Most elementary school students readily agree that their city should include a playground or a swimming pool. Students in Austin College’s 2013 Thinking Camp also know that a city needs a hospital, a library, a police station, businesses, schools, roadways, even a water treatment plant.
Now in its 11th year, the Thinking Camp provides a two-week learning session for SISD gifted and talented first- through fourth-grade students. Area school administrators had recognized the need for such a program several years ago, and since Austin College teacher education students taking summer classes needed classroom interaction with students, the collaborative program between Austin College and SISD seemed ideal.
Dr. Julia Shahid of Austin College’s Austin Teacher Program works with Cyndi Petray, a Sherman teacher for gifted and talented students at Jefferson and Neblett elementary schools, to organize the camp. In the past 10 summers, more than 500 SISD students have taken part in the educational enrichment camp, which has provided teacher preparation training for more than 100 ATP students. A generous grant from the Capt. H.T. Hastings Charitable Trust has provided funding in the past two years.
This summer, 72 students and seven Austin College teacher education graduate students are exploring “The Built Environment Then and Now.” The Austin College student teachers prepare the curriculum and lead the classroom sessions each day, then spend the afternoon looking at how the learning occurred and discussing the various challenges of the classroom setting to improve their own skills.
Lessons for the elementary students began with a basic understanding of city planning. They took a look backward, learning how cities have been formed in history and learned about how Sherman has grown over time. They studied maps and map legends and found their own neighborhoods as well as familiar businesses and essential services.
Class time also included lessons on the issues that influence how cities develop and about zoning and building codes, safety issues, and the importance of a water supply. Students learned about the choices that go into city design and how those choices might impact residents. They discussed how trees and natural resources can be used within the city or removed and the various concerns that might go into those decisions.
Next, classes designed and built their own box cities—using small cardboard boxes. They had to decide what sorts of businesses and services were included, how to map them on their cities’ grids, where to place streets, and what size buildings should be— along with the role of scale in creating their cities.
The children were proud of the buildings they created—from restaurants to libraries to personal residences. They created lakes and parks and streets. They decided where police and fire stations should be located and discussed the need for separation of residential and business areas.
The various learning sessions involved journaling, online resources, and creative discussions. Lessons on water use involved discovery about water treatment plants and available natural resources.
Once their cities were in place, they got feedback from Don Keene, Sherman director of public works, who examined each city and talked with the children about their designs and their rationales.
Students and teachers ended the session with a visit to Frontier Village in Denison for first-hand education about the early aspects of life in this area of Texas and how they developed from those early days into the modern cities they had created.
Austin College is a leading national independent liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas. Founded in 1849, making it the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original charter and name, the College is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Recognized nationally for academic excellence in the areas of international education, pre-professional training, and leadership studies, Austin College is one of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives.