By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

Heather Woodward, language arts teacher at Whiteaker Middle School, was tired of canned teenage debate topics like, ‘should kids be able to use their cell phones in class?’

Instead she thought of what her eighth graders could argue about that would be interesting and fun.

So for two weeks, Zombies took over Woodward’s classroom.

“Especially coming back fresh from a new semester, I wanted them to be excited,” Woodward said. “I wanted their buy-in more than anything. It makes the rest of the unit easier if they have an idea of how to argue and they’re used to talking to each other about what they’re working on.”

With surviving the zombie apocalypse as their objective, Woodward divided each of her five classes into teams of five students. The first thing she had the students do was pack a backpack with 10 items from their home. Using a Google earth map, groups then had to decide where they would stay and they had to back up their claims with supporting evidence to defeat the zombies.

Since Whiteaker’s zombies didn’t like water and couldn’t swim, a popular destination was downtown Salem by the Willamette River. Other students chose farms, Keizer Station, Walmart and Costco.

They also watched videos, made posters, read books and played games.

“Kids compared it to the Oregon Trail video game,” Woodward said. “There was a lot of critical thinking. We made up a list of zombie characteristics and then they had to find ways to defeat the zombies. We had a great time with it. It was almost too much fun. It was so loud in here. They were super into it. They had a marketplace day where they could trade items with other teams.”

Using online resources like from the Center for Disease Control, which uses the zombie apocalypse to teach kids how to prepare for disasters, Woodward had enough material for a month but decided to end the zombie unit after two weeks.

“We needed to restore a little order,” Woodward said. “The apocalypse, it turned out, was chaotic.”

And when it became time to move on to other issues like the Civil Rights Movement during Black History Month or the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., students were more engaged and ready to talk.

“They were ready to argue,” Woodward said. “The energy level was already high. The class discussions were that much deeper. They were used to talking to each other and used to having ideas where there was disagreement and that was ok.”

Woodward said she will definitely do the zombie until against next year.

“I love getting feedback from the kids,” Woodward said. “They have the best ideas. They’ll direct me for next year. Their feedback will be very valuable.”