We Built This City
May 24, 2018

Have you recently walked by the first grade classroom and wondered why it looks a bit like an Amazon shipping center? It’s city building time! This first grade tradition, inspired by the National Building Museum’s “City By Design” program, is a hands-on, interdisciplinary unit where children learn fundamental city planning concepts, and work together to build “Harbor Town.”

While collecting cardboard boxes and other recycled and repurposed materials, the first grade planning committee brainstormed what their city would need: houses, apartments, a police station, a military base, a water treatment plant, a car dealership, and much, much more. Then they learned how to categorize these different types of building and land uses. Are they residential, commercial, industrial, institutional? Is there green space? This exercise led them to think differently about the places where we live, work, learn and play.

Finally it was time to build. Although we often enhance our learning with technology at Harbor, it can’t replace the tactile experience of working together to plan, design and build Harbor Town. This hands-on experience develops design thinking, creativity, spatial sense, motor skills, and problem solving. After building factories, police and fire stations, homes, and even a skyscraper, the class discussed where the buildings should be placed. They wrote proposals and supported their reasoning. They identified problems, like potential pollution, traffic, or safety concerns, and worked together to create a well-planned community. Through this collaborative exercise, children begin to gain perspective on their own community, its sustainability, and how it can improve.

On Friday, the Harbor Town crew will bring their STEM class skills into play to install a lighting system! This new level of infrastructure is a first in Harbor Town history, and I can’t wait to see it! If you have a chance before the weekend, take a peek inside the first grade classroom makerspace to see it for yourself!

Harbor School