Recently, my students and I (yes, I am learning too!) were exploring life in medieval Japan, focusing on a period when the Japanese emperor moved the nation’s capital a number of times for a variety of reasons. To deepen student understanding, inject a little geography into our class, and generate some engagement, I challenged students to choose a country or a state. Then, students were to move the existing capital city from its current location to a new one. Students had to explain why they were moving the capital (besides me telling them to) and why they chose the new location.
For such a simple activity, the results were very interesting and rewarding. Being middle school students, one might be tempted to think that students would move a capital city for merely cosmetic reasons. But, the ideas students presented were much more profound. For instance, some students chose to move the capital of the Dominican Republic from its current location in Santo Domingo to the tourist resort city of Punta Cana. Santo Domingo, it seems, is over crowded and the infrastructure is old and crumbling. Students who call the city home felt that they would have more pride in their country if the capital city was cleaner, safer, and better organized, like Punta Cana. Another student, from Colombia, wanted to move the capital city of their home country to a location further west from the border of Venezuela. Why? This student was well aware and anxious about the economic state of her neighbor and felt some distance from that failing state would make her home country a little safer.
Several of my U.S. students thought about moving certain U.S. state capitals from their current obscure locations (Tallahassee, FL and Albany, NY, for instance) to better-known locations that reflect a more well-rounded view of the state. This prompted an enlightening discussion about property value and costs. Moving office space from Albany to New York City, one student pointed out, could result in higher rents and higher taxes.
It was a simple activity, but it touched on some deep concepts – problem-solving, critical thinking, physical and political geography, and economics. And, more importantly, it prompted some great discussions – which is always a good thing.
Here is an example project.
If you have any fun activities you’ve created, I would love to hear about them.