By David

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Pizza Place Geography

I might have to say that the one combination I probably love more than geography and zombies is geography and pizza. I have a tattoo about pizza that is too embarrassing to share on the internet.

Flowing Data used a data set of closest pizza places in a 10 mile radius to create various maps showing distribution of popular pizza places.

The blog post also gets into some thoughts on regions and migration of ideas when making suggestions about why the pizza places are as popular in different areas as they are:

Regionally, Papa John’s, which started in Kentucky, is strong in the east central area; Godfather’s, with headquarters in Nebraska, is popular in the midwest; Little Caesars shows strong in California and Michigan (its first location in Garden City, Michigan); and Papa Murphy’s is strong in the northwest, which makes sense because it started in Washington.

Pizza locations


A few years ago, Floating Sheep created what they call the “Great American ‘Pizza’ Map.” It’s a very interesting map that plots out internet user references to pizza, guns, and adult clubs. In the comments there are the start of some great geographic discussions and questions around culture and location, but since it refers to adult clubs, I’ll let you decide if you want to draw from that resource. Maybe for the much older kids. However, the Pizza Place Geography maps at Flowing Data is a great resource to give to students. Just know that it will make them hungry.

Pizza place geography.

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Britain Mapped in Minecraft

Ordnance Survey took their actual topographical data  as well as image data, but instead of  putting them  into a GIS program, they scaled it down and put it into Minecraft. They used different block materials to display different features (for example, the gold blocks are minor roads).

Minecraft players can even download the map and explore it. However, it’s a massive file.

I think this is exciting. I love the idea of combining real-world data and games. Could this be a way to get students interested  in GIS? Essentially, Minecraft has been turned  into a very basic GIS program.

Follow the link to find out more about how they did it. Use the article as an engaging reading extension for students interested in Minecraft and/or GIS..

via Minecrafting with OS OpenData | Innovate | Ordnance Survey.

Here is also a nice video from Ordnance Survey that explains GIS:

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New Dead Reckon Online Viewer


I have added a new online viewer for the first issue of Dead Reckon. This new reader is faster loading, higher quality, and I’ve given it a simple URL so that teachers may share it with students.

The full comic is behind a login.

Members can find the login and password on the Dead Reckon Downloads page. Share this login with your students to provide them access to the online viewer.

Here is the URL you can direct students to:

You may also view a demo of the new online viewer here: Dead Reckon Demo

Feel free to provide any feedback. I made these changes based on feedback from some of the students who were reading the comic and having trouble reading it as a PDF or having to deal with slow loading. If you have any suggestions on how to make this reading experience easier for teachers and students, feel free to contact me:

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Informing Parents about Zombie-Based Learning

Getting Parents and Guardians in on the Zombie Apocalypse

It is the beginning of a new school year, which means we’re telling parents what we’re up to this year. We’re sending home syllabi for our classes (and hoping they actually get home). I’ve had some good questions about how to explain Zombie-Based Learning to parents. This is an important matter. I think a great class is made better if we can in any way facilitate parents and students discussing their learning.

So, to help out with explaining ZBL to parents, I’m going to offer a few suggestions as well as a template for an introduction letter and an outline of the projects that you can send home to parents and guardians.

Should I write to parents?

I highly suggest it. Keeping close contact with parents can seem like a huge challenge, but as many of you may know, it is extremely valuable. Parents (often) appreciate it. Parents or guardians can sometimes come across in the wrong way, but they are a teacher’s greatest partner in supporting the student, their child. I always believe that it is better to explain what you can to all parents, instead of trying to play catch-up on a lot of similar questions later.

When it comes to Zombie-Based Learning, don’t be afraid that some parents will react negatively to it. You are better off involving them in the discussion early on. If you are straightforward, highlight the strengths, and address the concerns, you’ll be able to work with parents, instead of leaving them to form their own opinions. Remember, you’re a teacher who cares about providing an authentic, rich, and memorable experience for your students. Most parents and guardians will be very grateful for what you do.

Explaining Zombie-Based Learning

I stuck to some important highlights in the letter template I’m providing.

  1. Rigor
  2. Engagement
  3. Appropriateness

I believe that within these three topics, you’ll be able to address most questions or concerns. Parents want their children to learn, they want them to be engaged, and they don’t want them exposed to anything inappropriate. And to be honest, these are probably the top three concerns when parents hear you’ll be teaching with zombies.

“Is it too easy?”
“Will my child enjoy it?”
“Is it too scary?”

Zombie-Based Learning is rigorous

You’ve looked at it. Students will be thinking deep! This is not just about memorizing states and capitols or being able to identify “MR. HELP.” This is based on the 2012 National Geography Standards. Students will be doing more than tests and quizzes. Pre and post assessments will be able to show students are learning, not just having fun. Students will be operating higher up Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy than most geography classes.

Key Point: It’s based on standards and requires deep geographical thinking skills.

Zombie-Based Learning is engaging

Many parents recognize the difference when their student is engaged in a class. I’ve had many parents tell me about how much easier home life is when their child is excited and interested in school. I love that.

Not every kid is going to be sold on zombies, but I believe most kids are interested in expressing their creativity, their ideas, and their learning. These projects were built with that in mind. Dead Reckon helps to explain the projects students will do and put them into context of the zombie outbreak.

Key Point: Students will get to be creative and expressive. There is also a narrative to encourage their thinking and engagement.

Zombie-Based Learning is appropriate

I’m a zombie fan, but I’m not a horror fan. There is a big difference. I like the idea of thinking about what I would do in the apocalypse scenario. One thing I would never do is walk into a dark room and let a zombie jump out at me. I don’t like watching movies that are all about the scare factor and things jumping out at you. I look at ZBL the same way. It isn’t about scaring kids. It isn’t about showing gross things. It’s about engaging with a story and with characters. It’s about putting yourself into a scenario and thinking your way out.

I’ve been reading The Walking Dead since it first came out (I actually bought the first issue when it came out and then sold it for over $2,000 a year ago and put it toward my student loans). I like the story of the characters, but there are some very mature parts to the story. The TV show is for very mature audiences as well. I don’t think middle schoolers should be able to watch or read The Walking Dead, but many of them want to. This is a small part of the reason that I wanted to make the Dead Reckon comic. It’s made for middle schoolers. It is appropriate for them, but it doesn’t talk down to them.

Key Point: Zombies can be appropriate for middle schoolers when it is made for middle schoolers. There are no brains or guts in the comics and no zombies jump out of the curriculum to scare you.

Zombie-Based Learning is…

Tell parents what you think. Or if your administrator had something to say, see if you can share their view. Tell parents what your hopes are about ZBL and what you’re excited about.

Keep Open Contact

Encourage parents to approach you with any concerns. Hopefully you’ll also get words of support as well.


Parents and guardians

I get very nit-picky about language. I always try to address letters home to “Parents and Guardians.” Not all of our students have parents at home, and I don’t want to make any child think that is not “normal.” As someone who lost a parent, it can sometimes come as a little sting when someone assumes everyone has the same family structure. It might not matter at all to most, but it probably matters a bit to just a few. I’d like to encourage you to at least be aware of this.

Know your students

Know who will react in what ways. Get to know prior experiences and any concerns that students might have. Every student is different and there is no one-size fits all solution. ZBL is meant to be supportive but also flexible. Do what you need to do to support each student.

Tell students it is a simulation

It might be obvious to us that this is a simulation, or that the zombies are not really coming. But we’ve all been our fair share of gullible, especially in middle school. I suggest you come right out and tell students that this is just a curriculum, just a project. This will not ruin the experience for them. They don’t need to believe zombies are real (and shouldn’t) in order to have fun with these projects. I suggest you do this just in case there is just one student that loses an ounce of sleep for fear of zombies.

In taking my own advice, please feel free to contact me with any suggestions, questions, or anecdotes you’d like to share.

Download the template and outline and feel free to use them.

Also, join the new ZBL email Newsletter. I’ll be sending out updates, additional resources, and eventually I hope to spotlight ZBL teachers and student work.

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Post-Apocalyptic Push and Pull Factors

When we analyze human migration we are analyzing how people move. To do this, we need to look at some of the reasons people move. This is where the theory of push and pull factors comes in handy. Push factors are reasons to leave a place and pull factors are reasons to go to a place.

© Telltale Games

© Telltale Games
Interestingly enough, Lee Everett is a character in The Walking Dead’s Telltale Games mobile game. Both Lee Everett and Everett Lee also taught at University of Georgia.

The model behind push and pull factors was developed by a professor named Everett Lee. He published his theories on push and pull factors in an article called A Theory of Migration in 1966. In this article, he defined push and pull factors and provided examples of both. He noted that push and pull factors may be different for different people. Lee (1966) described an example with the following:

Thus a good climate is attractive and a bad climate is repulsive to nearly everyone; but a good school system may be counted as a + by a parent with young children and a – by a house- owner with no children because of the high real estate taxes engendered, while an unmarried male without taxable property is indifferent to the situation. (p. 50)

In this quote, we see that a pull factor for one person could be a pull factor for another person. This is an important idea to keep in mind. Just as push and pull factors may be different for different people, push and pull factors may change in a post apocalyptic setting.

In Lee's model, positive (pull) and negative (push) factors as well as intervening obstacles play a role in the choice to move.

In Lee’s model, positive (pull) and negative (push) factors as well as intervening obstacles play a role in the choice to move.



Origin and Destination Factors and Intervening Obstacles in Post-Apocalyptic Migration

Notice the diagram of the push and pull factors in a post apocalyptic scenario. Zombies are probably a push factor for nearly everyone. Food and resources would be a pull factor. However, we must keep in mind the push and pull factors of zombies. It is probably safe to assume that zombies will be pulled to a location that has more humans (zombie food).

Origin and Destination Factors and Intervening Obstacles in Post-Apocalyptic Migration: Zombie Perspective

By considering the movement of zombies and other humans, it would be possible to stay a few steps ahead of everyone else. Before migrating to a new location, consider possible migrations of other humans and zombies. Determine if you will be ready to deal with these other migrations.

Lee, E. S. (1966). A theory of migration. Demography, 3(1), 47-57.

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ZBL on Edutopia

Last week Edutopia ran a piece on Zombie-Based Learning. Edutopia is one of my favorite educational organizations with many great resources on Project-Based Learning. It is an honor to be able to discuss Zombie-Based Learning with their readers.

I’ve been very busy with school the last little while, but it is exciting to see the great response ZBL continues to get. I’m looking forward to sharing upcoming plans with all of you. Lots of great things to get done this summer!

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Mental Mapping on The Walking Dead

SPOILER ALERT: I’m talking a lot about characters and plot points in The Walking Dead Season 3, Episode 12 “Clear.” I don’t intend to give anything away, but if you want to stay surprised and haven’t watched season 3 yet, you might want to bookmark this post and come back later.

I strongly believe that geography skills will be a major benefit in the zombie apocalypse. So I’m always excited when I notice characters using those geographic skills in zombie stories.

In the 3rd season of The Walking Dead, Rick, Michonne, and Carl go for a supply run. They run into Morgan who has been holed up in Rick’s old neighborhood. Morgan was surviving all on his own and he did so by setting up some elaborate traps all over where he was staying. Something else that helped him survive was mental mapping.

A mental map is how someone pictures the world around them. It really is the map that someone has in his or her mind. It’s often made of a combination of what you know and what you think. The drawing below shows an example of a mental map that has been sketched out:

Mental Map

The mental map is probably not completely accurate. However, it gives good insight into what the person who drew it remembers or finds important.

Let’s get back to The Walking Dead and see how Morgan used his mental mapping skills. See the map Morgan sketched on the wall of his hideout:


Quality Mapping

First of all, I want to congratulate Morgan for making a quality map. We can see that he included direction in the top right, showing which way is North. We can see that he used many clear symbols for roads, trees, houses and other buildings. He also used labels, which we can see when Carl examines closer. It is hard to tell if it is to scale, but judging by the relative size of the buildings, it is probably accurate enough for Morgan’s needs.


Analyzing Mental Maps

It is a valuable skill to analyze someone’s mental map. Through this analysis, we can tell what was important to the mental cartographer. It appears that Morgan has been keeping track of which houses are “Taken” or “Burnt Out,” possibly even which areas are “clear.” It is definitely important for Morgan to keep track of which areas are overrun and which areas are safe enough to journey into.

But even more interestingly, try to determine what Morgan thought about Rick.

Morgan may be good at mapping, but not so good at using apostrophes.

Morgan may be good at mapping, but not so good at using apostrophes.

Morgan kept close track of Rick’s house. You can see that he updated it to being “TAKEN” and then to be “BURNT OUT.” Morgan didn’t seem to keep as close track of any other houses. This might mean that Morgan was still thinking about Rick, caring about the state of his property, and caring about the state of Rick.

Updating Your Mental Maps

Morgan took part in another important skill in mental mapping; he updated his mental map. As you learn more about locations, you should keep updating the data on your mental map. We can see that Morgan crossed out and added new labels, making updates as they were needed. Similarly, when you learn about the world around you, you should update your understanding of the world.

In the zombie apocalypse mental maps become very important. We lose access to map references and need to rely on our mental maps. Morgan did a good job keeping his mental map up to date and that probably kept him alive. However, it didn’t keep him sane.

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Lesson Slideshows for Members

I’ll be posting slideshows to go with project lessons. These are available to all members on

The slideshow for the first lesson of project 01 is the first to go up. It’s available on the Project 01 page.

Below is a PDF of the slides.

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442 Pages of Zombie Curriculum!

I am very happy to let you know that you can now download all 442 pages of the ZBL core geography curriculum.

Just take a look at that Table of Contents!

Members can download the entire PDF or units at the Members Download Page.

There are still a few tweaks I want to make before I print the book copies. But I wanted to get this out there to you in digital form ASAP. I will order the printed copies to go out to Kickstarter backers this week.

I call this the “core” curriculum because it includes the main lessons and projects to teach middle school geography. I will continue to add more resources that will be available digitally on this website for all members. Over time I’ll be uploading PowerPoints, video lectures, accommodated resources for special education, extension activities, and more. I hope to base these resources on what you think is most valuable, so please let me know!

There are 70 daily lessons in the curriculum right now, split across 10 units. The ZBL geography curriculum also incorporates student projects and presentations. It is flexible, but a fast paced course could be taught in half a school year. More reasonably, it can serve as the backbone to a full year of Geography, supplemented with local integration projects, guest speakers, or any other required curriculum for your district or school.

Thank you so much for your support! I feel very excited to deliver this to you.

Please, continue to give feedback. I’ve heard of some great work that you have been doing in schools and you can help make this curriculum even better!