Mobile City Science

March 15, 2017

Dear Soon-to-be Mobile City Science Implementer

I know what you’re thinking… You don’t have time to read this; you’re busy prepping to launch your own MCS program! You’re gathering drawing utensils for the Free Recall Drawings. You’re charging the Garmins. You’re doing one more neighborhood walk to find that final Walking Audit stop. Trust me, I get it. But I want to share something I did not grasp fully before I started. 

Working with students will show you how meaningful the Mobile City Science activities can be. 

Before you start, these activities are just concepts and curriculum. You may have done them yourself with other adults. However, by seeing how students quickly take to the activities, learning what they think are assets in their neighborhoods, and hearing their arguments for area improvements, you will truly understand the impact of MCS. 

Allow me to elaborate with a few tips and anecdotes based on my experience implementing MCS with the Digital Youth Network in the Bronzeville community. I will be brief. Again, you’ve got prep to get back to.

  1. When students complete their free recall drawings, join in! They’ll get more out of it and you will, too. Being able to share our neighborhood experiences modeled for students that they could be candid about their own. And they were. Many themes came out of the discussion, including types of housing, population density, nature or lack thereof, transportation, safety, and varying positive and negative opinions about their own communities.
  2. The kids loved the Walking Audit. Leaving not only the classroom but the school; learning by being mobile and exploring instead of sitting and taking notes; using (and wearing!) high tech equipment like GoPros and Garmins—the novelty alone makes this activity a crowd pleaser. Even the staff from the school that helped us coordinate the field trips loved it, and regularly responded to their camera-wielding students. While comparing how Google Maps represented their walking path and what we saw on the walks in person, a student bluntly stated that the Google Map didn’t have things that the class cared about. Many others agreed. I was astounded by these thoughtful responses. The students were already evaluating the importance of how assets are represented in maps. They were also catching-on to the concept of defining what an asset means from their points of view.
  3. The Historic Geocache brought new opportunities for students to discover and reflect on the assets in Bronzeville. Student groups interviewed a barber shop owner, a pastor of a church, and an employee at an assisted living facility and also searched for a hidden geocache at a mosque that contained information about the establishment’s ties to Muhammad Ali. These ninth graders were new to the school (our program was held in the fall), and many were new to the area. The Historic Geocache gave them the opportunity to learn in authentic ways about the history and features in surrounding community. The group that met with the pastor learned about the church’s daily breakfasts for the homeless population in the community. After hearing about this, one student asked the pastor how she could volunteer. See what I mean by meaningful?
  4. And it gets better with their GPS Drawings. We structured the activity so that students would have a preparation day to absorb and reflect on the themes in order to come up with a symbol to represent the community. We helped facilitate conversations so that students could use the data gathered on their trips as evidence to support the community themes of change, diversity, and uniqueness. The seven teams came up with symbols that ranged from straightforward to ambitious. Each group was able to complete their drawings as well as explain what the symbol was and why they chose that for their themes. 

So while preparing the lessons, maps, and equipment, take a moment to recognize that you're working towards successfully implementing activities that will have a positive impact on your students. These experiences shaped the perspectives of our students as they mapped assets and counter-mapped the neighborhood, and will continue to shape the way in which they view their communities for years to come. These MCS activities were meaningful for us implementers, too. We learned about the Bronzeville community alongside them, but we also learned a lot about this group of students. I predict the same for you, too.

That is all. You can go back to prepping. 

Elaina Boytor
MCS Facilitator 
Learning Experience Researcher at Digital Youth Network.