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A tale of one sweet city

Garner students create mock city
A student in Team 2 at Garner Elementary School in North Liberty checks out a house in his team’s gingerbread village, a collective project that integrates academic skills, collaboration, creative arts and social studies concepts.

NORTH LIBERTY– Second grade students at Buford Garner Elementary School in North Liberty got a taste of city development in December, and it was a sweet lesson in collaboration.
The Gingerbread Village unit, taught throughout grade schools in the Iowa City Community School District, gives kids opportunities to plan and create a model community, complete with municipal services, retail and commercial businesses and residential neighborhoods. The village has rules that must be followed by its developers that mimic those of real development, including space and size regulations, building codes and financial constraints.
Students were given a certain amount of money, and they had to purchase building materials from their allotted budgets (from a store of recyclable items like milk cartons, fabric scraps, plastic lids and other miscellany).
Second grader Avery Gaudet said it was tough to choose exactly what was needed.
“We had to decide what to buy, and what we needed instead of wanted,” said Avery. “We bought things like paper squares, felt squares for carpet and bottle caps and strings for lights.”
Students were required to work in groups to plan exactly what would be built in each of their 32 inch square plots of land.
Student Caleb Blackburn said the collaboration was the best part.
“It was fun to work in groups,” said Caleb. “First we had to build our street, our yards, our parks and green spaces and parking lots. Then we placed our buildings, like a doctor’s office and a McDonald’s.”
To learn more about what services are provided by different types of businesses, parents and others from the North Liberty community were asked to come and speak to classes about their jobs. Teachers read books from different genres, including the classic folk tale The Gingerbread Man, to include a literary component in the lesson.
True to the model of democracy, groups were allowed to vote on which businesses were needed in their part of the community. Finally, the teachers acted as “Royal Inspectors” to check on the progress of the village and to make sure all codes were being followed.
The objectives of the month-long project were many, from employing social studies concepts to practicing math and geometry skills, money computation, estimating and problem solving.
When the community was complete, families were invited to “tour” the village and celebrate the students’ accomplishments.
Garner teacher Erin Schroeder and her colleagues Megan Wilson and Jen O’Hare said parents enjoyed hearing about the process at home and the decisions their children made at school for the village.
“They enjoy coming to the tour because they get to see what they have created, hear versions of the gingerbread story the children have written, and watch a slide show of pictures of their children working throughout the entire process,” the teachers said.
The teachers also like that the unit incorporates all subjects.
“It allows children to use their imagination and work cooperatively with their peers. It gives them a break from the typical routines of our day and allows them to get a chance to be the teacher and learner at the same time,” said Schroeder. “Project-based learning is ideal for students to learn how to be in charge of their own learning.”
Finally, said Schroeder, the students take ownership of the village, as it was created completely through their own decisions.
“The parents also enjoy seeing the joy on their children’s faces as they show off their village,” she said. “The students’ excitement for this unit is amazing to watch.”