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Cities: An Interactive Learning Experience for Inquiring Minds

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When Australian teachers Martin Clery, Michelle Williams, and Nando Nicoletti pooled their efforts, experience, and class time, the result was Cities, an online inquiry-based project. The activity offers students freedom of choice as they exercise their skills in science, English, mathematics, and more! Included: Student and teacher comments, a sample activity, and a link to the project!


"As a teaching team, we were aware of the need to explore a variety of pedagogical approaches to provide more relevant learning experiences for our students," teacher Martin Clery tells Education World. "Recent professional activities had highlighted the need to consider more closely the range of competencies that our students would require for their future success."

With those objective in mind, Clery and team members Michelle Williams and Nando Nicoletti set out to create a project that would engage their students across the curriculum while catering to the high degree of cognitive diversity and the range of learning styles they had identified among their students. The result is Cities, a genuine "collaborative event!"

Each of the three teachers worked individually to create tasks that would challenge students to achieve subject-specific outcomes. In addition, "our project was designed to help students take control of their own learning, to become critical locators and consumers of information, and to develop their collaborative learning and decision-making capabilities," says Clery.


CITIES PROJECT

A Sample Cities Project Activity

Click here for a sample activity from the Cities project.

Cities is a collection of 16 activities that actively involve the 12- and 13-year-old students at Como Senior High School in Perth, Western Australia, in collaboration and learning. The project engages students in a wide variety of activities that involve them working solo, with partners, and in small groups to achieve set goals that demand a multitude of skills.

The Cities project begins with a four-by-four activity grid that the teachers created. Students select one activity from each horizontal column on the grid; they choose activities so that they also complete one activity from each vertical column.

"By choosing tasks from each row and each column, students can select some tasks they will enjoy and feel comfortable with, and they also have to do one or two that will reinforce areas of relative weakness," Williams explains. "Students are supported with a variety of graphic organizers and planning tools, which have been introduced previously in other classroom contexts."

For this inquiry-based project, class time is collapsed to permit students to work continuously on the tasks they select. A group of students is assigned to each teacher on the team. Teachers conference regularly with students in order to assist those who might need help organizing their project efforts and to provide assistance with the chosen tasks. Students engage in activities such as

  • designing a poster that compares and contrasts city life now with that 100 years ago,
  • creating a Web site with the theme "The Amazing History of My Favorite City,"
  • writing and performing a rap song about a city, and
  • measuring and observing traffic flow in a city.

"The aim is to introduce students to a variety of skills and learning tools that they can then adapt to further inquiry topics," explains Williams. "With the benefit of the experience gained from the Cities project, we hope students will be able to design some of their own tasks with their teachers rather than choose from a list provided, as is the case with Cities.

"In negotiation with their teachers, students design focus questions, develop research models, and present their findings in a manner that reinforces current skills and provides opportunities to develop areas of relative weakness," adds Williams.


STUDENTS FLOCK TO CITIES

Students have responded very positively to the online project. They especially appreciate having the freedom to choose between activities and the collaborative aspects of the material, Nicoletti explains.

"The project has a lot of choice, and it is challenging and a lot of fun compared to our normal class work," remarks one student.

Though they advise other students to invest time in becoming more organized than they have been, Marianne, Alex, and Chris highly recommend the Cities project. The students found favorite challenges in Bridge Building, City Shapes (because they got to organize their own field trip), and An Ideal City, in which they created a model.

The three students were surprised by some of the information they encountered during their Cities investigations. They tell Education World that they learned how the international date line works from International Flight Itinerary. When they went into Perth to research the dimensions of one of the city's skyscrapers (as part of the Comparing Building Dimensions activity), they were invited to a special viewing platform atop the structure. The students saw things they didn't even know were a part of their own city!

Clery, Williams, and Nicoletti have also been surprised by some of the results of the project. They were impressed with the growth in responsibility and self-direction displayed by some students. Many rose to the challenge of being "in charge," says Nicoletti.


EVERYONE IS WELCOME AT CITIES

Related Web Sites

* The Cities Project Here you will find a description of an older project that has students search for facts about their cities and send them to students in other places around the world.
* The Nitty Gritty Pretty City Project This project is an example of a long-distance study of cities in the United States.

The teachers of Cities were able to incorporate technology into the project in many ways. Because the material was online, the students had access to graphic organizers and other pages chosen and designed by the educators. The Internet was a ready-made source of information for the students' investigations.

"By placing our project and the associated planning and thinking tools on our Intranet, students were able to access the required documentation in all of their classrooms," explains Clery. "Of course, a lot of excellent information was discovered by students on the Internet, and expert advice was successfully sought via e-mail. It also provided an accessible and dynamic platform for students' presentation of their learning."

The creators of Cities encourage other educators to "have a go" at a similar project and to offer their material online.

"We had a number of anxieties about student responses, adequacy of the learning outcomes, and our capacity to find the necessary planning time, but all issues were resolved due largely to our shared sense of ownership of the project," says Williams. "We had a clear set of shared goals and a strong sense of professional support for one another."

The opportunity to collaborate professionally was one of the great rewards of the Cities project, the educators tell Education World. They saw how their combined ideas could be much more powerful and inclusive than their individual efforts!