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STEM Challenge - Design a Sustainable City of the Future

Grade Level

Middle School (6th - 8th Grade)


STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)


Four class periods, approximately 45-50 minutes each.


Students will work in teams to design a sustainable city of the future, incorporating concepts from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to address environmental, social, and economic challenges.


  • Paper and writing utensils to brainstorm

  • Poster boards or large paper

  • Markers, colored pencils, and art supplies

  • Laptops or tablets for research

  • Optional: Building materials (recyclable items, cardboard, etc.)

Lesson Sequence

Day 1 - Introduction to Sustainable Cities and Teams (45 Minutes)

Engagement (10 minutes)

  1. Begin with a brief discussion about the concept of sustainability. Ask students what they understand about a sustainable city and why it's important.

Introduction to Sustainable Cities (25 Minutes)

  1. Present a multimedia presentation or short video highlighting a sustainable city's key characteristics, such as renewable energy, green spaces, efficient transportation, waste management, etc.

Team Formation (10 Minutes)

  1. Divide the class into small teams (4-5 students per team) and assign each team a specific aspect of city design (energy, transportation, waste management, etc.).

  2. Explain that each team will be responsible for designing their assigned aspect of the city.

Day 2 - Research and Planning (45 Minutes)

Review and Discussion (10 Minutes)

  1. Recap the concepts discussed in the previous lesson about sustainable cities.

  2. Discuss the importance of teamwork in solving complex challenges.

Research (25 Minutes)

  1. In their teams, instruct students to research their assigned aspect of city design. Provide laptops or tablets for online research.

  2. Encourage students to find real-world examples of sustainable practices and technologies.

Planning (10 Minutes)

  1. Have teams outline their initial ideas for their city design on paper. This could include sketches and basic descriptions of the features they plan to incorporate.

Day 3 - Design and Presentation (45 Minutes)

Review and Preparation (10 Minutes)

  1. Review the importance of sustainability and each team's role in creating a holistic, sustainable city.

Design and Building (25 Minutes)

  1. Instruct teams to use the materials provided (poster boards, markers, etc.) to create a visual representation of their sustainable city design.

  2. If possible, provide building materials for teams to create 3D models of certain components of their city.

Practice Presentations (10 Minutes)

  1. Have each team practice presenting their city design to the class, focusing on the key features of their aspect of the city.

Day 4 - Presentation and Reflection (45 Minutes)

Finalize Designs (10 Minutes)

  1. Give teams a few minutes to put the finishing touches on their designs and models.

Presentations (25 Minutes)

  1. Each team presents their sustainable city design to the class, explaining the features of their aspect and how it contributes to the city's overall sustainability.

  2. Allow students to ask questions of the presenting team when they are finished.

Reflection (10 Minutes)

  1. Lead a class discussion about the challenges and benefits of designing a sustainable city.

  2. Ask students to reflect on what they learned about integrating STEM concepts in solving real-world problems.


Once the lesson is completed, assess your students in the following areas:

  • Participation in discussions, teamwork, and research.

  • Creativity and thoughtfulness in designing a sustainable city.

  • Quality of presentations and ability to communicate the significance of their aspect in city design.


Encourage students to take their designs further by considering additional aspects, such as economic sustainability, social equity, and community engagement.

Teacher Note

Adapt the lesson plan as needed to fit the resources and time available in your classroom. The lesson plan can be customized to suit your middle school students' specific interests and capabilities.

Possible Sustainable Components of a City

  • Green Infrastructure:

    • Urban parks, green spaces, and rooftop gardens to improve air quality and provide recreational areas.

    • Tree-lined streets and urban forests to enhance aesthetics and provide shade.

  • Energy Efficiency:

    • Energy-efficient buildings with proper insulation, smart lighting, and efficient HVAC systems.

    • Use of renewable energy sources such as solar panels, wind turbines, and geothermal systems.

  • Public Transportation:

    • Efficient and affordable public transportation systems like buses, trams, subways, and light rail to reduce reliance on private cars.

    • Dedicated bike lanes and pedestrian pathways to encourage non-motorized transportation.

  • Waste Management:

    • Comprehensive recycling and waste management programs to reduce landfill waste and encourage recycling.

    • Composting facilities to handle organic waste and generate nutrient-rich soil.

  • Water Management:

    • Efficient water use through low-flow fixtures, water-efficient appliances, and water-sensitive landscaping.

    • Rainwater harvesting and greywater systems for irrigation and non-potable uses.

  • Urban Agriculture:

    • Community gardens, vertical farming, and urban agriculture initiatives to promote local food production and reduce food transportation.


Written by Rachel Jones

Education World Contributor

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