We Have Collaborated on the Future

My school, like so many others I’m sure, encourages collaboration among disciplines. We have regular grade level meetings to discuss what we’re doing in our classes and to find ways to work together. Information Skills (that’s Library) and Language Arts often end up being the two easiest classes to collaborate with. Studying death rites in Ancient Civilizations? Info Skills can research modern death rites and Language Arts can write a compare-contrast essay. Want to write a research paper for Earth Science? Info Skills can do the research and Language Arts can write the essay.

It’s a decent system. It emphasizes the good old Writing Across the Curriculum. But it still fails to connect multiple classes over a sustained period of time.

Enter Future City.

If you’re not familiar with Future City, it is an annual competition for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. Students are asked to think of ways to make the world a better place. Each year the competition proposes a specific problem for students to consider: traffic, sustainable food, waste management. Students have access to SimCity and create a virtual city. As part of the competition, students also write a research essay discussing the topic for the year, create a scale model of a portion of their city using recycled materials, and prepare a presentation. Schools are encouraged to work with a local engineer as a mentor for the project.

A few years ago, our Physical Science teacher approached a few of us about working on Future City with the 8th grade and we all jumped in. The students cover the bulk of the information in their Physical Science class, because plasma gasification isn’t really my strong point, and I think the Art and Literature teachers feel the same way. In American History, students talk about how cities develop. In Language Arts they write the essay and the script. In Information Skills, they download and play Sim City, do some of the research for the essay, and create the works cited for the essay. In Visual Arts, students create the physical model. Finally, the Performing Arts teacher works with the students who will represent the team at the competition on their presentation.

The City of Passington, from the 2014-2015 competition highlighting sustainable urban agriculture through hydroponics.

The City of Passington, from the 2014-2015 competition highlighting sustainable urban agriculture through hydroponics.

By engaging the entire 8th grade in the project, I think our school approaches Future City a bit differently from most other schools. Many school seem to offer this as an after school activity for students who are interested. By tying this to academic classes, we engage our entire 8th grade – something we can do because of our size. When we first started Future City, there was only one 8th grade class of seven students. We have grown to two classes and twelve students. This means more coordination, especially if presenting students aren’t in the same class. The Physical Science teacher has been wonderful about asking for time during summer orientation and in-service days for us to meet as a team to discuss where we are with our part of the project. And this year, Google Classroom has been a tremendous asset in organizing the writing and research end of things.

The students really seem to enjoy the project, and often start asking about it in 7th grade. (This may be partly because they enjoy having access to SimCity on their laptops.) Future City hits on all of the 21st Century Skills: teamwork, problem solving, writing, presentation, public speaking, STEM/STEAM.

Our students haven’t won a competition yet, but we have been recognized for best teamwork.

And we’re using the model to create other cross-curricular projects. When Future City is over (our students present on January 23rd), the 8th grade students will move into a new project intended to integrate several classes. And 5th through 7th grades are already working towards an integrated “specials” period, where Information Skills, Visual Arts, and Performing Arts will function almost as a single class.

I’d love to steal hear your collaboration success stories.

Author: Amy Gillespie

Categories: Blog Topics, STEM/STEAM, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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