In the News

Half a world away from Sandpoint, clustered along the legendary Silk Road that traders once traveled to bring the spices and silks of the east to the residents of Europe, is a group of countries whose names all end with “Stan.” This winter, a grant from the Panhandle Alliance for Education allowed seventh graders at Sandpoint Middle School to take a metaphorical journey along this fabled route to visit these “Seven Stans”—Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan.

Teachers Jacki Crossingham and Jeannie Lyon wrote the grant to buy books, atlases, and maps as well as planning time to put together the unit for the entire seventh grade. To frame it, they came up with a “race” along the Silk Road, represented by a wall-wide map in Crossingham’s room and a string across the back of Lyon’s room. Teams who gave themselves names like the Silk Worms and the Camel Heads got points to move along the road as their members researched the region and then met specific requirements for their work: In addition to drawing maps and answering questions about each of the Stans, they had to research a topic, create an outline, present information to the class, use a visual aid in the presentation, and make up an activity that involved the class.

Ingenious students interpreted these requirements in a wonderful variety of ways. On one morning in January, Desirae Samph and Nataya Thompson gave a PowerPoint slide show about change in Kazakhstan, Ethan Fogg spoke about the war in Afghanistan (the class was amazed at what it cost), and Ben Waggoner “played” a flute he had made himself—noting that similar instruments were played in Uzbekistan.

The activities students dreamed up for classroom involvement included quizzes, puzzles, and games that their classmates could complete with information from the presentations. And some elaborate artworks emerged from the requirement for a visual aid—from Reannon Jackman’s three-foot high model of a clouded leopard (going extinct in Pakistan) to Taylor Ward and Maddie Albertson’s painting of 14th-century Mongol leader Tamerlane (born in what is now Uzbekistan) to Nick Griffin’s model of K2, the second-highest mountain in the world and, Nick pointed out, as high as five Schweitzers stacked on top of one another.

Crossingham and Lyon wrote the unit to align with state education standards and particularly to meet one that had been a challenge: Idaho students are expected to understand the concept of “movement of ideas.” “They couldn’t get the spread of ideas,” says Crossingham. “But they could understand the movement of pomegranates, apples, oranges, and bubonic plague along the Silk Road,” and move from there to an understanding of how ideas spread as well.

She also notes that her students can now name all Seven Stans, although their parents, in general, cannot.

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