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Lessons Learned: A Student-Built City

Samantha McMillan teaches social studies in the AdVENTURE STEM program at Leonard Herman Intermediate School in San Jose, Calif. She recently received an NEA Foundation Student Achievement grant for students to design and build their own model city. Here’s what she had to say about her project and its impact.

Tell us a little about your project.

Each year, the ADVENTURE STEM program creates an interdisciplinary end of the year unit across different (5th-8th) grade levels. This year, our students will become “urban planners” and turn the acreage of our school and surrounding park areas into an urban village.

This project reflects our desire to incorporate student voice and our local community into our projects. We have developed a website to help students through the process.

How does this project help your students?

Not only is this project engaging and relevant, but it helps our students develop better project management skills, improve collaboration through working in teams, and practice creative problem-solving. Also, students will learn more about the needs of their community through the lens of urban development.

What do your students say about the project?

Our students love the project so far. We kicked off the project with a scavenger hunt to generate curiosity and engagement. The scavenger hunt was a great way to get students thinking about our campus and how it could be more student-centered.

What inspires you most about your work?

As a STEM educator, my job is to inspire creativity, enthusiasm, and critical thinking skills so students are able to transition to global citizenship. To model this vision, I always try to integrate new ideas and technology into the classroom.

I enjoy connecting with students through sharing personal experiences that help me grow as an educator and a learner.  For example, after attending my first unconference, I thought that my students would love to participate in this type of experience. An unconference is an unstructured way of exchanging information, also known as EdCamp or Open Space. Based on my unconference experience, I created a STEM unit where students participated in an unconference, called StunConference, to exchange ideas about a specific topic--the future. Students brainstormed ideas and created a video on their idea of the future.

What is your passion - in or outside the classroom?

I am passionate about bringing in the world to my classroom. I enjoy traveling the world and am currently a Teachers for Global Classroom (TGC) Fellow. This summer I will be traveling to the Philippines to experience Filipino culture and learn about the educational system.

You can find Samantha on Twitter at @emergingedu.

There’s still time to apply for an NEA Foundation grant of your very own! The application deadlines for Student Achievement and Learning & Leadership grants are February 1, June 1, and October 15. For help developing your proposal, be sure to check out our grant-writing tutorial.

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