May 29, 2011

Spaces of Connection

The Erasing Boundaries Project hosted a national symposium in April 2011 in New York City called “Educating at the Boundaries: Community Matters.” The project is a collaboration among landscape architecture, architecture and planning faculties, students and community partners. This was the second symposium; the first was held in 2008. The goals include examining the pedagogy of service-learning and supporting each other to make interactions as effective and as powerful as possible. The group has already assembled an edited volume due out in August 2011, Service-Learning in Design and Planning, edited by Tom Angotti, Cheryl Doble and Paula Horrigan (New Village Press). They also have three projects for which they are recruiting participants: the Case Study Framework, which aims to be a tool for developing and structuring service-learning courses; the Evaluation Project, which would provide a better understanding of impacts; and the Awards Program to raise visibility of excellent approaches.

With funding from the Youth Community Informatics grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, I was able to attend Erasing Boundaries as part of a Community Informatics Initiative (CII) team to present a poster with Deven Gibbs, School of Architecture, and Debarah McFarland, Program Coordinator of the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club in Champaign. Martin Wolske, CII Senior Research Scientist, also contributed to the poster, “Spaces of Connection: Designing a High-Tech Active Learning Space for Youth.” A very brief summary of Deven’s design for the Club, in consultation with Ms. McFarland, is that she used research conducted during an independent study with me, and then in Martin’s Community Informatics Studio last summer to create a space at the Club for connectedness online and in person. Deven made a YouTube video to promote the idea. Martin’s class was able to realize one redesign in East St. Louis. The next steps for Champaign include working with Club youth to build several FlexiDesks that enable collaborative or individual work on computers, because the desks can be configured in a variety of ways. We need to find a contractor who can help with electrical and carpentry tasks; we may work with Parkland on some of the construction, and Martin’s class in Fall 2011 will probably work with the Club to identify tech needs. Ms. McFarland and Deven were fantastic presenters in New York, making a strong case for “community matters.” If the Club can become a hub for “everything high tech” in its neighborhood—it is near downtown Champaign–as Ms. McFarland said, it will draw in not only youth, but also adults and become an area center for community development. This would be a huge contribution because the area needs a “center.”

October 10, 2010

BEE: Built Environment Education

I have been asked about integrating aspects of architectural history into K-12 curricula, which is something I did on a very small scale when my kids were in elementary school in the 1990s. I never went so far as to align the activities we did with state standards, but that’s because I worked closely with teachers.

First, I looked at what the American Institute of Architects (AIA) had done with their Built Environment Education (BEE) curriculum. Searching for it now in 2010, it seems that others have taken it up, because there are a lot of hits online. But Alan Sandler, with whom I corresponded, wrote an article in Art Education (v. 42, no. 5, pp. 13-16) in 1989 called, “Learning by Design: The AIA Elementary and Secondary Education Program.” Illustrated with drawings of buildings by children, the article lays out the steps that the AIA took to integrate principles about the built environment into established curriculum, using teacher training, activity development, and networking. Locally, in Champaign, Gary Olsen and Michele Olsen and their office created the Architeacher program, which still seems to be a going concern.

With young children, awareness and appreciation of the natural and built environments and their interactions, as well as visual thinking and observation skills are probably as, if not more important, than any mastery of content.

For my daughter’s class, we began by measuring the classroom. We then had to scale down the measurements in order to draw the plan, and we made symbols for doors and windows. These steps involve vocabulary building, math and drawing. We talked about how one classroom connected to the hallway, and all the other parts of the building.

I had taken photographs of details of buildings near the elementary school where my daughter went. These were mostly pictures of windows, roof details, foundation stones, porch columns, and doors, which I mounted on poster board and laminated. Groups of about five children and an adult then went on a treasure hunt to match the photos with the buildings around the school, following a map that I gave to each adult leader. Each group headed in a different direction to find their own “treasures.”

There are lots of other activities that relate to buildings and history and connect to basic skills for elementary-level students:

  • The game of “Blockhead” helps kids learn about shapes, loads and balance
  • Children can find shapes, lines, textures, colors and patterns in pictures of buildings
  • School children can make rubbings of different building materials
  • Older children can make bridges and learn about spans and load-bearing structures
  • “Sidewalk superintendents” can learn a lot by visiting a construction site
  • Similarly, students can visit an historic house, an architect’s or contractor’s office

Leal School teachers Colleen Brodie and Nancy Coombs published two books with their classes: Children, Architecture, and History: A Child’s Walking Tour Guide of Urbana (1989-90) and then A Child’s Guide of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1990-91). They include drawings and information about buildings on campus and in Urbana.

Nowadays there are a great many more books available (and easily searchable!), but here are some of the ones I collected, obviously in no particular order:

Forrest Wilson, What It Feels Like to be a Building (1995), ages 4-8

Wilson, The Joy of Building: Restoring the Connection between Builder and Architect (Van Nostrand Reinhold Co, 1979), older kids

Most of David Macaulay’s books

Fagg, Sington, How They Built Long Ago

MacGregor, Skyscrapers: A Project Book

Goldreich, What Can She Be? An Architect

Haldane, Faces on Places: About Gargoyles

Balthasar Korab, Archabet: An Architectural Alphabet Postcard Book (Preservation Press, 1992)

Diane Madex, Architects Make Zigzags: Looking at Architecture from A to Z (Wiley, 1986)

Katharine Jones Carter, Houses (1982)

Harriet Langsam Sobol, Pete’s House (1978)

Cobb/Strejan, Skyscraper Going Up

Carter Harman, A Skyscraper Goes Up

Ingoglia, The Big Book of Real Skyscrapers

Jane D’Alelio, I Know that Building: Discovering Architecture with Activities and Games (National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1989)

Paolo Donati(illus) and Philip Wilkinson, Amazing Buildings (Dorling Kindersley, 1993)

Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Cross-sections (Knopf, 1992)

The Center for Children’s Books, one of the research centers at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Illinois, has many resources available to help expand these ideas.