The fifth grade recently embarked on a study of cities and urban planning. The teacher began with a very open-ended activity posed to the fifth-graders: design and draw a map of your own. Very quickly questions of scale emerged as students grappled with how exactly one creates an accurate map.
After many rich discussions about scale, the class decided to demonstrate their learning by building a model city. Students worked in pairs to research transportation, housing, infrastructure, urban planning, and business and entertainment venues. Soon the Eco-City was born. Each pair of students worked to design and build their part of the city, and the whole class worked as a group to fit all the parts together.
Meanwhile, the class took many field trips to help them gather information. They visited the Aqua building and the mercantile stock exchange in downtown Chicago, a public works building that is also a LEED-certified green building, and the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio in Oak Park. The class also had guest speakers on the census, architecture, and engineering.
As a final exploration of scale, the class decided to take one small part of their model city and enlarge it to life-size. This was designed to allow visitors to understand how it would feel to actually walk around in Eco-City. At this point the concept of scale had come full circle and students had explored an abstract mathematical concept in a very tangible and exciting way.