For the Teacher

1. Preview of Main Ideas

The relative peace and stability in relationships among nations is influenced by many factors: political boundaries, overlapping interests regarding access to natural resources (e.g., water, oil, arable land), ethnic or social norms, or a combination of these factors. In these lessons, students will investigate factors influencing global peace and stability from two perspectives. In Lesson 1, they will explore a measure of peace and stability called the Global Peace Index. In the second lesson they will focus on natural resources, specifically access to water, as a threat to international peace and stability.

2. Connection with the Curriculum

  • These activities can be used in geography and social studies classes as well as any class that explores contemporary global issues.
  • These lessons are designed for upper-level high school, community college, and first and second-year undergraduate students.

3. Time Required

One to two sixty minute class periods for each Geographic Investigation lesson.

4. Materials

  • Computer with Internet access

5. Preparation

These lessons use select web sources to investigate global peace and stability. Each lesson explores this topic through the display and analysis of geospatial data. The lessons are intended to illustrate how the geographer’s unique perspective - the “geographic advantage” – contributes to the understanding and analysis of international peace (or conflict) and stability (or instability).  Before leading students through the Geographic Investigation lessons, teachers should visit each website to 1) ensure that they are permitted (not blocked) by the school and 2) familiarize yourself with the information on each site.

Lesson 1: Global Peace Index


By the end of the lesson students will be able to:

1. Describe the Global Peace Index and identify variables used in that index to rank world nations.
2. Identify regions and nations with the highest and lowest current GPI ratings and describe changes in those ratings during the past five years.

Activity 1: Global Peace Index (video)

Opening the Lesson

Introduce the lesson by showing students the short video, “U.S. Peace Index”, found on the home page of Module 9: How are geopolitical shifts influencing peace and stability? Briefly discuss the four questions beneath the video. In discussing question #4, refer back to the video’s opening statement: “Peace isn’t just about whether a country is at war or not – it’s also about how violent our communities might be.” 

Explain that in this lesson, students will be looking at a Global Peace Index (GPI) that measures the levels of violence in countries around the world just as the US Peace Index compares levels of violence in US states. Instead of 5 indicators (in the US Peace Index), the GPI uses 23 indicators to rank the peacefulness of countries.

Developing the Lesson

This activity is based on watching and interpreting the video, “Global Peace Index”. Depending on class size and computer configuration, this can be done in a number of ways: the video might be projected on a classroom screen so that the entire class watches the video at the same time or students might watch the video in small groups  sharing a single computer. If there is enough space between these group stations, there shouldn’t be any problem with overlapping sound distraction. The video could also be assigned for homework prior to class.

Discuss the comprehension and analysis questions beneath the video link on the Lesson 1 web page. Tell students that in the next activity they will be able to explore details of the GPI with an interactive map.

Activity 2: Explore the interactive map of the Global Peace Index

Opening the Lesson

Begin the activity by demonstrating the many functions and information displays of the interactive map. The map opens with a bulleted list of map functions (see below). You may want to make a copy of this panel so students can refer to it as they explore the map.2012 Global Peace Index

Use this map to explore the states of peace around the world:

  • Mouse over countries to see where they rank on the Global Peace Index.
  • Click a country to view its values on the 23 indicators that make up the Index.
  • Compare up to three countries side-by-side. Click on the flag to de-select a country.
  • Use the timeline to view historical data and watch as countries’ levels of peace fluctuate.
  • Click on each indicator to see a thermal map of how the countries of the world perform on it.
  • See the distribution of values in the circle plots for each indicator.
  • Mouse over neighboring countries to compare their values.
  • Click on “Other Factors” to explore socio-economic data that helps describe the “drivers” of peace.

Developing the Lesson 

Students should work in pairs or groups of three to answer the map interpretation questions and Student Response Questions beneath the map. Encourage them to discuss the answers among themselves as they proceed.

Conclude the lesson by asking for student observations based on map explorations. Discuss student interpretations of the GPI data and correlations they have observed with “Other Factors” such as literacy rates or GDP per capita. Use a classroom computer connected to a projector to explore questions that arise during the discussion (e.g., What does the Political Culture indicator measure?). In the discussion, be sure to clarify the difference between correlation between variables and GPI and a direct causal relationship between those variables and GPI.

Assessing Student Learning

Create a document or media presentation that explains the Global Peace Index, identifies recent trends in the GPI, and identifies “Other Factors” which are positively correlated with GPI.

Lesson 2: Natural Resources and Stability


By the end of the lesson students will be able to:

1. Compare water availability, access, and usage in the developed and developing world.
2. Describe historic examples of international (or internal) instability fostered by conflict over access to water. 
3. Identify world regions where access to water is a serious threat to peace and stability today.

Activity 1: Watch a video about water

Opening the Lesson

Ask students to make a quick list of all the ways they have used water in the past 24 hours (drinking, flushing, showering, cooking, etc.). Generate a class list of water usage. Based on the generated list, ask students to write an estimate of how much water they think a typical American uses in a day.

Explain that this lesson will focus on water – the many ways people use it and potential problems that arise when people can’t get enough of it. The first activity in the lesson will be to watch a video that identifies some of the major issues surrounding global water access and use. Tell them that they’ll find the answer to the question (How much water does a typical American use in a day?) in the video.

Developing the Lesson

Begin the lesson by watching the short video, “Water”. As in Lesson 1, there are a range of options for viewing this video: the video might be projected on a classroom screen so that the entire class watches the video at one time or students might watch the video in small groups sharing a single computer. The video could also be assigned for homework prior to class.

After watching the video, ask students how their own estimate of daily water use in North America compared to the answer given in the video (105.7 gallons per person daily). Discuss the video interpretation questions on the Lesson 2 home page.

Activity 2: Explore the Water Conflict Chronology Map

Opening the Lesson

Begin the activity by demonstrating the functions and optional information displays of the interactive “Water Conflict Chronology Map” such as the dropdown lists for Region, Conflict Type, and Date Range, and the alternative basemap selections.

Developing the Lesson

As students explore the interactive map, they should answer the map interpretation questions. Optional: Challenge each student to make up three new questions which can be answered with the “Water Conflict Chronology Map”. They should write their questions on a separate piece of paper. When students have had time to explore on their own, discuss the answers to the map interpretation questions. Have students exchange their written questions with another student and provide a few minutes to answer the three new questions.

To conclude the lesson, ask students to consider the two quotations in the Student Response box. In considering those quotations and the analysis questions which follow discuss the following:

  • Speculate on scenarios in which access to water could lead to war (e.g., one country cuts off another’s water supply by building a dam on a river, one country diverts water to their own territory for irrigation depriving those downstream, etc.). Challenge students to find historic or contemporary examples of such scenarios on the “Water Conflict Chronology Map”.
  • Which world regions are characterized by water scarcity (desert and semiarid regions). Use the “Water Conflict Chronology Map” to see if those regions have a higher number of water conflicts or a higher incidence of particular types of water conflicts. The satellite basemap is useful here.
  • What effects could climate change have on the issue of conflict over water resources?

Assessing student Learning

Create a document or media presentation that identifies major issues in global access to safe water, historic examples of international conflict generated by water scarcity, and the potential for water scarcity to be a leading source of international conflict in the future.

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