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Creating a Sustainable City (#SDG 11): A Collaboration Between NM Gifted Elementary Students and PA 10th Graders

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During Spring, 2022, a student in my gifted education program suggested that they build a paper city. I loved the idea, suggested that they make a sustainable city, and gave them some additional resources to do so. It ended up being amazing (for more about this see Building a Sustainable City and Class Example of a Sustainable City).

Along with teaching these gifted elementary students (who I teach for multiple years), I teach graduate courses for Walden University. One of the courses is Innovative Curriculum. During the course, these graduate students are asked to develop a global networked curriculum where two groups from very diverse geographical locations, preferably a country different than one’s own, work to solve an authentic problem. Raelee Sweigart a former math teacher and now math coach at Reach Cyper Charter School, developed a curriculum about the two groups of high school students using geometry to create model sustainable housing. Of course, I went a little crazy as my elementary students just finished their sustainable city model. I suggested we use her curriculum to do a collaboration whereby her high school students from throughout Pennsylvania work with my gifted upper elementary students in Santa Fe, New Mexico (two very different geographical and cultural locations). My students wanted to rebuild and refine their city this year, and what a fantastic way for both groups to learn applied geometry. It just got started. I am so excited. Below is the highlights of our collaboration. Thank you, Raelee!

Overview of the Project (developed by Raelee)

During one of the Innovative Curriculum modules, students are asked to develop a digital handout of the project to share with students. Here is the one created by Raelee and modified for our collaboration:

Padlet Introductions

As Raelee suggested in her model project, the students introduced themselves using a Padlet. She included columns for video introductions as wells as ones for students to post images of their geographical locations. I later suggested that she add columns for students to post images of example sustainable building from their geographical locations.

Made with Padlet

Screencast of Our First Meeting

This is a snippet of our first Google Meet together, when the students from the two schools met each other and Raelee reviewed the project.

Tinkercad Tips

Our second session focused on Tinkercad tips as that is the tool the students are using to create their sustainable city structures. Here is an edited clips of this meeting:

Sustainability Presentation

Support Handouts

The support documents for this project were found at I love Projects. Geometrocity, the City Made of Math

10th Grade PA Students Teaching NM Elementary Students

Raelee created a Classkick, a formative assessment tool, for students to review geometry concepts – Here is a screenshot of what the students used:

Working Collaboratively in Tinkercad to Design Sustainable Buildings

Making the Sustainable Buildings

Students in New Mexico will use a laser cutter to create the major parts of their sustainable buildings. In Pennsylvania, the buildings will be 3D printed for the students.

Images will be added once this process is completed.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 12, 2023 at 4:21 pm

Building a Sustainable City

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As I’ve discussed before, I offer electives to my 4th-6th grade GT students (see Offering Electives to Elementary Students). They chose paper engineering. A few started making city structures. They then stated that they should make a city. I suggested that it be a sustainable city (Sustainable Development Goal 11). From there, the innovation, creativity, passion, fun, and final product exploded due to the efforts of the students.

Standards Addressed

Education for Sustainability Standards and Performance Indicators

  • Responsible Local & Global Citizenship. The rights, responsibilities, and actions associated with leadership and participation toward healthy and sustainable communities. Students will know and understand these rights and responsibilities and assume their roles of leadership and participation.
  • Healthy Commons. Healthy Commons are that upon which we all depend and for which we are all responsible (i.e., air, trust, biodiversity, climate regulation, our collective future, water, libraries, public health, heritage sites, top soil, etc.). Students will be able to recognize and value the vital importance of the Commons in our lives and for our future. They will assume the rights, responsibilities, and actions to care for the Commons.
  • Inventing & Affecting The Future. The vital role of vision, imagination, and intention in creating the desired future. Students will design, implement, and assess actions in the service of their individual and collective visions. (

Common Core English Standards

Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Next Generation Science Standards (Science and Engineering)

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved (

Resources Shared With Students

Tools and Materials Use

A Snippet of the Student Planning Session

Informational Posters by Students for the Display

Highlights – Making the City

A Map of the Sustainable City – Drawn by a Student

Artist – Valerie M., a 4th Grader

Highlights – Finished City

Teacher Reflection

I have an expression, “Show students the possibilities and then get out of the way.” I did this for the Sustainable City project and the students didn’t disappoint! The project processes and products came out so much better than I expected. This fits into another of my beliefs, “Let go of expectations about about the products students will produce,” which I wrote about in Focusing on the Process: Letting Go of Product Expectations. I let students drive what they want to produce in the context of the processes desired, and they often create products way beyond what I could imagine.

I watched as they worked together as they planned their city, deciding what will be included and where it would go. I watched as they almost spontaneously created new areas and artifacts: gardens, orchards, farmers’ market, stables, and bike racks.

I have the privilege of observing great incidents of creativity, innovation, passion, and joy. I love my job. I love these kids.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 22, 2022 at 12:42 pm

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