rom the moment my students were introduced to SimCity until they had put the finishing touches on their model skyscrapers, the intensity of the learning experience was palpable. The entire population of Erving, Massachusetts is much smaller than that of one city block in Manhattan. Nevertheless, in two months these rural children experienced a remarkable growth in their understanding of how a city functions and could speak with a technical vocabulary about major issues that confront cities.
e integrated SimCity into the fifth- and sixth-grade curriculum by using the computer program as the take-off point for introductory explorations of economics, city planning, the historical growth of cities, map reading, urban architecture, transportation, waste management, pollution, political thought and behavior, speech-making, and of course, children's literature featuring urban settings. At each step, students were actively collecting new vocabulary and solving problems of logic and mathematics. Those who started off not knowing the meanings of "residential, commercial, and industrial zoning" were soon recognizing the need for new jobs and building industrial zones.
hoosing among the many possible topics is easier when teachers consider their state education frameworks. Variations for meeting specific requirements are surprisingly easy to develop. Math, science, history, political structure, and literature all have educational links to the concept of the city. Below, I describe some of the major steps involved in leading the unit.
he last sensational experience for our students is a field trip to New York City. From the 87th floor of the Empire State Building, children are amazed to look down on a scene that seems to have popped out from the SimCity program. They recognize the Chrysler building and become giddy with a sense of connection to all that they behold.
efore the trip last year, the students had conducted research on the Statue of Liberty using the National Park Service Web site. They had learned the historical significance of Emma Lazarus' famous poem. As our boat approached the statue during our last trip, a group of our students gave their spontaneous rendition of the complete poem to a hushed and amazed group of tourists who then broke into wild applause. Such a childhood memory!
emember, these are rural children. One of the most important lessons children can learn is that though their roots are in one place, as citizens they belong to a larger community. In our democracy, no part of the country should feel off-limits to them. In cities, too, children can feel isolated in their neighborhoods or disconnected from the country that lies beyond their beltways. Our efforts to familiarize American children with other people and places will make them feel "at home" wherever they may travel.
this project and others, we hope that the children of Erving learn to
empathize with children from other backgrounds. We hope to engage their
curiosity to learn more through sharing knowledge, learning poems, studying
history, and engaging in creative, hands-on activities that spark their
imaginations. SimCity, in conjunction with the Internet, great literature,
and careful curricular planning, has the potential to act as a core for
explorations into neighborhoods near and far for students everywhere.