A Night in the Slums (simulated)

October 18, 2011

Uncomfortable sleeping arrangements of the (simulated) slum.

One of the highlights of the Heifer Ranch trip was the chance for students to spend a night in their global village. It’s really a set of villages, each simulating a life in an under-developed part of a different developing country.

The Thai village. Everyone wanted to end up in the Thai village.

The Guatemalan house is pretty nice; it keeps you out of the elements, you have actual beds, and running water. The Thai houses are actually pretty awesome. They stand on stilts next to the open fields, giving good air circulation and elegant views. They remind me a lot of some of the older houses from where I grew up. The refugee camp, on the other hand is pretty decrepit. The slums aren’t much better but at least have one house with a wooden floor, though the door was so broken it was pretty useless.

Our students were assigned villages at random, but varying numbers were placed in each village to replicate the population densities more accurately. One adult was assigned to each village. We were supposed to act as if we were incompetent (not hard I know), either as two-year-olds or senile elders.

I ended up in the high population slums.

A dragonfly sits on the hard ground in the slums.

On the positive side, I was not the only adult there. Mrs H., who had joined our group with her daughter for the week of activities at Heifer, was also assigned to the slums. On the negative side, she and the girls commandeered the one “posh” building that had an actual floor to sleep on. The boys and I had to sleep on the hard, stony ground.

It didn’t help that one of the boys was “pregnant”. One person in each group been given a water balloon in a sling and told to keep it with them, safe, until dinner, when they would “give birth”, at which point the others in the “family” could help take care of the “child”. A key objective was for the child to survive until morning.

The boys scouted all the houses in the village and scavenged a large piece of metal grating to sleep on. It was not great, but it was doable. Better, at least, than the concrete-hard, uneven ground.

Making dinner over an open fire in the simulated slum.

There was a lot more that happened on that night. None of the groups was given enough to be comfortable on their own. There was a lot of haggling, trading and even commando raids, but, in the end, they pulled together and made something of it.

The experience was quite useful, I think. Conditions were uncomfortable enough to register with the students, though a single night is not enough to really internalize all the challenges of urban slums where over one billion people spend their lives. But it does provide some very useful context for the poignant images of Jonas Bendiksen (Living in the Slums) and James Mollison (Where Children Sleep).

Image from the book, Where Children Sleep by James Mollison.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. A Night in the Slums (simulated), Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Diverse bedrooms

March 23, 2011

Image from the book, Where Children Sleep by James Mollison.

Where Children Sleep by James Mollison.

To supplement our work on the fundamental needs of humans, we can add James Mollison’s poignant pictures in his book, Where Children Sleep. It ties in well with the Diverse China pictures.

You can find more of his images in LIFE.

Even without the text descriptions, the pictures are wonderfully composed and evocative. I think I’m going to have to add this one to our library.

An interesting project would be to have my students take their own pictures of their rooms. Just in the book, some of the contrasts are quite startling.

From Where Children Sleep by James Mollison (via Visual News).

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Diverse bedrooms, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

The fundamental “Need” for Electronics

October 11, 2010

Renaissance Faire Elf Using Cell Phone. (Image by Zoomar). The caption for the photo is priceless, 'I just want to state for the record that a cell phone at a Renaissance Faire is anachronistic and wrong. Being an Elf, however is 100% historically accurate.'

What are the fundamental needs of life (as we know it)? Energy, water, living space and stable internal conditions. These are physical needs of all organisms from bacteria to plants to mammals. Humans share these needs too, and this was one of the things we talked about in natural world this cycle. However, in social world studies we also discussed how people have psychological needs that, as far as we can tell, are different from those of single celled organisms: celebration, community, entertainment, and, among other things, what my students call understanding, which includes religion and spirituality.

My technophilic students also interjected that we, humans, have a need for electronics.

Electronics? My first thought was that they were being facetious, and they may have well been. But as we talked about all the other needs during our synthesis discussion last Friday I began to realize just how fundamental electronics have become to life as we know it.

Electronics are tied into the way we meet those fundamental physical needs. Organizing shipping and distribution of food requires complex scheduling software and databases. The operation of the pumps that extract our groundwater and deliver it to our houses are controlled by microcontroller. With MRI’s and computerized records our health and well-being (maintaining those stable internal conditions) are increasingly influenced by electronic technology. And in our homes, the elegant knobs and dials of thermostats on furnaces and ovens are giving way to smooth if inelegant digital displays.

Even our understanding of the world we live in, of the effects of global climate change for example, is based predominantly on sophisticated computer models and confirmed by computerized satellite systems (see NCAR for example).

So have we reached the point where electronics are a fundamental need of society, and how long will it be before we as individuals become inseparable from our electronics devices? Are we all cyborgs now? And the ultimate question: Should we be teaching more electronics in middle school?

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. The fundamental "Need" for Electronics, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Urban planning with SimCity

October 10, 2010

The SimCity game is a wonderful model for urban planning. My class is using it to try to tie together the lessons on the Needs of People and the Themes of Geography.

I gave the small groups the game, two hours, and required them to take notes on why they made the choices they made.

SimCity regional view.

What we did

The game starts at the Region view, where you choose the location of the city. I was enthused to see the groups almost instinctively go for a location with good access to water. Of course almost all the places you can found a city are on a river or ocean, but more than one student specifically mentioned the water access as a reason for their choice.

To have them better think about the region, I also asked the students to think about, and report, on where in the world they thought their city might be, based on the topography and the vegetation. Most proposed the eastern U.S. seaboard.

After choosing a location the students could “terraform” it by raising mountains, making valleys, sculpting beaches and more. Some groups needed to be chivvied to move on, after all, they only had one two hour session to complete the assignment.

Then they got into the heart of the game, Mayor Mode (the terraforming session is called “God Mode”). The urban planning model is based on the land-use zoning strategy used by many, but by no means not all, U.S. cities. You have to mark cells on the city’s grid for residential, commercial or industrial/agricultural use. Then, if you’ve provided utilities and a transportation system “developers” will autonomously start to build houses, businesses and industry in these zones.

The great city of Da Hood. Note the different areas for urban, commercial and industrial development, and the seaport on the river.

Playing on “Easy”, the mayoral advisers would regularly pop up to suggest new amenities, like schools, police stations and parks that would attract more people to the city.

And students had to make choices. One of the first, for example, was about what type of power to provide their city. Coal plants are cheap but dirty, while windmills produce a lot less power so you have to build a lot of them.

A Little Discussion

The game worked remarkably well as part of the curriculum. SimCity is a potentially addictive game, the plea, “I really need to stop,” was heard repeatedly as I was trying to get the last group to come to our discussion. Yet, two hours was enough for students to get the gist of the game and think about its implications for geography. The final cities were not perfect (at least one was designed to be dysfunctional) and most of them were running a serious deficit, but when it came time to present, students were able to flesh out our information on the lessons quite nicely.

The game is also easy enough. The game’s internal model is quite sophisticated, but there’s enough in-game advice, that it took just some initial guidance about the basic premise of zoning, for students unfamiliar with the game to play it effectively. Some students were better prepared at the start than others. Some had played similar games in the past and one student had even read the instruction booklet that came with the game CD, but they were all able to get cities up and running in the allotted time.

Technical Difficulties

We’re a Mac school, but SimCity does not have a version that works with modern macs, so I had to use my old laptop that has Windows. That computer is a Mac that it uses Boot Camp to boot to Windows, and, perhaps for this reason, the first group that tried to use it had it crash on them a few times at the beginning of their game. They gave up and created their city in our sandbox, which turned out great in the end because it gave them more flexibility in the structures they could create and some interesting differences in perspectives from the game based presentations. I’ll post more about that later.

In Conclusion

I like the game because it lets the students provide the infrastructure while the game engine/model tests the infrastructure to see it if works and “predicts” development and population. The Needs of People and Themes of Geography contexts were useful ways of getting students into the game but struggling to get the city to work helped fill in a lot of things that students had not thought of previously.

One of those things was people’s need for safety. In our post-game discussion, safety from crime and from nature came up as additional needs of people we had not discussed. Successful cities in the game need police stations, and students had apparently been thinking hard about the array of natural disasters they could rain down on their cities when the assignment was over.

The Taj Mahal, soccer fields and a skate-park (of which some of us were inordinately proud) met the needs of citizens for recreation and understanding.

Finally, students presented their cities while Ms. Ann DeVore from the Deargorn Heights Montessori Center was observing the classroom. Ann is an enthusiastic user of SimCity. Her middle school uses it the initial part of the Future City competition, which is something I’d very much like to get my group involved in as soon as I can wrangle some technical advisers.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Urban planning with SimCity, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Diverse China

December 14, 2009

Ethnic Mongol. Image from China Hush.

An interesting gallery of family portraits of the 56 ethnic groups in China. With traditional dress, instruments, and sometimes even animals, these pictures really show the ethnic and cultural diversity in a place that we often see as a single, uniform country. The differences in dress also demonstrate the climatic and geographic diversity of the country.

The images are from the book, “Harmonious China: A Sketch of China’s 56 Ethnicities” by photographer Chen Haiwen. Smaller sized images are posted at chinahush.com.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2009. Diverse China, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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