Zombie-Based Learning – A Little(Big) Overview

 The major goals of Zombie-Based Learning are to:
  • Increase student engagement
  • Provide project-based lessons
  • Meet rigorous national standards through authentic assessment

I’m hoping that by providing this curriculum, more students will take an interest in geography, as well as more teachers will take an interest in project-based learning and standards. Through using these lessons, I hope that teachers will increase their own curriculum, project, and assessment design skills.

To help explain exactly what Zombie-Based Learning is, I will talk about its 3 main parts.
  1. The Narrative
  2. The Lessons
  3. The Projects
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.
The Narrative’s main goals are to engage students, introduce reality-based problems, and answer the question of “why would I ever need to know this?” While the narrative takes place in a  fictitious setting of a Zombie Apocalypse, the problems encountered by the characters are similar to real world work that geographers do today. Each unit in the narrative contains explanations of how the skills required in the story can apply to real world situations.
Dead Reckon is the title of the narrative story which ties into the lessons and projects. Each section of Dead Reckon links to a unit of projects. Dead Reckon helps to engage students, subtly introduce geographic concepts, and impress upon students the idea that problems can be overcome by learning, thinking, planning, and finding solutions.
Dead Reckon is currently a written narrative, but is being transformed into a graphic novel. The first unit is currently being illustrated and colored. Unit one is 32 pages long. Later units will be illustrated into graphic novel form as more funding comes in through donations, sales, and investing. The estimated length of the entire graphic novel is 120 pages. Producing the narrative in graphic novel form helps to quickly engage students in the story and projects.
Dead Reckon page 2

Dead Reckon page 2

 Each Lesson Plan includes a daily objective or goal, the standard(s) it addresses, and a way to assess how each student is reaching that objective. The lesson plan also provides all of the day’s activities, handouts, and list of materials required. These lesson plans have taken into account the important parts of a teacher’s lesson plan.
All of the lessons and assessments are based on standards. The standards used for ZBL are the National Geography Standards: Geography for Life. This is currently based on the 1st version. As soon as the second version comes out, I will be adjusting to meet those standards and keep the curriculum up-to-date. I have been adding technology and tools, such as GIS, to keep the standards current. According to National Geographic, “[t]he vast majority of states have incorporated parts or all of the 18 geography standards into their state standards.”
The organizations involved in creating these standards are:
Find the full list of Standards here.
The handouts are plentiful, and rich with visuals and information!
Zombie-Based Learning Handout

Handout Example

Professional geographers and geography professors have contributed their insights into student handouts and lesson materials.
Zombie-Based Learning is also Project-Based Learning. To get an idea of what project-based learning is, here is a great video by Edutopia.
Projects in ZBL aim to include the essential elements of PBL:

  • In-depth inquiry
  • Driving questions
  • Need to know
  • Student voice and choice
  • Revision and Reflection
  • Public Audience
  • Significant content
  • 21st Century skills
 Project based learning has been proven to be a very effective teaching method. As a teacher, I also use Understanding by Design to develop my curricula. UbD has been integrated into the design of ZBL.
The projects in ZBL are the main summative assessments. However, pre-assessments and formative assessments are provided so that student growth can be measured and monitored. I am a strong believer in authentic assessments, and work hard to make sure that each assignment is actually measuring the knowledge, understanding, or conceptual thinking skills it is trying to assess.
 Assessments and projects include grading rubrics. Rubrics are not only used for the teacher to grade the projects and assignments, but also for both teachers and students to recognize the different levels of quality in the work.
Zombie Geography Rubric Example

Project Rubric Example

Zombie-Based Learning is currently in production. Units are being provided as they are completed. To download ZBL lessons, visit the donation page.
Please feel free to contact me with any feedback, suggestions, or questions.

Mapping the Zombie Outbreak – Outline of Project 01

Summer is coming to an end and I’m getting close to making the first unit available to download. Expect to see the first project available sometime next week (maybe sooner). This will give teachers who want to get started with ZBL this year, enough time to review the material and prepare (or ask questions). Later units will follow behind the first and be available within time to keep up with your teaching. I’m still aiming for November as the full out ship date.

Below is a very basic description of the first project.
Download the description here, or read on below: 

Enter your email address to download Mapping the Outbreak - Project 01 - Outline

Studying the Earth is at the heart of Geography. In this first project, students are introduced to some of the questions geographers ask and the tools they use to try and find answers. Students will apply these tools as they create their own map and analyze the spatial relationships between cities. By recognizing these relationships, students will be able to predict the movement of the zombie outbreak, and where zombies are most likely to attack next.

Students will need to create a map of using the Zombie Attack Data provided.

How are geographic tools used to make predictions and find solutions?



  1. How to choose appropriate maps and tools.
  2. How to create maps to display data.
  3. How to analyze distance and connections of major metropolitan cities.
  4. How to describe patterns of migration and diffusion.



  1. Intro to Geography
  2. Different Types of Maps
  3. Map Elements
    Map Making Work Time
  4. Intro to Analyzing Spatial Relationships
  5. Identifying Major Cities – Structures
  6. Examining Connections – Relationships
  7. What Moves and How? – Processes
  8. Using Maps to Answer Questions and Show Data



1A) Recognize characteristics and applications of maps, globes, aerial and other images.
1B) Make  and use different globes, graphs, charts, databases, and models.
1C) Evaluate when to use certain maps or other tools and technology to solve geographic problems.
2A) Identify important physical and human features on maps.
3B) Analyze and explain patterns of land use such as distance, accessibility, and connections.
3D) Describe patterns of migration and diffusion.
(Based on the National Geography Standards)


Equitable Settlements in Post-Zombie Apocalypse?

Hey survivors.

I set up this blog so that I could post the occasional and informal posts about Geography and Zombies. Some of it is stuff that comes across my radar, gets sent my way, or explanations about Zombie-Based Learning.

For example, one of the last projects that students participating in ZBL-Geography have to do is to make a plan for the future survival of their settlement. This project and these lessons are very timely. Many cities are trying to do a similar thing. Just a couple months ago the City of Portland, Oregon released the “Portland Plan.”

Many cities release long-term plans, and we are seeing more and more take into account multiple factors of what it means for their city to “survive.” The final and biggest project of ZBL has students create a long-term plan for their city. Much like the Portland Plan, students will have to take into account multiple factors. Primary documents such as the Portland Plan will be used in the Lessons included in the ZBL Teacher Resource. Imagine having a discussion with your students about what makes a city, and what they need to plan for. What do you think students would include? What do you think they would have to say about a document like this. Is it possible to not just rebuild society from a Zombie Apocalypse, but to rebuild an EQUITABLE society from a Zombie Apocalypse?

As an example, the project around city planning meets these national geographic standards:
18) The Uses of Geography – Present and Future – How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future
18A) Analyze the interaction between physical and human systems to understand possible causes and effects of current conditions on Earth and to speculate on future conditions
18B) Integrate multiple points of view to analyze and evaluate contemporary geographic issues
18C) Demonstrate an understanding of spatial organization of human activities and physical systems and be able to make informed decisions