whole new meaning for me after I met my first manatee.

Introduce your students to manatees.  Not everything we teach our students has to be a huge curriculum unit. Give your students access to pictures, maps, and reading about manatees. Begin conversations about them during quiet moments. A good place for information is at National Geographic, where students can listen to the repertoire of manatee sounds.

And after your students learn about manatees, ask them to think up reasons why Columbus mistook them for mermaids.

 

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