Urban Academy Grade 1’s Innovate Community Through STEAM

Each term at Urban Academy, students focus on a Unit of Inquiry – a 6-8 week in-depth exploration of a concept. To begin the unit, students are introduced to a large concept and problem posed by their teacher. The solution requires an understanding of numerous core subject areas including math, literacy, science and the arts. This approach – the inquiry approach – encourages a child’s natural inquisitive nature, and teaches students that there is more than one way to solve a problem.

Throughout this study, students engage in a variety of STEAM challenges. STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) provides integrated learning experiences in which students develop inquiry, collaboration, and critical thinking skills. STEAM challenges encourage students to participate in the design process of their learning. Students ask, imagine, plan, create, test, improve, and present their ideas and innovations. Through this process, students learn to be perseverant, take risks, and embrace failures as an important part of growing and learning.

This month, our Grade 1 students were introduced to their first Unit of Inquiry asking, “How do we shape our local environment and how does it shape us?” The unit’s objective is to give students an understanding and appreciation of their community today, as well as the historical people and events which influenced its development. A deeper understanding of our past and present enables us to envision the directions our community should take in the future. Guided by the teacher, students question:

  • What could we improve from our past and current ways of living?
  • How will communities meet the needs of people in the future?
  • How can our actions today positively impact our community in the future?

Our Term 1 Unit of Inquiry is supported by our STEAM challenges by exploring the local infrastructure necessary to meet the evolving needs of our community (e.g., skyscrapers, bridges, boats, planes). Challenges begin with a provocation – How tall can you build a free standing skyscraper using the materials provided? – which prompts students to ask: “Who will I work with? What materials will suit the task? How will we work together to accomplish our goal?” The teacher’s role is to strictly act as a guide, allowing the students to navigate their own exploration and troubleshoot obstacles that may arise. A debriefing session follows each challenge giving students a forum to discuss their processes, successes, failures, and receive peer feedback. Embracing investigation in this way helps students to take ownership of their education, leading to more creative thinking and more complex solutions.

After weeks of exploring various aspects of our community’s past and present, our unit culminates with two student-led projects. The first project is a community initiative prompted by the question: “What can you do now to make your community a better place?” Students work together to choose an initiative, create an action plan, and execute their initiative. Whether it be picking up litter or supporting a local charity, the students fuel this initiative, and therefore, are empowered as change-makers in their community.
The second project focuses on the direction students envision our community taking. Given a variety of presentation options, students work to design a representation of their community as it moves into the future. We ask:

  • What works in our community today, and can remain the same?
  • What needs to change or be reimagined to create a more sustainable and prosperous community?

In recognizing the areas where growth and innovation are needed, students realize the potential impact they can have on their surrounding world. Through these projects, students begin to relate their experiences as learners in a classroom to those of citizens and change-makers in a community: both students and citizens make mistakes, experience failures, and redesign their thinking. Our aim is for Urban Academy students to become critical and reflective thinkers, both within their classrooms and communities.
Through the experiences provided in this Unit of Inquiry, students develop a deeper knowledge of our collective past, appreciation of our community today, as well as the skills necessary to begin collaboratively innovating their futures.
Ms. Lindsey McEwen
Urban Academy Grade 1 Teacher

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