The flexibility to design a new course is another reason I love international schools.

After a well needed summer respite another school year has started. One of the things I am most excited about is teaching our new 9th grade course. A major benefit of teaching at a private international school is curriculum flexibility. If our department sees a need to fill curriculum gaps or to make adjustments to existing courses in order to meet student needs, its far easier to set wheels in motion and affect change than in a large public school district in the US. This creates additional planning and curriculum work that I might not otherwise have, but I think it is still worth the effort.

Last year, my school’s 9th grade course was Human Geography. It was essentially a simplified version of AP Human Geography. Long-story short, it filled a gap that was created when a integrated humanities course was sunsetted. I suspect the teacher who made the choice was himself geography teacher. To be fair, I might have done the same with a history course. Ultimately, Human Geography did not serve the needs of the students, did not align with many of the other department offerings, and was a bit awkward for me to teach.

Another teacher and I headed up a redesign of the course. It’s new name is “Geographic Cultural Studies.” Essentially, it is meant to be a foundational course for our social studies department, mixing geography and history along with a bit of economics, civics, and politics. It was constructed with the C3 standards and the inquiry model in mind. I am excited for how this course will bridge the gap between the middle school curriculum and the high school AP and applied learning curriculum. Not every student is ready (or needs) to start the AP track in 9th grade with AP Human Geography. This new course will provide a great way to introduce students to various disciplinary skills and important content thereby giving them support in preparing for more advanced coursework in the future.

Geographic Cultural Studies begins with a foundational unit that introduces physical geography, cultural geography and basic historical thinking skills. Students also begin their National History Day projects, which stretch over the course of the year and support proficiency in research and critical thinking skills. I am a big supporter of how NHD can enrich a social studies curriculum.

Every other unit is based around a geographic region. The units begin with physical geography, but are united by one or more essential questions that guide the historical content selection. First semester units will be assessed through a mixture of traditional assessments, Harkness discussions, and smaller projects. Students will be doing the heavy lifting for National History Day in the first semester, so I don’t want to overload them.

The second semester will only have three units, each being a large inquiry unit where students will complete a more significant project through which they can answer the unit essential question. The draft unit details are listed below. Some of the essential questions need a wordsmith, and the specific content will likely be adjusted as our department unpacks standards and considers further curriculum gaps. I am also looking forward to the opportunity to work with the English department in order to establish some common language around writing and look for ways to leverage how we teach reading, writing, research, and other language skills. When teachers think about curriculum they create awesome potential.

Course Breakdown

Course Transfer Goals

  1. Students will develop an understanding of the interrelationships between people, places, spaces, and the environment to better understand the present and prepare for the future.   
  2. Students will analyze perspectives, patterns, and relationships to make informed decisions as global decisions. 

Unit 1: National History Day & Foundations of Geographic and Cultural Geography

Driving Questions:

  1. How do we construct compelling questions, structure the research process, and present our findings?
  2. How does geography shape human societies?
  3. How does culture develop and evolve?
  4. To what extent is cultural diversity a strength?

Unit 2: Europe

Driving Questions:

  1. How has Europe’s geography contributed to its cultural and political diversity?
  2. To what extent was individualism and democratic development rooted in Christendom?
  3. To what extent were the Middle ages “dark”?

Unit 3: China

Driving Questions:

  1. How has geography contributed to China’s historical and cultural resiliency?
  2. To what extent is cultural homogeneity a strength or weakness?

Unit 4: Korea and Japan

Driving Questions:

  1. To what extent are Korea and Japan’s cultural identities unique?
  2. How do smaller cultural identities survive and negotiate more powerful neighbors?

Unit 5: Latin America

Driving Question:

  1. Despite its geography and resources, why is Latin America still a “developing” region?

Unit 6: The Middle East

Driving Question:

  1. How has conflict shaped middle eastern history? To what extent are they doomed to continue fighting?

Unit 7: India & Africa

Driving Questions:

  1. To what extent are Africa’s contemporary economic and political problems the result of colonialism?
  2. Will India be able to overcome its historical and developmental issues to become a global superpower?

The course is still very much a work in progress. I know from experience it takes 2-3 years to get a course developed where I want it. Still, the excitement of beginning changes that I know will have a positive impact on our students is carrying me through the work. It is comforting to have the support of a curriculum and administrative team that understands things will be tweaked and fine-tuned through the year. We have the vision and big-picture, now need to work on the fine print.

Leave a Reply