Global Shift

The news ruined my curriculum planning.


My plan was to continue our medieval Humanities studies by learning more about Feudalism and Christianity in Europe for the remainder of the second quarter. Then, after Winter Break, we would dive in to the origins of Islam and study the Middle East.  But the news of the bombings in France could not be ignored.

It took a lot of letting go of control in order to serve the best interest of the students. After all, why are we teaching our students anything if they can’t connect their studies to something bigger? I truly want my students to know that they are not just given busy work. As global citizens, they must make personal connections. Many students take French class, many have been to France, many know someone who is French.

But what about Lebanon? What about Syria? Kenya? With good intentions amidst chaos, misunderstanding, guilt, and despair, social media practically devolved into an empathy contest with these questions.

Conclusion: Making an unexpected shift in our curriculum was the progressive thing to do. Sometimes we have to study a tragedy in order to start to make sense of the world. After all, ignorance and misunderstanding are too often the sources of conflict, whether in the classroom, between religions, or between countries.

We came up with this list of thoughts and questions the first day back after the tragedies:


In my class, we have recently been playing with a new idea: Emotional Cartography. I can’t tell you how much I love this term. It is also referred to as “psychogeography”. This was a new concept to me introduced at the recent PEN (Progressive Education Network) Conference. Some examples of student work with Emotional Cartography from other schools can be viewed here.

We got to work.


We figured out this simple formula: maps = power. This led us to this week’s “Big Time” activity. We realized that considering facts and statistics like a country’s size, population, GDP, percentages of Muslims, life expectancy, and more would be a good starting point for a better understanding of less familiar countries and regions and their relationships to countries and regions that are more familiar to us.

We starting using some new databases and we presented our students some challenges: How can you represent statistics on France, Lebanon, and Syria without necessarily using a number? How can you use maps in a non-traditional sense to give someone else information and a particular feeling? How can you make your viewer think more about Syria and Lebanon?


Lastly, after gathering new info and stats, students were challenged with coming up with a new design, inspired by the Eiffel Tower in the peace sign, to show a broader picture of the world.

Then we really got to work.


Students chose a country and asked questions that they wanted answered.

The wonderfully diverse and creative approaches to their work were incredible to witness.


Big Map

I also heard some pretty cool discoveries and ideas:

“Dave, it is hard to write Arabic!”


“This shows the tree on the flag in the peace sign and that’s oil draining out of the peace sign.”

“We noticed that there is a tree in the flag of Lebanon and that’s a symbol of immortality. We want to see if we can find more connections between the flags of neighboring countries.”

“Can we make our idea digital? I have photoshop skills.”


“Can we make it 3D?…This is a memorial to a special place that was destroyed.”


“We want our audience to have a feeling of hope.”






This was all done in the span of two and a half hours. How can we keep this vibe going? What else can we learn on a daily basis connecting school to current events at home and around the world?

What are some examples of you adjusting your curriculum to something happening in the real world?  What discoveries were made? What did you learn?

3 thoughts on “Global Shift”

  1. Dave, thanks for the almost real-time post on this curricular risk/adventure that you and your colleagues took today. I’m hoping that writing the post provided you with additional insights as you reflected on the experience. We ask kids to do this all the time; modeling these expectations in our own practice is so important. I also think that by making this shift you have created a connection point to which you can return when you dive back into the formal curriculum. The sixth grade humanities exploration of the Middle Ages in Europe and the Middle East provides some important historical context for our current moment.

  2. I love this idea of emotional cartography. There is also a strong information/visual literacy piece to this that our students are in need of honing. Great work!

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