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Zombie-Based Learning -- "Braaaaaaains!"

Andrew Miller

Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School
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And so it begins... Zombie-Based Learning!

You read that correctly: Zombie-Based Learning. When I started learning about it, my inner geek squealed with joy. I've always loved zombies. I've watched all the movies and even read the original Walking Dead Comics before it became a hit series in the classroom.

One Teacher's Curriculum

Geography has always been a learning target for social studies teachers, and David Hunter, who teaches at Bellevue, Washington's Big Picture School, decided to create a curriculum using Kickstarter as its funding source. He sought to make geography relevant through engaging scenarios and stories with a zombie theme tying it all together. The whole curriculum is standards-based and includes over 70 lessons where students must "consider how to duck the undead invasion, secure their supplies and, eventually, rebuild society" through a variety of activities, worksheets and discussions.

Mr. Hunter's story was featured on an NPR affiliate if you would like to read more. In addition, he has made available one of the comics he created which serve as the textbook for the curriculum. Mr. Hunter created this work in order to engage students, and I believe we can use the topic of zombies to explore further curriculum areas.

English and Language Arts

While much of the world of zombies is portrayed in comics and films, ELA teachers can use these various texts to engage students in learning important reading standards. Even the Common Core calls for reading a variety of texts and comparing and contrasting those texts (such as a film and a comic). These stories feature compelling, complex characters under extreme situations that many of us can identify with. Students could analyze the various features of the comic/graphic novel genre, or engage in character analysis. Consider using these zombie-based materials as scaffolding for more complex texts.


Many in the zombie community (did I just write that?) believe that people become zombies due to a virus, and many of the films and literature echo this as a possible method of transmission. This being the case, students could investigate the subject of viruses and bacteria using zombies as the disease being passed. They might come up with scientific methods for eradicating the disease or simply mitigating its effect. They might even hypothesize the biology behind zombies. Again, the topic of zombies is an entry point to engage students in learning significant content.


Related to the science component of zombies, many diseases increase at an exponential rate. Students could analyze different population centers and predict its spread using exponential functions. They could determine when everyone is infected and map the spread using the math data they calculate, or even explore rate of decay. Students could also investigate what happens when a certain number of people are vaccinated to help prevent the spread.

These are some ideas I have either implemented as part of a PBL project or believe might be a good entry point for zombie-based learning across the curriculum. What are your ideas for zombie-based learning to teach content and 21st century skills? (And if anyone could instructionally integrate Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" video, that would be awesome!)

Zombie-Based Learning in action

Credit: David Hunter
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johntreml's picture
Biology / MicroBiology Instructor

Yes - I'm in for any collaboration on this. As I said below, I do have one zombie-math iBook out and another that is finished and just needs to be compiled and submitted. I would be extremely happy to work on any additional projects with any who are interested.

johntreml's picture
Biology / MicroBiology Instructor

I think you are absolutely right about maintaining focus on the outcome. I like Quinn's six questions, these are very much like what I ask myself whenever I start in on a new project.
Personally, I find clear and fair assessment to be the most difficult thing to convince myself of. Whenever I have shared my books with kids of the appropriate age (the on on the market is for ~2nd grade), they have really enjoyed the story, but would spontaneously work together to solve the problems (it includes review questions at various points through the story).

Alfredo Tifi's picture
Alfredo Tifi
teacher of chemistry experienced in innovating

Not always are the keyboard-zombies, addressees of these kind of proposals, really interested to the topic of zombies as much as their teachers do.

Youki Terada's picture
Youki Terada
Research and Standards Editor

Great question from Facebook:

Raychel Mwangi: I'm a trainee geography teacher and want to use this material on my next placement. However, I polled a Facebook groups of mums' and there a strong mixed reaction and some said it would provoke a complaint the the Head. Does anyone have any experience of parental responses to a zombie theme?

Lauren Ashley's picture

I love this idea! Especially around Halloween. This would have been a good activity to do I biology or chemistry classes. My question is how to monitor the bacteria in the dishes for science classes at the middle school level.

Aaron Dellorco's picture

I really like PBL in the classroom. This is what I do to teach Types of Government in my classroom. I made a choose your own adventure about zombies. When the students finish the web quest, their choices lead them to one of the types of government we talk about in class. We then complete an activity based on the TV show Shark Tank. Here is the link to my choose your own adventure zombie website.

Chris Davis's picture
Chris Davis
Teacher, Tech Innovation Project Coordinator

Great point on making the sure the tool of the simulation serves as a leverage for content and doesn't run away with itself. I can see using popular cultural tools as having this problem in that we use it to bridge something that is real out there in youth culture, but may get into trouble appropriating it as an incentive with curricular goals. I love this challenge!

We tried using Minecraft as a simulation for students to process their investigation of ancient culture. I had seen examples of this online and was particularly inspired by this example from Moss Pike...

Here is a sample of our own project...

Using the fantasy element, the having to simulate a voice outside of the self is a powerful leverage for students to process concepts and content. In a recent talk with Matt Richards of The Mind Lab in Wellington he told us about an Australian teacher that gamified an entire book in which the students designed Minecraft simulation challenges for each chapter, and even attracted the author to their classroom.

Crossing back and forth between fantasy narrative and real life content seem to push the students into being co-creators, problem solvers, and agents in their own learning. Radical collaborations, getting student voice up and visible, and at the same time leveraging break out moments for encapsulation and private speech...
This kind of learning atmosphere designed around a thematic problem calls for a student skill set that may not get accessed if we are focused on smaller chunks of content much easier to numerically assess.

Is there a rubric designed for the messiness of the weeds?

ritsukoo24's picture
Zombie Girl

hmm excellent ideas, my little brother crazy about zombies just like me or even more, considering he even likes to play zombie flash games, I want to exploit his zombie obsession to help in his studies and this post gave me plenty ideas :) thanks!

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