Distinctions

The Model Town Project

The 1st grade’s urban planning unit—which explores the relationship between people and their environment—begins with students investigating their local neighborhoods and discussing how neighborhoods are organized to meet people's needs and wants. Students learn about communities and habitats and come to understand the distinction between living and built environments.

Inspiration
A field trip to the National Building Museum for a workshop entitled "City by Design" follows. In the workshop, students learn about different types of buildings and land use. They then head back to Lowell to plan and construct a model town made completely out of recycled materials.

To help students begin to visualize their town, teachers introduce students to grids, coordinates, and mapping. Students also learn to identify and manipulate 3-D shapes and begin studying the relationship between 2-D and 3-D shapes. Reading The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton gives students the opportunity to discuss the notion of progress. Roxaboxen by Alice Maclerren and Barbara Cooney sparks their imaginative thinking and gets them excited about the prospect of building a town from materials close at hand.
Interdisciplinary projects like this one help students connect what they are learning across disciplines and apply their knowledge to real-world problems.
Town Planning
The highlight of the planning process is the Town Meeting. Elements of the city are divided into five categories—industrial, commercial, institutional, residential, and public green space. These categories help 1st graders think about what buildings should go where. Using a SMART Board that displays a grid of their city, students "drag" the names of buildings to areas on the grid and share the reasoning behind the placements they propose. Each student has a voice in the process.

During last year’s town meeting, 1st graders agreed that the recycling center and the power plant should be on the outskirts of town since both give off bad, unhealthy odors. On the other hand, they concluded that the pet shop and restaurants should be nestled in between residential areas, because pet owners live in houses and need to get food easily (and frequently) for themselves, as well as their pets. When it looked like the airport was going to have to be placed on the edge of town next to the hotel, students decided to create a buffer of trees and green space between the two and create a no-fly zone.
Construction
Once the town plan is established, 1st graders each choose a building to construct and then create blueprints complete with architectural details.

Working from their drawings, students transform humble shoeboxes into clearly recognizable structures by adding windows, working doors, brick and other textural treatments, signage, and landscaping.

Grand Opening
After the finishing touches are complete, the buildings are placed on the town's gigantic grid in the lobby of the main building. During Primary School Gathering, 1st grade students hand over the keys to the city to Director of Primary School Elizabeth Lener and Head of School Debbie Gibbs and reveal the name of the model town. Each year, it is a proud moment!
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