Imagining My Sustainable Community
In 2018 I applied for and received a grant to have 30 of our grade 7/8 students participate in the organization No.9’s IMAGINING MY SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY (IMSC) EDUCATIONAL WORKSHOP FOR GRADES 7-9. This program was valued at over $5000 as they provided all of the materials, plus instruction and support from 2 architects, and release time for 3 educators from our school over 4 days. As I participated in this process, I took lots of videos and notes in the hopes that I would one day repeat this project with my class on my own as a homeroom teacher. When I heard about the LSF Climate Youth Conference, I realized it would be the perfect vehicle to help me enrich my program and provide not only free support through the virtual workshops, but an additional $500 grant that would allow me to purchase all of the materials needed for our project. The workshops all touched on features of sustainable design that my students were going to consider in their architectural model, with the added bonus of being conducted by youth who were all passionate about their fields of expertise.
The vision for this activity was for my students to see themselves as change makers in their community. To realize the importance of sustainable design, to learn more about STEM professions, and through the creation of a model, they would be inspired to see themselves in these positions, and view their community in a more positive light. The first thing we did was to go on a community walk down the street from the school. Our school is at 644 Warden Ave, and we walked to 685 Warden Avenue where there is an empty plot of land. There has been a proposal put forth to the city to build on this land. Unfortunately the timelines for our project didn’t coincide with the city consultations for this land. While at the site students were asked to look around them and envision what they felt was missing, and what they would like to see more of in their community. Back in the classroom students learned about elements of sustainable design, and looked at examples of sustainable projects locally, nationally, and internationally related to food security, alternative energies, water conservation and recycling, public art and design, waste management, and transportation. Many of these topics were also covered in our Youth Form virtual workshops. The total area of land at 685 Warden Ave is approximately 100m X200m. I divided the class into 8 groups of 3, with each group responsible for planning a 50mX50m parcel of the total plot.
We integrated math and ratios to this project and students learned about the importance of and use of scale in architectural modeling. We used a scale of 1cm=1m. Student groups then chose what types of programs they felt were most needed in the community and had the choice between living, food, recreation/play, education, and arts & culture. Once they knew what program(s) they wanted to focus on, they then began brainstorming what types of structures they wanted to put on their land, and how they would make them sustainable. We had a scaled drawing of our model on a whiteboard in the classroom where we mapped out our plan together. Collectively we realized many students chose the theme of food, and worked together to find ways to address food sustainability in different and complimentary ways. As a group, they chose programs that covered all of the categories except for living.
With their ideas mapped out, it was time to begin constructing. Students used their knowledge of scale and applied it to the size of the structures they wanted to build to ensure they would fit on the plot of land they were given. We also spent time learning about architecture and architectural modelling. Their first activity was to take 6 units of cardboard and “re-imagine the box”. They were challenged to make a volumized object that didn’t look like a cube/box. Students then practiced photography skills and used a makeshift lightbox to take pictures of their structure for their project portfolio. Students had access to small cutouts of people that matched our scale so that they could ensure their designs worked in a way that would be appropriate for humans to use. Each student was responsible for designing and creating structures for their land, as well as completing a project engineering portfolio, complete with pictures of their completed model and journal response questions. During their research on growing food, students came across an article that showed that red plastic had been shown to increase plant production more than clear glass. Through our funds for this project we were able to purchase materials to help us conduct this experiment. So far students have seen faster and increased sprouting and growth rates of some native plant seeds we are hoping to plant in our school gardens. For this reason, some of the groups chose to use red plastic in their architectural model as well.
Reflection & Celebration
Once our final model was complete, each student prepared a 1 minute presentation to talk about what they built, what sustainable elements they included in their design. Each group created a creative backstory for their vision, and why they chose the programs they did. For their first presentation, they presented just to the class. On May 27th, we have invited and confirmed RSVP from our superintendent to see our model and hear our student presentations. This project was important to me because a significant portion of our community have been marginalized by the system, and more adversely affected by the pandemic than many other areas of the city. Many of our students feel stigmatized for living in Ontario housing, and do not feel like they have voice or ability to create change in their community. This is something I wanted to change. I wanted them to envision the community they want to live in , and to see themselves as future change makers who are capable of creating positive change in their communities and in the world. In addition to encouraging racialized students in S.T.E.E.A.M professions, this project also helped students see their community in a more positive light. I am so proud of the end result, and the vision that they showed as a whole class. It was a lot of work, but very rewarding, and showed me that as a single classroom teacher, with the right resources it is possible to create meaningful curricular connected projects with a sustainable community focus.
Check out this presentation of our journey!