Wonder Day – What’s the Cost of Sunken Treasure?

Wonder Day/Wonder Week is an inquiry-based learning strategy where students spend either a day or a week researching and reporting on a topic of their choice.  According to the all-knowing Wikipedia (2018), inquiry-based learning was developed in response to traditional instructional methods and is based on constructivist theories such as those of Piaget, Vygotsky, and Freire.  The process involves students coming up with questions, researching the answers, and summarizing their results.

There are 4 different levels of inquiry:

  1. Confirmation Inquiry – Teacher develops the questions and guides students through the answers.  The results are already known.  This level reinforces concepts and procedures.
  2. Structured Inquiry – Teacher provides initial question & outlines procedures.  Students develop their own evaluations.
  3. Guided Inquiry – Teacher provides only the research question.  Students design and create their own procedures and evaluations.
  4. Open/True Inquiry – Students develop their own questions and do their own research.

Inquiry-based learning emphasizes critical thinking and developing individual connections to learning with no set result to achieve.  It is driven by intrinsic motivation and personal curiosity.  It is commonly used in the scientific method.  Other formats include field work, case studies, investigations, individual/group research projects.

How would I use inquiry-based learning in a classroom?

Inquiry-based learning would be useful when students do research projects.  It provides students with an opportunity to learn about topics that specifically interest them.  It could easily  be adapted to assignments such as Google Slides presentations, written reports, poster projects, interviews, etc.  One of the issues is that it does take a long time to plan and the strategy needs to be front-loaded.

An Example of a Wonder Day Project

Inquiry Question: What is the cost of sunken treasure?

Research Question: What are the most valuable sunken treasures discovered?

Summary of findings:

UNESCO estimates that there are approximately 3 million shipwrecks on the ocean floor around the world (“Wrecks,” n.d.).  In the case of our research question we’re only looking at a few shipwrecks that have an estimated value attached to them.

According to Hestie Gerber (2013) of Listverse.com, some of the largest sunken treasures discovered are:

  • The Belitung wreck – $80 million

An Arabian ship discovered in 1998 off the coast of Indonesia.  It is one of the largest assortments of 9th Century Tang Dynasty jewels, ceramics, and gold ever found.

  • The S.S. Central America – $100-150 million

Sunk during a hurricane in 1857 while carrying 15 tons of gold, the S.S. Central America was rediscovered in 1987.  The ensuing legal battle involved 39 insurance companies laying claim to the cargo, but the discovery team was ultimately granted 92% of the gold found aboard.

  • The Antikythera Treasures – $120-160 million

Discovered in 1900 off the coast of Antikythera in the Aegean Sea, this wreck turned into one of the first underwater archeological expeditions in history.  In 1976, a dive recovered the famed Antikythera Mechanism (possibly the oldest known analog computer).  In addition, the wreck also contained jewelry, pottery, glassware, coins, and statues.

  • The S.S. Republic – $120-180 million

The victim of another hurricane in 1865 off the coast of Georgia, the S.S. Republic was en route to New Orleans with a cargo of gold and silver coins estimated to be worth $400,000 at the time.  In 2003, the Odyssey deep sea salvage company located the wreck and has recovered more than 51,000 coins and 14,000 artifacts from the wreck.

  • The S.S. Gairsoppa – $200 million

Torpedoed by a U-boat in 1941, the Gairsoppa was carrying 7 million ounces of silver.  In 2010 the UK government awarded Odyssey salvage a contract to recover the cargo with the stipulation that it could keep 80% of the salvage.  In 2011, Odyssey found the Gairsoppa in the North Atlantic at a depth of about 2.8 miles.  To date, about 48 tons of silver have been recovered.

  • The Whydah Gally – $400 million

The flagship of pirate “Black Sam” Bellamy, the Whydah was discovered in 1984 by Barry Clifford.  A true example of pirate loot, with artifacts such as cannons, gold, coins, and the ship’s bell having been recovered.

  • The Nuestra Señora de Atocha – $450 million

A genuine Spanish treasure galleon carrying jewels, gold, silver, and copper, the Nuestra Señora de Atocha went down off the Florida Keys in 1622 in a hurricane (this seems to be a common theme).  Reportedly, this ship was so packed with treasure that it took almost two months to record and load it.  The Spanish gave up locating the wreck, but in 1985, it was found by Mel Fisher who was later granted full rights to the salvage after an eight year legal battle with the State of Florida.  Unfortunately, Fisher died before he could complete the excavation, but the work is continued by his associates.

  • The Black Swan Project (possibly the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes) – $500 million

This Spanish frigate was sunk by the British in 1804 during the Battle of Cape Santa Maria off the Portuguese coast.  Sometime in the early 2000s, Odyssey salvage discovered a wreck (codenamed: Black Swan), began recovering the salvage, but refused to disclose its exact location.  In 2007, Odyssey flew 17 tons of coins from Gibraltar to an undisclosed location in the United States.  In 2008, the Spanish government laid claim to the wreck, believing it to be the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes.  In the ensuing litigation, Odyssey lost and was ordered to disclose the wreck’s location and return the coins to Spain in 2013.

But wait, there’s more!

While these sunken treasure ships are certainly impressive, a recent article by the AP staff writers (2018) at the News Corp Australia Network note that there is an even bigger treasure recently discovered.

  • The San Jose – $17 billion (yes, billion with a B)

The Spanish galleon (surprise, surprise) San Jose was sunk by the British navy in a battle known as Wager’s Action in 1708 off the coast of Cartegena, Columbia.  She was carrying a treasure of silver, gold, and emeralds.  In 2015 the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute rediscovered her wreck using the autonomous underwater vehicle, REMUS 6000.  Her cargo is estimated to be worth upwards of $17 billion.  Unfortunately, while UNESCO is asking the Columbian government not to exploit the wreck, they are keeping the exact location of the treasure a closely guarded state secret.

Altogether, at the high-end, there’s $19,120,000,000 at the bottom of the sea in this list alone.  Based on this small survey, we can easily conclude that there’s quite a bit of expensive loot that remains yet-to-be discovered.  Not all of this treasure is gold, silver, and precious gems, but metals and countless artifacts of archeological and historical value to our understanding of past cultures and societies.  Ships will forever be at the mercy of mother nature, and who knows how many treasure-laden Spanish galleons are really sitting on the bottom.  Beyond the Spaniards, how many other vessels from ancient times succumbed to Neptune’s wrath?  There’s treasure to be had and it’s not all buried in chests underground.


AP Staff Writers. (2018, May 23). Sunken Spanish galleon has treasure worth as much as $22 billion. News Corp Australia Network. Retrieved from https://www.news.com.au/technology/science/archaeology/sunken-spanish-galleon-has-treasure-worth-as-much-as-22-billion/news-story/d5a6d3e54dd5442a33da4cb936b54977

Gerber, H.B. (2013, June 22). 10 Astonishing Shipwreck Treasures. Listverse. Retrieved from https://listverse.com/2013/06/22/ten-astonishing-shipwreck-treasures/

Inquiry-based learning. (2018). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquiry-based_learning

Wrecks. (n.d.). In UNESCO. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/underwater-cultural-heritage/underwater-cultural-heritage/wrecks/

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