Future City Design Unit

I believe that teaching students problem solving is one of the most important skills a teacher can instill. The trick is finding a way for students to solve relevant problems, in a fun way that gives students ownership over their solution. The Future City Design Unit is, in my opinion, a great combination of problem solving and student creativity, all wrapped up in designing a new city to solve real world problems.

The future City Design unit covers all four design steps – research, planning, creating, and evaluating – and gives the students plenty of practice with each step. It’s designed to work for students 4th – 7th grade, and includes:

  • A full project plan from start to finish
  • Lesson plans for each task
  • x5 Printable assignments
  • x4 Printable MYP IB rubrics
  • Extension ideas to further challenge and support students

If you’re interested, you can check out the Future City Design Unit here.

Teaching the Future City Design Unit

I love teaching this unit, because it follows the design cycle, includes authentic research about real world problems, and gives students ownership and an opportunity to show off their creativity.

The beginning of the project is all about research. Students may need a refresher on how to identify reliable resources, so keep that in mind. For the project, students will be researching questions centered around a main theme – what problems are cities seeing today? 

I encourage you to ask your students to do research, but also identify what problems they are seeing in their city or community every day. The lists the students create will vary, based on their experience, and interests. For example, a Detroit Future City Project that a student wants to create may look a lot different than another student’s idea to create the most advanced city in the world.

After research, students will begin to design their future city project ideas. In the elementary grades, I usually ask the students to design 1-2 different future cities, and then choose their favorite. This helps the students begin to learn that design is about coming up with new ideas, not just doing something once and being done. In middle school, I would ask my students to design 2-3 future city ideas, and choose their favorite.

Then, students will form groups, choose or create a final design, and then create their future city. Usually, I would have my students create their future city on large poster-board. This gives a large space where all 3-4 students per group can participate at the same time. It also allows space for labels. I usually ask my students to sketch their futuristic city with pencils and rulers first, then go over it with marker, colored pencils, or something more permanent.

Please note, that this project works best when sketched from a bird’s eye view perspective. However, many students don’t know what this is. It’s likely you’ll need to take a lesson to teach, and practice, sketching in bird’s eye view, before students begin creating their advanced cities.

If students finish early, I’ve also challenged them to create 3d buildings, in the form of paper models, to show off their futuristic city-scapes.

Finally, students will finish their cities and get a chance to reflect. Because of the size of the poster-board, and the fact that they lay flat or can be hanged easily, this project works well with some sort of curriculum fair, or shared space. These cities can be put on the wall in the hallway, hung around the classroom for other students to see, or even included in an after-school fair of some kind. 

Students should get a chance to view other cities, before they reflect on their own, as comparison is an important part of bloom’s taxonomy, as well as the reflection questions.

Expanding the Future City Design Unit

The goal of this project is to create a city of the future. To do this students have to identify current problems, and look to the future to see how to solve them. One of the challenges I give my students during the research phase of the project, is to reach out to current city council members, to ask for a list of problems the city is currently trying to solve. This engages students in authentic community issues, as well as the civic process. This can even be combined with a civics or social studies course.

Another extension idea is to collaborate with an art class. During the creation phase, students spend a lot of time coloring, drawing, and sketching. These are skills that are practiced in art as well, and there is opportunity for a cross-over lesson.

Finally, if students need a challenge, there is a great opportunity to ask them to either create 3d paper models of their city-scape, or create a digital version as well. This allows students to use other skills that are important for a design class.

If you’re interested, you can check out the Future City Project Unit here, and see pictures of past projects here.

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