GPS at the Rowhouse

GPS is Global Perspective Studies. My business partner at Simplify, Jill Harper, named it and I’m a little bit over the moon at how clever this name is. It’s the high school history and literature core that Jill and I planned and I wrote. The first year, or “Core” is being released soon and we’re running a contest for a free copy. You still have time to enter!

Some of the inspiration for this program comes from my own school experiences, where I took an interdisciplinary course in literature and history for my first two years of high school. In fact, vintage copies of the textbook I had in school, Prentice Hall’s World Masterpieces, is included and heavily used in GPS. The first year program focuses on Africa and Asia, so it includes things like short stories by Najib Mahfouz, Rabindranath Tagore, and Lu Xun and poetry by writers like Rumi, Hafiz, and Shu Ting. It also gives us excerpts from classical texts like The Rig Veda, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Bible. I get a little verklempt when I talk about the joys of this textbook.

Mushroom and BalletBoy have been my product testers. I don’t know if they’d say they love it as they’re not the literature lovers that I am. However, they’re in the midst of reading Siddhartha right now and BalletBoy sang its praises as one of the best books he’s read in awhile, so that’s a relief to hear. However, I feel good about how much they’re learning and how they’re advancing through it.

It’s not always an easy program for them. It pushes them in a variety of ways. One of my goals this year was to up our work level across the board. I wanted them to be writing more, reading more, and just doing more at a high school level. Having students who are really engaged with high level work is an important educational value for me in high school.

Most weeks have short answer history questions. They have to pull out a textbook or read a history book about the place and time period and answer complex, multi-part questions in a paragraph. BalletBoy has a tendency to wax grandiose about topics with no facts. Ancient civilizations in Africa were “the greatest” and had “many innovations” and “eventually led to other civilizations.” Um, way to tell us nothing. Mushroom likes to procrastinate and go over and over these repeatedly. “But what was the cause again? Where is it in the book?” Over time, they’ve been improving. BalletBoy wrote me a lovely explanation of why Aurangzeb’s leadership weakened the Mughal Empire last week. They’ve finally learned to rely more on the textbook and stop trying to furtively check Wikipedia for everything.

Mushroom has turned in a few great assignments for GPS. For his graphic memoir, he had to write about a time he misunderstood something as a young child. He wrote and drew a lovely comic about being a preschooler on a merry-go-round and then thinking that the bed was really, actually still spinning when he went to sleep at night afterward. He also made a hilarious video explaining all the Hindu gods.

I wrote the program to the student, but it’s definitely been a hands on teaching experience for me. Sometimes the kids do the work and I check that it happened and we let it go. Other times, they get stuck and I step in. One of my best moments was carefully dissecting a Hafiz poem with BalletBoy. We read through it, then read it again, and then again. We talked about the meaning of every line and discussed each metaphor and theme. After that, he was able to do the reading questions about it.

We’re currently wrapping up the unit on the Indian subcontinent. The history book we’re reading, The Ocean of Churn, focuses on the Indian Ocean, which has been interesting. Soon, we’ll move on to China and Japan to wrap up the year. I’m worried that we may not quite finish it all. But that’s okay. I packed it full. I know that I often tell people that if they finish more than 80% of a program, that it’s okay to call it done. I’ll definitely be laughing at myself if we have to skip a final reading, but it might happen.

I constantly second guess myself about things like this. Was everything culturally sensitive enough? Did I include enough guidance for students and parents? Could I have done more to touch on history topics I had to gloss over? Should I have chosen different books? But overall, I’m proud of this program. I’m proud to say my kids are doing it.


9 thoughts on “GPS at the Rowhouse

  1. This sounds absolutely wonderful! My kids are way too young for it now, but I’m looking forward to this for our future.

    1. I understand that concern. The edition doesn’t matter. I bought and looked at a bunch to be sure. The differences weren’t significant enough to matter. There is a list of ISBN’s in the user guide that all work, but others potentially should as well. When I did a search, I found easily about a hundred copies for less than $40 and many for significantly less than that. I looked at other texts, but none of them were great… and everything new is significantly more expensive because textbooks cost upwards of $90 new, which would make the whole thing a lot less affordable. I also looked at trade paperbacks. There are a couple… but nothing that had this breadth of writers. In the end, I decided it was a risk worth taking. If I have to redo an edition in a few years because they’ve become scarce, then I will if it’s still selling. Note that the text isn’t used much for the Africa unit and while it’s important, there are a lot of other pieces. A used history textbook is also required, but any edition of a good world history text should work. The specific title doesn’t matter.

  2. I am trying to find out if there are answers provided with this curriculum? I have asked on the Simplify website and Facebook page but haven’t received an answer. I thought maybe you could help. Thanks

    1. Sorry for my slow response. I’ve been away and my phone wasn’t playing nice in letting me reply. You can always contact us at the Simplify page via the Contact Us or the Chat With Us links. I’m not sure why it didn’t go through but I definitely didn’t see it. So I’m sorry! We had an issue with our contact us form briefly on our website, but I thought we’d caught all of them. I have no idea why Facebook didn’t work!

      Anyway, in answer, no, there are no answers provided. Except for the map assignments, all questions are short essay questions. Answers will always vary somewhat. Literature answers can always be found in the text. For the history questions, there’s guidance in the curriculum about where to find the answers. In the opening text, there is guidance about what makes a “passing” answer to those questions. Vague answers are to be strongly discouraged. Answers with specifics are strongly preferred.

      Again, my apologies for the lack of response! And let me know if you have any other questions.

      1. Thanks for the response. I will have to think about if my schedule will allow for this amount of reading on my part in order to make sure they are getting the material. This curriculum looks wonderful just many not work for my time constraints.

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