Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What is Obertopia?

Social studies gets a bad rap.  Whenever someone finds out I'm a teacher, they inevitably ask "What do you teach?"  "Sixth grade social studies" I answer.  More often than not, their response has to do with how they (or their child) hate social studies.  Why would you tell me this?!?  It hurts my feelings!  Okay, so maybe I take it a little too personally... But still.  Let's move on.
"Uh-oh, we've lost Sally."

I specifically teach World Geography.  We talk about the 1) geography, 2) government, 3) economics, and 4) history of several world regions (Europe, Latin America, Canada, & Australia).  A lot of the concepts I teach have to do with specific countries and how those countries are managed.  I started teaching the concepts in relation to the countries alone, but since many of my students had little interest in learning about other countries, I created my own country.  My last name used to be Greiff (rhymes with life) so I cleverly came up with "Greifftopia".  I am so clever.  ;)

See what I mean? Only someone really clever could hold hands with a mermaid.

I taught for 3 years in Greifftopia.  When I was married in 2010, I changed my country's name to Obertopia.  My old students (from Greifftopia) still tell me how ridiculous Obertopia sounds, and my newer students (from Obertopia) tell me how ridiculous Greifftopia sounds.

"They both sound ridiculous to me." -Olivia

From the first day of school, students are notified:
1) As soon as they enter the classroom door (which is actually a magical portal which transports them immediately) they are in Obertopia.  We need this form of transportation because Obertopia is located precisely at the coordinates of 0° latitude and 0° longitude.

2) I am the Queen of Obertopia.  This is non-negotiable.
... and this is my castle.

3) Being a citizen of Obertopia is special, so let's be the best we can be while we're here.

 Or we could just do what Kid President says and be awesome all the time...

4) Citizens of Obertopia are a family and we treat each other with respect.  We will love each other like family, even if we don't always like each other.
"I love you guys."

5) If the Queen gets upset, Obertopia will not be a fun place anymore.

These might sound really silly, but I don't care!  It makes our classroom a better place and it gives students freedom to be whoever they want to be.  It also helps to cut down on the behavior issues.  One of my biggest goals is to create an accepting classroom community, because everyone (from kids to adults) wants to be part of a community.  If students feel accepted, they're less likely to have behavior issues.  I'm also quick to follow through with consequences if a student cannot obey our "Rules & Laws".  I am the Queen, after all!

I use Obertopia whenever I discuss different types of governments and I use myself as the Head of State.  When I discuss different types of economies, governments, cultures, etc., I use our class as the example.  (So, in terms of economics, if my students have complete economic freedom without any interference from me [the government], then we have a pure market economy.)  This really makes the difference!  Students are finally able to feel like these terms apply to them since they are an active and (hopefully) productive citizen of a 'country'.

The Bottom Line

Teachers, what about you?  How do you establish community within your classroom?  Do you have any useful hints or tips for us?  I would love to hear your stories and maybe even share them on this blog.  You can contact me at obertopia@gmail.com .


  1. I just found your blog and you sound like a fantastic teacher! Although I don't teach Social Studies (I teach 6th grade Science in SC), I look forward to implementing some of your rewards and management techniques this year! Keep up the great work! Thank you!

    1. Thank you for your wonderful comment! I love hearing from fellow teachers! I hope the strategies work for your classes! Give me an update later if you think about it. :)

  2. Crazy that I stumbled upon this blog from Pinterest. I went to school with you and am also a middle school teacher (Language Arts). I love your blog--it is so inspirational and witty. You've got some creative, fun ideas!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Marisa! What a small world!! Where do you teach?

  3. I also teach 6th grade social studies - in Texas (standards are somewhat similar.) I would love to implement my own queendom next year! I can definitely see some connections being made this way. Is there a place in which you've shared your rules, procedures, and consequence system?

    1. Hey Emily! Just checking my comments and realized I never responded! Sorry about that! Let me know what questions you have specifically and I'll be sure to expound on them in a future post. Thanks!

  4. OK - borrowing (i.e. stealing with credit to you) all of your stuff and putting my spin on it for Cardtopia! You are a genius!

  5. I found your post "What do middle schoolers want?" and I love it. Kinda want to borrow your Obertopia idea; I also teach World Geo. Thanks for your refreshing ideas and passion for our crazy, awesome middle schoolers!