Although the State of New Hampshire does not require any specific knowledge of basic, what-goes-where mapping skills from my 7th and 8th graders, I devote one day a week to it, because I can't, in good conscience send my guys off to high school, not knowing where France is. On a given day, one week, the class and I will go over a part of the world, filling out blank maps together, then one week later, the students will take a quiz on that particular part of the world.

Generally, these quizzes will take the form of blank maps, with regions, countries, etc... labeled with numbers. I have students number blank paper with those numbers, then identify the items from the map.

[Yes, this is very basic, rote learning, but I feel that there is a place for rote learning in a well-rounded education. Sometimes, students need to have a basic body of knowledge to build on for more sophisticated concepts. The steps of a bill becoming a law, for instance. Or their times-tables.]

Anyway, every once in a while, I give a slightly different type of quiz to my students. Earlier this year, I gave a quiz with written-out questions, rather than a blank map. For whatever reason, this really threw my students for a loop. They did TERRIBLY on material I was pretty sure they knew reasonably well. It was clearly the format that was messing them up.

It struck me that reading about countries, geographic features, etc.. in context was pretty challenging to these guys, so I decided to give them more of this sort of quiz, to help them develop those skills. Because - and let's be frank here - how many times in life is somebody going to walk up to them on the street and ask them to identify Wyoming on a blank map?

A couple of the questions I had asked on the "word-problem" quiz had been linked together into a little story. A couple of usually-not-terribly-engaged students mentioned that they liked that narrative, so for the next quiz, I wrote a story about a giant donut monster eating Burlington, Vermont. That went over pretty well (and the grades were a little higher than on the previous quiz), so, a month or so later, I gave them a quiz about Europe being invaded by Radioactive Space Hamsters.

This also went over pretty well (with another small improvement in grades), but there was a little bit of complaining about the dorkiness of my themes. I told my guys not to be too critical, or the next time there would be sparkly vampires. This was greeted with so much horror that I felt obligated to write the following quiz.

(See how you do on it.)