Our Human Story

Our Human Story

This set of classroom ideas uses resources from National Geographic Explorer Paul Salopek's Out of Eden Walk and offers opportunities for students to become active participants in their learning through storytelling.


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Picture of Journalist Paul Salopek, with guides, leads a pair of camels across Ethiopia's Afar desert.

This set of classroom ideas crosscuts areas of study from ancient civilizations to world geography and offers opportunities for students to become active participants in their learning through storytelling. Many of them use resources from the Out of Eden Walk, journalist and National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek's 33,796 km (21,000 mile) journey around the world. Watch this video to hear Paul describe why he is walking, and access more free resources for engaging your classroom in the walk from our education partners: Project Zero at Harvard University and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Map of Paul Salopek's journey
How Many Steps

Paul Salopek is a National Geographic Fellow on a walk around the world, engaging in slow journalism along the way. Every 161 km (100 miles), Paul creates a Milestone where he blogs, takes panoramic photos, and more. Have your students use the most recent Milestone, or select one interesting to them. Then have them calculate how many steps Paul has walked. Paul estimates that he takes four steps every 10 feet.

Have students view A Storytelling Odyssey in Google Earth. Have them inspect Paul's route, and figure out the following: how many countries has Paul walked through? What country do you think he will enter next? What type of terrain has he encountered along the way? Students can write an essay to tell the geographic story of Paul’s walk thus far.

Journalist Paul Salopek leads a pair of camels across Ethiopia's Afar desert.
Global Awareness

Have students select and read a post from the Out of Eden Walk website. They can use the most recent post or a post of their choosing. Then have them visit that location in Google Earth to learn about the geography. Have them make geographic observations using the satellite imagery, read the information cards, and view the photo gallery and captions. Also have them explore the area using Street View, if available. Then have students write a response to the post they read. Their response should address the original post and include their thoughts and reflections on the location they explored based on their geographic findings.

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Borders and Boundaries

Physical geography refers to the study of the physical features that make up the landscape of our planet, and how they impact everything from wildlife populations to politics and culture. Have your students visit the following physical features in Google Earth and draw conclusions about the relationship between political borders and the following features: Pyrenees Mountains, Andes Mountains, Himalayan Mountains, Rio Grande River, Congo River, and the Mississippi River.

Then have students look at the Out of Eden Walk journey map and discuss: how is physical geography shaping Paul’s walk? How did it shape the migration of humans around the world? What other factors did our ancient ancestors and Paul take into account? For a deeper dive into the role of borders, have students read the encyclopedia entry Border and check out our Beyond Borders unit for middle school students.

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Everyday Borders

Have students use Google Earth to explore borders in their community and region, using the Project Zero activity Everyday Borders. Students can use Street View to explore these borders, and create a library of borders they identify in their My Places folder of Google Earth. As part of this activity, ask students to use Street View to explore a part of their community they’ve never been to before. Have them write a summary of their most interesting findings.

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Human Ancestry and Migration

Journalist Paul Salopek started his journey in East Africa, where some of the world’s oldest known fossils of early human ancestors can be found. Many scientists study this area, and other areas around the world, to look for traces of these ancestors. Have your students watch this video of Dr. Jason Lewis talking about his work in East Africa.

Show students the Global Human Journey map, and have a discussion of how early humans migrated out of this region. Then have students use Google Earth to predict where Paul might encounter other traces of ancient human settlements on his journey. You can go deeper with this topic using our education resource on human fossils in East Africa.

Piteous procession of homeless Cambodians carry bags of UNICEF rice.
Refugees Around the World

Introduce students to the basics of push and pull factors with the activity Introduction to Human Migration. Then have students read this encyclopedia entry on refugees and identify at least four factors that cause people to become refugees (e.g., war, oppression, natural disasters, and climate change). Have students then type “Zaatari Refugee Camp” in the Google Earth search bar and fly there to visit this refugee camp in Jordan. Ask students what they know about refugees in Jordan and support a discussion about civil war and conflict in Syria. Have them view the images from this National Geographic article and study the satellite imagery in Google Earth to gather more information about the refugee camp and who lives there. Direct students to turn on Street View and click on the blue circles to see panoramic photos taken inside the camp. Students can then write a story from a first-person perspective on what life in the refugee camps might be like for students of their own age.

A journalist leads his mule past a royal tomb near Nemrut in eastern Turkey during his Out of Eden Walk, a seven-year global trek from Africa to Tierra del Fuego.
Exploring and Documenting Places

Have students find their home in Google Earth, view it in Street View, and share three things about what they notice in the image with a partner or in a small group. Then have each student or student group visit one of the following three cities and drop into Street View at a spot within the city that they choose: Quito, Ecuador; Accra, Ghana; Bangkok, Thailand. Students should identify, list, and share five interesting things they observe in the image. It might be something similar to or different from their own home or just an interesting feature such as a type of shop or sign. Next, have students view journalist Paul Salopek’s Milestones that he takes every 161 km (100 miles) on his walk. Have students create their own milestones from somewhere on the school campus or from their neighborhood or community to share with the class.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Sean P. O'Connor
Chandana Jasti, National Geographic Society
Nancy Chow, National Geographic Society
Jordan Lim, National Geographic Society
special thanks

James Allen, Jessica Bean, Peter Cameron, Joel Charlebois, Charles Dabritz, Merinda Davis, Shiona Drummer, Andrette Duncan, Lise Galuga, Nicholas Gattis, Amanda Hensley, Melissa Hero, Rosalinda Jaimes, Brynn Johnson, Katherine Kauffman, Peg Keiner, Natalia LeMoyne, Joseph (Joe) Levine, Paul McAllister, Emily McAllister, Kelly McCarthy, Alvera McMillan, Michael Middleton, Pradip Misra, Raven Moore, Breanna Myles, Michele Osinski, Judith Painter, Ellie Reitz, Jeff Richardson, Rebekah Rottenberg, Terri Sallee, William (Bill) Scales, Afzal Shaikh, Miroslava Silva-Ordaz, Samantha Sinding, Dana Tatlock, Martha Thornburgh, Jessica Walsh, Brooke Whitlow, Josh Williams, Layne Zimmers.

Last Updated

February 23, 2024

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