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How 'Zombie-Based Learning' has caused a stir at a Minnesota high school

A parents raised concerns after an assignment about the zombie apocalypse.
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How do you survive the zombie apocalypse? That's the premise of a school curriculum called "Zombie-Based Learning" designed to teach students about geography.

It's been in the news in west-central Minnesota this month because of a situation that's unfolded at Parkers Prairie Secondary School, north of Alexandria.

Parent Michelle Diedrich raised concerns with the headteacher after her ninth-grade child was given a homework assignment that posted the following questions:

The final question, about picking three people to "survive" was her main objection, saying it promoted violence and could enable bullying, with Southern Minnesota News saying kids "could hear their names being" mentioned in reference to it in class.

As it turns out, the school has been using the Zombie-Based Learning curriculum for several years, though its creator – Washington state teacher David Hunter – told the Alexandria Echo Press that this question nor the one about killing zombies were part of the curriculum he wrote.

These are believed to have been added as supplementary questions from other sources.

In response to the controversy, the school retracted the homework assignment, with the teacher apologizing for "any due stress he may have caused" to student, KSTP notes.

Diedrich herself has a few regrets about the way the situation unfolded upon realizing this assignment had been set more than once in school without any objections. She said she doesn't blame her daughter's teacher who she trusts "100% to educate my child safely."

What is Zombie-Based Learning?

ZBL got its start in 2012, when Hunter managed to raise enough money from a Kickstarter campaign to develop his zombie-themed geography curriculum that was "engaging yet academically rigorous."

Aligned to national geography standards and created generally for grades 4-8, the project-based learning curriculum uses the zombie apocalypse to help students learn about geography, and comes with an accompanying graphic novel.

Perhaps where the Parkers Prairie school ran into trouble is that the 75-hour curriculum is designed to be "flexible and to allow creativity and localization."

The narrative follows different stages of a zombie apocalypse: pre-planning, the outbreak, after the outbreak, survival, resettlement and rebuilding society.

Hunter says student apply "the knowledge and critical thinking that meets geography standards instead of just memorizing maps and capitols," adding: "The goal is to practice higher order thinking skills and think like a geographer."

The graphic novel supplements the project, instead of a textbook, and it's designed with students in mind, featuring "no gore, no guts and only stylized illustrations of blood-stained zombies."

"Blood and guts are not what engages students," Hunter says. "A rich story, complex scenario, and interactive adventure is what will hook readers."

You can see him describe it further in this video.

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