Kent State University mascot Flash helps to motivate students in Sarah Smiley's class during a class project. Smiley modeled her class after "The Amazing Race."
Kent State University mascot Flash helps to motivate students in Sarah Smiley's class during a class project. Smiley modeled her class after "The Amazing Race."

Kent State Salem Professor Models Class After "The Amazing Race"

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Sarah Smiley publishes "The Amazing Race" research in geography journal

Kent State University at Salem Associate Professor Sarah Smiley, Ph.D., adopted a novel idea in teaching her geography class during the 2015 Fall Semester. She modeled her class after the reality TV show "The Amazing Race," and she shared her experience teaching the class in an article that ran in the May-June issue of the Journal of Geography, published by the National Council for Geographic Education. The cover of the publication spots a photo taken on the Kent State Salem campus during one of her class projects.

Smiley used the reality TV show in the honors colloquium in Western identity course to teach issues of culture, identity and difference for the class, which she titled Teaching Cultural Geography With "The Amazing Race."Sarah Smiley

She 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 "The 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 says. “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.”

Close to 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 also challenged them to identify seven scents commonly used in perfumes made in Southern France, the perfume capital of the world.

Kent State Salem was featured in the cover of the Journal of Geography.During the second leg of The Amazing Race at Kent State Salem, participants faced roadblocks in Iceland and Germany. One student shared information about elves, or the "Hidden People," who are thought to live in the rocks and valleys of Iceland, while another student helped participants make German Schultuten, or candy cones, which is part of a tradition for students transitioning from kindergarten to primary school in Germany.

On the final leg of Kent State 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 says. “Students designed unique and educational roadblock challenges, and participants enjoyed completing them.”

Smiley stated in her article that the television show “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,” she says. “The roadblock activities students created provided an experiential learning opportunity for the students and wider university community. 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.”