Massillon’s students explore human geography with Legos


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MASSILLON – When Washington High School teacher Alyssa Plakas discovered a world map in Legos, she knew it would be a great addition to her class.

But with a price tag of around $ 250, she wondered how she could afford it.

The advanced internship professor of human geography turned to her colleagues.

“I posted some fundraising ideas (on a) online (AP Human Geography Group) to see how I might raise funds,” Plakas explained.

After posting her question, she got a response from the American Geographical Society. The group said their idea was ideal for grant funding from the organization.

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Plakas received a GeoBoost grant of $ 300, an initiative that gives AP human geography teachers the opportunity to design their own activity that will require resources beyond what their school or district can provide.

Now the students of Plakas have taken trips around the world, one Lego piece at a time.

Washington High School seniors Jaxyn Hannan, left, and Summer Sturm, work on the final pieces of an 11,695-piece Lego world map.  AP professor of human geography Alyssa Plakas received a $ 300 grant from the American Geographical Society to purchase the map for her students.

What is human geography?

Plakas started the AP Human Geography course five years ago and has stated that Massillon is the only district in the county to offer the course.

The course topics are broad, but Plakas would say this is one of the most important courses for a student to take.

They start the year by talking about standard geography, including reading a map and topography. The class then moves on to lessons on population and migration, political geography, and the citizens of the many places they have studied.

“It’s really an understanding of where people live and why they live there,” Plakas said. “Almost every story in the news is related to my class.”

Among the many topics discussed in class, there is a unit on culture. This is where the Lego card comes in.

The 11,695 piece map does not look like your typical Lego set made of bricks. The map included a black base with thousands of colored stakes to make up the land and oceans.

While the stakes that made up the earth were easy to build, students were asked to research different countries and create symbols in the ocean area that represented the culture of the country.

Students created the nation’s national flower and placed crosses to represent Christianity. Others represented the brands and models of indigenous peoples.

They worked in class and in their spare time throughout December to build the map. The last stakes are being installed this week and it should be finished today.

Senior Ryan Paul said the Lego Map Mission was a great learning tool.

“We have to dig deeper (into the country),” the 18-year-old said, adding that he will likely remember what he learned as he physically created the symbols on the map. “It was convenient.”

Washington High School high school students, left to right, Jaxyn Hannan, Shaniya Slaughter and Summer Sturm put the finishing touches on their contribution to a Lego world map in Alyssa Plakas' AP Human Geography class.  Students were asked to research a country and create symbols to represent the people.

Paul’s classmates agreed that it was a welcome distraction from normal classwork.

Besides the educational value, Plakas said, the activity also met the social and emotional needs of the students.

“They all need a break and some distraction from the madness of the world,” she said.

Working on the project relaxed Kate McCabe, 17.

“You just come in and play and chill out,” added the senior. “I feel like being a senior is quite stressful, but even more so now.”

Elder Alyssa Simmons had never assembled a Lego set before the world map. Now she understands why so many people love to build with Legos.

“I felt creative and young, but we were still learning,” added Simmons, 18.

A different point of view

With the remainder of the grant funding, Plakas took his students on field trips to visit a mosque, synagogue, and Greek Orthodox church.

Daylen Williams said the field visit opened his eyes to many different religious views and traditions.

“I have asked a lot of questions about the rules they follow and why,” said the 18-year-old.

Despite their differences, Paul said, each of the religions was fundamentally the same. They all praised a god, they just did it a little differently.

Plakas added that the Orthodox priest compared religions to the same cake, just with different frosting.

Contact Amy at 330-775-1135 or amy.knapp@indeonline.com

On Twitter: @aknappINDE

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