Teacher as Coach in an Elementary Geography Class

  • by Mary Meurisse Richardson

    Aliens are attacking!  Join the EDF today!

    Yes, you heard right: the Earth Defense Forces (EDF) need willing and able recruits to help fight off invading aliens!

    Each new recruit must pass Basic Training in Planet Earth Geography—learning all the continents, oceans, lines of latitude and longitude, and time zone changes. Once they make it through Basic Training a recruit becomes a Private in the EDF.  To move up in rank they choose any of ten regions of the world to study. When they feel confident that they know the countries in that region, they face a challenge (quiz) on which they can earn between 25 and100 experience points.  As students complete challenges and earn experience points, they earn a higher rank and unlock new challenge options, such as presenting a project, choosing a theme for a region and investigating it, or making a map of their neighborhood. EDF members also earn experience points by being focused in class each day, completing a challenge every week, and working together on one region. They all want to achieve the ultimate rank of Planetary Commander!

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    To keep up the action, I roll the dice every day to find out if the aliens have attacked again.  If the answer is yes, I roll again to find out where and how strongly they are attacking.

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    On a large world map, alien attacks are marked with red flags and multicolored Planet Earth flags represent areas where students have completed challenges and thus beaten back the invaders. Currently, we’re winning, but who knows when or how strongly the aliens might attack! We have to keep learning and be ever vigilant.

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    At the beginning of the school year I had certain expectations based on past geography classes, but using this game format, I’m amazed by what the students are accomplishing. They choose regions to study based on a wide variety of factors, such as where they or family members have traveled, places they have heard of in games, or even places they don’t know anything about. They are mastering information more quickly than in a traditional class, and they often choose to work in pairs without my assistance. These kids are truly exploring on their own. I don’t have to do any “teaching”—I simply walk around and answer questions, help them find what they are looking for, administer challenges, and keep up with points and ranks earned. They’re so enthusiastic I sometimes have to push them out of the room to their next class!

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    We’re having a great time, defeating the aliens and learning geography in a way that is likely to stick with the students for years to come. Come by and visit any time—but be sure to bring your taser!

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