To kick off our THINK Global School semester in Auckland, New Zealand, I wanted to create a unit that completely revolved around the incredible geography of our host country. Utilizing the THINK Global School Lens of Environment and Exploration*, my ninth grade global studies students challenged themselves to understand basic tenets of human geography. We began the unit with a Prezi on Maps and Map Skills. This Prezi, which can be seen below, encompasses a wide array of map types, ranging from world maps to ones focused solely on New Zealand. The students’ first assignment for the year was to choose, analyze, and discuss two different types of maps containing this year’s host countries, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and Greece.
My students were quick to embrace this difficult task. As all education systems throughout the world are different, we find that students arrive at THINK Global School with vastly differing academic levels, largely based on their previous schools’ pedagogy and curriculum. For each incoming student our admissions department receives a writing sample, runs a math competencies diagnostic, and conducts several behavioral examinations, but obviously differentiated instruction is an important part of teaching and learning at TGS. This first assessment, which is a bit more on the difficult side, allowed me to asses where each student is in terms of their cognitive abilities and research and writing skills. More importantly, I watched the students as they worked, seeing which students were applying the core value of Meraki to their first piece of work for my class.
We continued to learn about map skills by taking a hike up to the summit of Mount Eden — a scoria cone and the highest point in Auckland. With their earbuds in place, each student began their hike up the mountain by listening to the podcast found below. After a thoroughly fulfilling climb highlighted by scenic views of Auckland and pristine air quality, they began sketching out topographical maps atop Eden’s summit.
During the next few classes we worked to improve our first piece of writing by including research and evidence into our analysis. We also worked together to post these reflections on THINK Spot, our school learning platform. While I was encouraging my students to apply Meraki, the Greek concept of putting all of oneself into your work, Lindsay Clark, our New Media specialist, was ensuring that they were applying the proper Spot blog conventions to their work.
After the students worked through maps and key geographical terms, we turned to the topic of exploration. With Polynesians largely considered the greatest seafarers of all time, New Zealand seemed like as good a place as any to study the ancient Polynesians’ maritime efforts. After discussing Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki expedition and the origins of the first settlers to New Zealand, I challenged my students to investigate other explorers. We used National Geographic charts and articles to chart a timeline showing the history of exploration, from the first maritime seafarers to the first deep ocean explorers all the way up to the brave individuals who have bravely rocketed up into our solar system.
Each student was asked to create a journal entry from the perspective of the explorer that they chose. The goal here for me was to see what kind of creative writing the students were capable of. They were asked to take the facts from their research and add some emotion and personality to the explorers they had read about. Again, my students did not disappoint.Click to read Elliot’s creation “James Holman’s Long Lost Journal.”
After working with the grade nine students to ensure that they had completed the vocabulary, research and writing experience, it was their turn to combine them all. Their abilities with creative writing should have been applied to the originality of their final project, along with research and blog conventions.
Our statement of inquiry for this project was: “To what extent does environment dictate human culture.” We started with a class discussion on the topic, which you can hear below. All of my students were eager participants, sharing ideas and experiences from their home countries and applying them to New Zealand.
My grade nine students’ final task for this project was to create an evidence-based blog showing a way in which environment dictates culture. I was very impressed to see my students use a variety of learning skills in our first major assignment of the year.
They learned and applied:
- How to write and use thesis statements
- How to defend thesis statements with evidence
- How to conduct internet research with the TGS Digital Library and online databases
- How to publish and format a blog
To see their final creations for this Unit click here. Please note that students choose which of their projects will be shared publicly, so not all student work can be seen on this page.
*THINK Global School lenses help us explore major themes and developments that are universal throughout the world. Other lenses include Conflict and Engagement, Cultural Identity, Economics and Government, Belief Systems, and Technological Innovation, and Maps and Map Skills.