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The cover of the May-June issue of the Journal of Geography, published by the National Council for Geographic Education, features a photo taken on the Kent State Salem Campus during a class project led by Dr. Sarah Smiley, associate professor of geography. The photo helps highlight Smiley’s article in the publication, written about her experiences with a class she taught during the 2015 fall semester based on The Amazing Race.
Titled “Teaching Cultural Geography with The Amazing Race,” Smiley’s article explains how she used the reality television show in the honors colloquium in Western identity course to teach issues of culture, identity and difference.
During the semester, Smiley first introduced her students to basic cultural geography concepts through reading and discussions, stressing that culture includes objects, ideas, practices, beliefs and institutions. The students then began viewing Amazing Race episodes.
“I paired each episode of The Amazing Race with a conceptual reading designed to get students thinking about, and applying, ideas of culture, identity and difference,” she wrote. “The goal was to challenge the students by having them read thought-provoking pieces. Each week, students wrote a short response to each of these readings to lead our class discussion.”
Near the end of the semester, the students created activities, or roadblocks – similar to challenges featured on The Amazing Race episodes – that engaged the campus community and resulted in active participation by students, staff and faculty. Each roadblock included information about the specific country represented and how the challenge related to that culture.
The students coordinated three weeks of roadblocks that took participants to Hungary, France, Germany, Iceland and Hawaii.
On the first leg, students encouraged participants to decorate Hungarian Easter eggs and challenged them to properly identify seven scents commonly used in perfumes made in Southern France, the perfume capital of the world.
During the second leg of The Amazing Race on the Salem Campus, participants faced roadblocks in Iceland and Germany. One student shared information about elves, or the "Hidden People," that are thought to live in the rocks and valleys of Iceland, while another student helped participants make German Schultuten, or candy cones, that are part of a tradition for students transitioning from kindergarten to primary school in Germany.
On the final leg of Salem’s Amazing Race, participants faced a roadblock in Hawaii where they learned about the hula dance and how to hula.
“These roadblock activities provided an excellent way for students to apply and share their knowledge of cultural geography themes with the wider university community,” Smiley wrote. “Students designed unique and educational roadblock challenges and participants enjoyed completing them.”
Smiley related in her article that The Amazing Race “offers a unique and innovative text for the cultural geography classroom,” and that it could be used to highlight other themes such as environment, religion, gender and religion.
“A further benefit of this show to geography courses is what it can contribute outside of the classroom. The roadblock activities students created provided an experiential learning opportunity for the students and wider university community,” she stated. “Not only did my students research and understand culture and identity in a specific place, they were able to share this knowledge with others. These activities were a creative and fun way to educate people about important cultural geography concepts.”