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Description of Unit

Utopian Destination allows students to imagine, research, plan and design the city of their dreams. Through hands­‐on activities and explorations building off of the history of the local community, students gain awareness of ways in which people in the local community and other communities meet their needs for government, education, communication, transportation, and recreation. Students compare and contrast urban and rural locations, as well as study how cities evolve over time. Additionally, students examine how humans modify or adapt to their environments and how cities form around natural resources. Student learning culminates in a proposal and presentation for a new city, complete with a charter, governance structure, services outline, transportation plan, maps, and materials for promoting tourism and business development.

This guide links the Utopian Destination unit to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for third graders. Utopian Destination is a social studies unit that allows students to study the formation and history of cities and act as urban planners for a city of their imaginations. Utopian Destination also has interdisciplinary connections to English Language Arts and Reading and Fine Arts. For example, students will organize and present their research findings and compose persuasive texts, as outlined in the English Language Arts and Reading TEKS. Students will also visually communicate ideas about self, family, school, and community, as described in the Fine Arts TEKS. The following document includes the applicable TEKS and the details of the Utopian Destination unit. The final section of this document presents the applicable Texas College and Career Readiness Standards adopted by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) on January 24, 2008.

Phase I. Learning Experiences

  1. Open the unit by explaining that the classroom is going to become a “city for the afternoon,” with each student’s desk serving as a building. Ask students to draw and label the type of building they want their desk to become in this scenario. Be sure students work independent of any group discussion. Once the drawings are complete, lead the group on a tour of the classroom-­city and ask each student to describe his/her work. Help students notice the functions of the buildings and how they might meet people’s needs. How many students chose to create the same type of building? What buildings might be missing from this “unplanned” city in the classroom? How might a city be much more than a collection of buildings? How might students define what a city is to them?
  2. Introduce the concept of urban planning. See Possible books include My Town by Rebecca Graves or The Great City Search by Usborne Books. Lead a large group discussion on why people might choose to live in cities and guide students in identifying various functions for buildings, infrastructure (e.g., roads, plumbing), transportation, communication and governance systems that occur in cities. Ask students to identify how building cities enables people to meet certain needs. You may wish to read a story such as Abel’s Island, by William Steig to help students connect the needs of an individual with the environment in which he lives.
  3. Create a comparison chart listing the differences between life in a large city versus life in a small town, village, or suburb. What are some of the similar characteristics between villages and cities? What are some differences? You may wish to read stories such as Tar Beach, by Faith Ringgold or A Country Far Away by Nigel Grey.
  4. Create a second comparison chart documenting changes in cities over history. Collaborate with the local librarian to provide maps and other historical documents for the local town. Possible resources for this activity include House, House by Jane Yolen.
  5. Invite a guest speaker from the local government, library, or historical society to share a historical timeline for the local community.
  6. In small groups, ask students to research the history of their local community:
    • For who was the city or town named? Why?
    • Who were some of the individuals that contributed to the town’s growth and development over the years?
    • How does the town or city’s local government function? What individuals are in charge of the various agencies or organizations that provide services for the city? Services can include:
      • safety and law enforcement,
      • trash removal and waste services,
      • energy and water,
      • roads and transportation,
      • health and recreation,
      • arts and culture, and
      • business development
    • What geographic elements exist within the city and how was the city located relative to certain natural resources?
    • In what ways has the map of the city changed over time and what were some of the reasons for these changes (e.g., population growth, natural disasters such as flooding or fires)?
    • What changes to the environment have community members made over time?
    • How has the community attracted businesses to the area and provided for a good living environment for its citizens?
    • What are some of the cultural celebrations the city supports?
    • What common needs do all individuals share? How do communities meet these needs?
    • What needs to communities (or groups of individuals) have that may sometimes be at odds with the needs of individuals?
    • How does the city expect its citizens to act and contribute to its prosperity?
  7. Explore a city planning simulation through a game such as Sim City. How do certain changes in the environment impact other parts of the city?
  8. Introduce the concept of a Utopia. What are the elements of a utopian community?

Phase II. Independent Research

A. Research process

  1. Selecting a topic. Form small groups. Using a map of the local community as a starting place, students will brainstorm, design, and develop plans for a “utopian destination” — the best possible city they can imagine.
  2. Asking guiding questions. Each group formulates questions crucial to the high-­level planning for the city such as:
    • How will the city be governed?
    • What services will be available to citizens (i.e. to meet needs such as safety, clean water, trash removal, fire protection)?
    • What modes of transportation will community members use to navigate the city and how will they know where they are and where they are going?
    • What is the expected behavior of the community members? How will community members know how to act? What happens if they “break the law or code of conduct?”
    • What type of arts and cultural activities will occur in the city? What will be the main celebrations, how will they be conducted, and for what purposes?
    • What types of buildings exist in the city? What other human-­made elements exist (e.g., bridges, tunnels, canals)?
    • Why will people want to move to this city?
    • Why will businesses want to locate in the city and how will the city support business interests?
    • How will the city protect the natural environment?
    • How will the city protect the rights of individuals?
    • What will health services look like in this city?
    • For what recreational activities will the city become known?
  3. Creating a research proposal. In developing answers to the guiding questions, student groups outline their proposal for this “Utopian Destination.”
  4. Conducting the research. Students will research their local community as well as other towns and cities to inform the development of the following for their Utopian Destination:
    • Town charter
    • Local governance structure
    • Tourism information (brochures, webpages, posters, television ads)
    • Transportation plans
    • Maps (aerial view street maps, topographic maps)
  5. Sharing findings. Each group of students presents their city to an audience, as if they are “selling their city” or encouraging audience members to move there. Presentations should include an overview and visuals for the documents described in #4 above.

B. The product

Each group develops a plan for their vision of the ideal city—a Utopian Destination. Student groups develop a town charter, identify and document the structure of government, identify critical services the city will provide, develop transportation plans, and generate maps and brochures that help describe their city to a to someone from another place.

C. Communication

Each group presents the city concept to the class and conducts a brief question and answer session. If time and resources allow, students may construct small three-dimensional mock-­ups of their city using cardboard, foam board, or building toys such as Legos®. Alternatively, students may use 3-­D rendering programs such as Google Sketch-­Up to model their city on the computer. By using such programs students can demonstrate what it might be like to walk through their city’s streets as an inhabitant.

D. A completed project consists of:

  1. Comparison chart of city living versus rural/small village living
  2. Comparison chart of local city in the past versus present
  3. Research notes on local community history
  4. Utopian Designation: City Proposal
  5. Utopian Destination Product Plans such as
    • Town charter
    • Governance structure and services
    • Transportation plan
    • City street and topographic maps, and
    • Tourism brochures and advertisements
    • Video or audio of the presentation, including the Q&A session
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