Saturday, October 15, 2016

Making across content, composing cardboard cities

Cardboard is the ultimate make material. It’s cheap (or FREE...there’s usually plenty of it piled by the recycling bin behind any school), sturdy, and relatively easy to work with if you have a good cutting tool and some tape or glue. This post tells how a language arts and science teacher collaborated to create a make-based learning experience inspired by content in both of their classes and built with…..cardboard!

For this make, students drew upon the setting and novels they were reading in language arts and their learning about sustainability in science class to construct cardboard cities.  For language arts, students participating in books clubs, where students read in small groups a novel with a group of their classmates and regularly completed literacy-related mini-lessons and group discussions.  The novels, 20 or so in all, spanned in genre from biography to dystopian fiction, but fit thematically into the unit being taught, which focused on responding to injustice.  

In science, Tiffany was teaching an earth science unit on natural resources, with content and discussions focused on constructing a conceptual understanding of sustainability in the world today. The setting and events of the novels would serve as starting places for the cites’ construction, and the decisions students made while constructing them would be made through the lense of sustainability.  

City planning and hacking the school day
Students in one of Steve’s classes (perhaps considering what they had learned about sustainability with Tiffany) raised the concern that there would not be enough space for 20 cardboard cities to be built and suggested that groups build collaboratively. With a bit more discussion and negotiation, both the teachers and students settled on the idea that groups would add to one of four cities depending on the time period their novel took place, thus giving rise to the Historic City, Modern Urban City, Modern Suburban City, and Future City.  

In planning how to organize this make, Steve and Tiffany (as well as their students) felt like one hour a day was nowhere near enough to really dig into a make, and Steve and Tiffany wanted the make to be inspired by more than just a single entry point from their class content; rather, they hoped to see what students made and the content of their classes serve complementary purposes that deepened over a period of time. The solution they decided on was a make that took place over the course of five weeks, with one day per week being devoted to making.  On this day, during the time that students had ELA and Science, they would go to the room where their city in progress was located. Two were in Tiffany’s room, and two were in Steve’s.

Supporting the making and iterative process

Sometimes students would continue right where the left off, but other times students would consider the new events that they had encountered in their novels or new concepts that had been introduced in science during the week since they had last worked on the structure and use this knowledge to revise what they had been working on.  It wasn’t just the new content students had to consider, though. Steve and Tiffany introduced new materials and possibilities into the makerspace each week. The foundational materials students needed to construct (cardboard, scissors, glue) were always on hand, but over the course of the make students also were invited to paint, add working circuits to light LEDs, and also to use their cities as settings for stop motion videos.

Read more about the project and what students thought about it in the article from a local newspaper below:


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