City X Project: a Teacher’s Perspective


This is a guest posting by Paul France, a 5th grade teacher at Glen Grove Elementary in Glenview, Illinois. Read about the City X Project workshop we ran at his school last December.

Students prototype models with clay

I stared at my teaching partner, Markus, in disbelief when he mentioned the concept of 3D printing in the spring of 2013. He had been working alongside the Glenview Education Foundation, an organization within our community that supports innovative and groundbreaking educational opportunities for students, intended to broaden their thinking and continue to move our students to the forefront of the educational world.

Admittedly, I was skeptical as to the real value in a project on 3D printing. I wasn’t entirely sure how this would apply any sort of real-world skills, or how this would help to enhance their experience with the curriculum this year. In fact, I was almost certain that my students would not be printing any three-dimensional objects in the near future.

I’m happy to say I was proven entirely wrong within minutes of watching my students experience the City X Project. Excitement permeated every corner of my room, inquiry practically bounced off the walls, going from my students minds into the ears of others, helping them all to exchange ideas in an effort to enhance their own.

Excitement aside, what’s best about the City X Project is that it helps students to practice useful and transferable skills in an exciting, thought-provoking, and innovative context.

Boy holding ideate page from City X Project Designer Workbook

A boy holds up ideas he brainstormed in his City X Project Designer Workbook in Glenview, IL.

Solving Problems Through Innovation

What’s most apparent about the City X Project is the facilitators’ abilities to foster problem solving skills through collaboration. The students are taken through the process of ideation, providing them a strong foundation upon which to build their innovative ideas, including structured routines for providing and receiving feedback from their peers. Learning how to collaborate and create innovative solutions at this young of an age is invaluable.

Taking Perspectives

The social-emotional curriculum is a hot topic now in education, and too often we lose emphasis on this part of the curriculum to ensure mastery of the reading and mathematics standards. The City X Project requires students to put themselves in the shoes of concerned citizens, truly empathizing with their concerns and developing ways to meet their needs. As future citizens of an increasingly global society, being exposed to this now will prepare them for what lies ahead.

While it’s entirely possible that my students will not be printing anything three-dimensional in the near future, what is almost certain is that, as my students grow older, they will need to develop innovative, out-of-the-box solutions for seemingly everyday problems. They will need to empathize with others in order to work closely with others and help solve problems. They will need to be open to feedback from their peers and mentors, not only to better a community, but also better themselves. But most importantly, my students will need to be able to recognize an idea, know how to develop it, and make it come to life, in order to truly make an impact.

And the City X Project helped my students to achieve that.