Education Innovation – Zombie-Based Learning

Education Innovation - Zombie-Based Learning

Education Innovation - Zombie-Based LearningI had the opportunity to sit down with David Hunter, a recent faculty member of the Big Picture Learning school in Bellevue, WA and the creator of the Zombie-Based Learning course on Geography. If you’re not familiar with the Big Picture Learning concept, it is an amazing charter school concept started by Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor in Providence, RI that focuses on creating better learning outcomes in public schools by focusing on:

  • Student choice
  • Building positive adult relationships
  • Teaching kids skills for the 21st Century
  • Building real world connections
  • Giving students the opportunity to learn to be adults

The major goals of Zombie-Based Learning are to:

  1. Increase student engagement
  2. Provide project-based lessons
  3. Meet rigorous national standards through authentic assessment

David designed the Zombie-Based Learning Geography curriculum because there were no project-based curriculum’s available at the time that he could use to teach Geography to his middle school students. Because we live in the era of crowdfunding and because he intended to make the effort widely available to educators around the world, he started a Kickstarter effort to fund the development of the first graphic novel issue to go with the nearly 500 page teachers’ edition of the Zombie-Based Learning Geography curriculum.

Rather than spend too much time telling you about the curriculum and his latest Kickstarter effort to fund the second of the graphic novels to support the standards-based curriculum complete with assessments and daily lessons, it would be better to let him tell you himself in his Kickstarter project video:



I encourage everyone to click over to Kickstarter and support this worthy project.

Zombie-Based Learning TextbookThe Zombie-Based Learning Geography curriculum was built using Understanding by Design, meaning that David started with the outcome in mind and basically designed it backwards from the outcome to include daily lessons, assessments, and rubrics for the teachers to leverage with students. One of the main outcomes it was designed to achieve was to map the Zombie-Based Learning curriculum against the Geography standards that students are supposed to learn in middle school. The curriculum is codified in a nearly 500 page textbook that is scheduled to be printed and available for physical distribution in the Fall. David shared with me that one state might even adopt the Zombie-Based Learning Geography curriculum state-wide in their middle schools. I won’t steal David’s thunder and tell you which state. ;-)

So far the Zombie-Based Learning Geography curriculum has been shipped to maybe a dozen countries including Australia, Tanzania, and the UK (it’s actually quite popular in Australia). David’s probably shipped 200+ copies of the curriculum and 100+ people have probably downloaded the curriculum, and probably 50-100 classrooms are actively using it now.

Zombie-Based Learning Graphic NovelHere are some of the basics on the curriculum from the Zombie-Based Learning website:

  • The Narrative is the story which sets up the Zombie Apocalypse, sets up the lessons and projects, and engages the students in an imaginative and interesting scenario.”
  • The Lessons are the day to day plans provided to the teacher. These model a way to scaffold the projects and set up learning experiences for the students to reach national academic standards.”
  • The Projects are problems students have to solve to survive situations presented in the narrative. They are an engaging way for students to show proficient knowledge in the Geography standards. While the scenarios are based in surviving a fictional story, the skills required are based on real world geographic skills.”

But, there were also a lot of other interesting tidbits that came out of my conversation with David Hunter including:

  • Not all teachers learn curriculum design in their degree programs, but know how to build a curriculum is HUGELY empowering
  • Parents should be skeptical of every curriculum, not just an alternative curriculum like Zombie-Based Learning
  • When you go more towards qualitative assessments you can better assess creativity, collaboration, and other 21st century skills
  • Teaching ONE thing in four different ways in a day results in more effective learning than trying to teach three different things in one day
  • David is a fan of the common core. Setting standards allows measurement across a variety of curriculum and teaching methods.
  • Standards don’t dictate teaching methods and curriculum
  • Even in project-based learning you still have to do some lectures, but I also like to flip the classroom

Not sure what “flipping the classroom” is?

Here is the idea presented in Salman Khan’s TED Talk:



Then check out David’s thoughts on the benefits and how he might use “flipping the classroom” in his classroom.

And finally, if you haven’t already clicked over to Kickstarter and supported this worthy project, I hope you will consider doing so.

AND, if you have other stories of innovations in education that you would like to share, what are you waiting for?

Put pen to paper, join the community, and submit an article.

Keep innovating!

Image credit: Witty Pixel Photography and David Hunter

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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, embeds innovation across the organization with innovation training, and builds B2B pull marketing strategies that drive increased revenue, visibility and inbound sales leads. He is currently advising an early-stage fashion startup making jewelry for your hair and is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. He tweets from @innovate.

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