Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why I Love Zombie Apocalypse

Incentives are the reason people learn because incentives drive choices. I could never admit this to my fair trade coffee drinkers, but I love Starbucks.  Every time I buy a coffee I receive a free app or song download.  My app allows me to earn stars that eventually gain me a free coffee.  And when I am lost driving x-country the map app points me in the direction of the nearest Starbucks and the nearest wifi.  But this is not a blog about Starbucks, it is a blog about incentives.  None of these incentives are really amazing.  I could find those same apps for free on line, the free coffee never applies until I spend + $15.00.  And I live in rural Vermont with the nearest Starbucks 50 miles away. Incentives are fun, I take advantage of them which makes me a bit happier to take time to spend money on a cup of jo.   Education works the same way.  Most of my students attend school because they have to not because they want to.  If we can make the day a bit more interesting, with a chance to win arbitrary prizes we embed an incentive for showing us their best work.  The problem is finding the right incentive without spending $$$. And Zombies fit this nicely.

I am new to loving Zombies. I saw World War Z film, became a fan of Walking Dead and read a novel by Max Brooks. I was drawn to chapter connections between a place in the world and fantastical stories of apocalyptic survival.  Max Brooks even presents Vermonters as prominent as builders of utopian societies.  I began plotting a geography unit while hiking with my husband in western areas devastated by mega fires and flash floods. How does one survive in a world of destruction? Unbelievably an interview on NPR with David Hunter  (ted ed video) linking zombies to geography standards was broadcasting as we drove between Utah and New Mexico. This was a sign that the time was right for action.  

I started with a globalization unit introducing students to use of demographics and economic indicators for assessing the state of the world today.  We review the aftermath of World War II and the international organizations (UN, WHO, IMF) that play controversial roles in development.  The culminating project intends to have students predict and create considerable improvements for the world.  Students can either focus on real world developments and predictions or life after a zombie pandemic. Everyone begins with an exploratory of our world of 7 billion people. I recommend using Hans Rosling's video,  200 years of World Health and Wealth to pose the question, why are so many people drawn to living in cities?

Students are given an absolute location of a megacity. Identifying their city on a map earns them a unit guide outlining research on cities with a survival plan for escaping harm. Students document their migration from the city to any safe place on earth utilizing a double entry diary template.  Research leads to meaningful decision making and personal opinion for adding creative design elements to their plan. Juxtaposing diary entries about fantasy and real world studies led to unsolicited, passionate sharing. Each day of this 5 day unit students perform random tasks: push ups, crawls, scavenger hunts, knot tying and interviewing the health office staff about blood born pathogens. I download games from the UN, Nobel Peace Prize, Games for Change as both an incentive and as research into globalization. Gaming excitement led to shared values, discussions and drove students to seriously consider: What would your game design look like if you wanted to educate people about global issues? How would you write a better game?

Bonus points earned become the discussion points for designing escape vehicles, weapons, costume and safe bunkers.  Students used points to travel certain distances. They build communities and they designed a better world. Points do not impact the actual grade but they are the incentives that drive choice and a learn to increase their knowledge of the world.  Students can not engage in extra activities until assignments are completed.  So, how should we prepare for a world of 7 billion Zombies?  This unit is transformational. Preparing for Zombie apocalypse means preventing such a world from existing.  We all finish as heroes. 

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