Monday, January 11, 2016

Design & Build Your Own City

One of the big projects I do each year with my 8th grade engineering students is to have them design and create their own city.  We start out this unit by talking about city planning, using the city they live in as an example.  We look at some of the design and planning maps and I have some of the city planners come and talk with students to explain what goes in to designing a city.

Our next step it to have the kids choose their team (3-4) and start researching information about city design to build on the knowledge they gained from our speakers.  Each group chooses a city zone to build and designs their city to scale using SketchUp (a free, online CAD program).  They plan with their group regarding what buildings should go in the zone and then determine how they will divide the work to accomplish their goal.  We work with Engneering notebooks for planning along with guide sheets to help them and work logs to keep them all on track.

Once the designs are completed, each team actually builds their zone, utilizing chipboard and a variety of other materials to create their city zone to scale.  I provide materials in the classroom, but sometimes students want something specific that i don't have and I allow them to bring that (if they clear it with me first of course!).

This portion of the project takes us several weeks.  Once all the buildings and decorations have been completed, we work together as a class to combine the buildings to create the end result of a city.  We leave it set up for a few days so that other teachers and students can "visit" the city and admire the hard work!

If you'd like the entire lesson, planning sheets, work logs and student handouts, it is available to download here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Designing Skyscrapers

Tall buildings and modern designs are fascinating aspects of architecture and engineering, so it is no surprise that students love the idea of learning more about these as they take the role of a designer.  Studying existing buildings, learning about how they are designed to withstand natural disasters while still being aesthetically pleasing, is our starting point for the unit.  As a part of this, students choose a skyscraper of interest to research and then replicate its design using Sketchup (CAD), a free download, to create a scale model.

Empire State Building
Our next lesson lets them use what they've learned to design their own skyscraper, again to scale in Sketchup.  I love seeing the creative ideas they have!

Finally, using a budget and a limited amount of time (just like real engineers!), teams construct a skyscraper together.  The finished product needed to be to scale, and able to withstand both wind and earthquake!

If you'd like to use this lesson with your class, you can obtain the full lesson plan here.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Helping Students Set Goals for the New Semester

For most schools, when students return in January they are not only starting a new year - they are starting a new semester.  This is a chance for them to make some changes in their approach to learning and studying and a great time to talk about goal setting as a part of the first lessons.

"New Year's Resolutions" usually aren't really goals - they are more like "wishes".  Real goals need to be SMART - an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.  Students may have heard of this concept before, or it may be brand new.  

This lesson is great for all ages.  In my 8th grade classroom, I use a combination of small group and individual work with this lesson.  Since my students are at an age where they love to share with their peers, this gives them a chance to discuss what is important to them and get feedback from those they value most (each other!).  

First, we go through the SMART goals as a class:  what they are and why they are different than "hopeful wishes".  Then, they choose a group to work with, grab a piece of chart paper and some colored markers for the group, and start brainstorming.  For this age, letting them choose who they feel comfortable sharing with has worked best for me, but you can use other methods for choosing groups (or partners) too.  I never let them work in a group larger than 4.  In their group, they will brainstorm on goals they might have for things they want to improve, new things they want to try, and things that would help others and enter those on the chart paper.  I time this activity (5-7 minutes) using a free online timer on my SMARTBoard and then have them tape their charts to the wall and we all do a "gallery walk" to see the ideas.

Now it's time for them to work individually on the next part - creating their own personal list of possible goals for the upcoming semester.  I use two different worksheets to guide them through this, to help make their ultimate goal truly SMART!

We revisit this periodically throughout the semester to make sure they are on track to attaining their goal, or revising it if necessary.  If you'd like the full lesson with all the worksheets, printables, and resources, it is available here.