Forget watching CNN or MSNBC.
For 20 seventh-grade students at Storm Lake St. Mary's, knowledge about the geography of the Middle East and Central Asia is coming not from major networks but from a hands-on interdisciplinary activity in their math classrooms.
Students in Karen Murray's and Marilyn Hopkey's math classes at the school teamed up last Thursday to put together a large map of the nations which comprise the regions currently under the world's spotlight.
Murray said she and Hopkey decided to undertake the project to help the pupils learn the basic geographical facts about the area by utilizing mathematical skills taught over the past two months.
"We thought this would be a great way to combine geography and math together into something that's really relevant right now," Murray said. "All of the subjects in seventh grade are doing something on this topic, and this was how we decided to approach it in our math classes."
"The kids have really been excited about this whole project," Hopkey said. "I think the unit has been a very good learning experience for them, especially with everything that is going on in that part of the world right now."
Each student was assigned to study one country in the Middle East and Central Asia, ranging from Egypt in the west to Afghanistan in the east. They were then asked to compile information about the nation, share that information with the class, figure out the size of the country and then fit it to scale.
The information they compiled was then transformed into numerous graphs and scales, and the students then shared their new knowledge with the rest of the members of the class.
The teachers also assigned one student to look up information on the state of the Iowa, including the Hawkeye State in the interdisciplinary unit was very valuable, Murray said.
"We wanted to make this relevant," she said. "We put Iowa in there to give all of the students something to compare everything by. We wanted them to see what the similarities and the differences between Iowa and the other nations are."
Murray said the students were shocked by the small sizes of several of the countries, as they had previously equated the concept of an independent nation with a large tract of land.
"Many thought Iowa was smaller than all of the countries, and they found out that that isn't the case," Murray said. "I think when they were thinking of a nation, they were thinking that it had to be big, like the United States, but Iowa is bigger than several of the places we've been studying. They were surprised at that."
Both Murray and Hopkey said the unit was a valuable experience for the students, and the teachers may follow up with similar projects dealing with other parts of the world in the future.
"It's been a great hands-on activity for all of them," Murray said. "It's certainly an important part of the world, and I think all of the students have really gained a lot from doing this. It's definitely been worthwhile."