Trade significantly influenced the course of history in West Africa. The wealth made through trade was used to build large kingdoms and empires. West African gold provided rulers and merchants with the means to acquire goods from afar. Rock salt, mined in the heart of the Sahara, was among the most important of these. Salt is essential to human life, and became a commodity even more valuable than gold!

Merchants traveling between towns across the Sahara needed places to rest and stock up with food for the journey across the desert. They were able to plan long trips, knowing that local markets would provide food and shelter. In this lesson about West Africa, students will become those traders, traveling the famed gold/salt roads from Morocco to Timbuktu, and on to Benin, following in the footsteps of world traveler and Muslim scholar Ibn Battuta, who lived and wrote during the 14th century.

In the Footsteps of Ibn Battuta is scaffolded for students from middle school to high school. Students will view a 15-minute film about the gold/salt trade presented by Hunter Morrison, an adventurous author and explorer who has followed this route from Morocco to Timbuktu. Additional short videos explore Ibn Battuta’s life and that of Mansa Musa. An engaging, student-directed simulation game will immerse them in the merchant role on the gold/salt trade route. An accurate and detailed VR Walkabout scene will place students in Timbuktu with a salt trader. Students will become ancient storytellers to practice the oral tradition. A complete lesson on the Islamic religion includes a Digital Geometric Pattern Creator activity where students explore Islamic art. And finally, extension activities encourage critical thinking responses on the return of plundered cultural artifacts, using the Benin Bronzes as a prime example, and finding solutions to climate change in Africa today. 

Class time required: 2 – 4 class periods (45 minutes), or 2 – 3 90-minute classes. If the extension project is used, more class time will be needed.

In the Footsteps of Ibn Battuta has the following lessons and activities:

In the Footsteps of Ibn Battuta should be used when your curriculum focuses on...

* A note about using VR headsets: Students can take turns on the headset/s while other students are working on different activities.