cities made of cardboard and Twine

This semester I’ve tried to run a ‘makers workshop’ that mixes and matches different ‘quick makes’ with RAFT papers that ask kids to imagine themselves as ‘professionals’ like museum educators and super villains. Typically we spend about 20 minutes a day in our workshop station. Early in the week we make stuff (with Play Doh or cardboard or whatnot); midweek we pre-write, draft and ratiocinate; Fridays we write or type second drafts. It’s an imperfect system – I’d like to spend more time making and to use planning, reflection, and sharing as our main modes of writing (and to use more peer feedback), but sometimes I have to facilitate work elsewhere, so I try to create assignments all of my kids can handle or help one another handle. It’s not an inquiry-based station as much as I’d like it to be; I just feel like my attention is divided differently than it has been in recent years past, so I can’t facilitate class the way I want to yet – I am still learning. With testing season now upon us, ideas for next year abound.

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Here’s one that’s a mix of what we’ve done and what we might do in the near (or far?) future.

The ‘Tiny Neighborhood’ project turned out to be a make that struck a chord with several kids. Using 2′x2′ ‘squares’ of cardboard as their foundations, kids built and decorated little cardboard neighborhoods and then invented and wrote news stories happening in their neighborhoods. The next week kids added buildings to their neighborhoods and then wrote press releases about the buildings’ grand openings.

Finally, we hot-glued the neighborhoods together into a little city of wild proportions. I’d like to revisit the entire project with some additional constraints and steps – it’d be cool to decide on a scale together and collaborative plan the city, perhaps before ‘drafting’ its neighborhoods and districts for student beat-reporters. I’d like to set up some stencils and an airbrushing station for detailing the foundations with landscaping and the buildings with textures and windows. And I’d like to take the project online to create an open and virtual version of the city for audiences to explore.

Which brings me (back to) to Twine, ‘an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories.’ I’ve written about Twine before; I like a lot of its features – you can code story nodes to connect to one another in text-adventure style; you can code an inventory for your character; you can export your story into a website and even code the CSS for it inside of a story node. It’s neat.

I think it’s also be neat to ‘write’ the city into virtual existence as a series of interconnected nodes with an internal geography and avenues between tiny neighborhoods puzzled out and coded by kids after the geography of their cardboard city. Different neighborhood nodes to link to news articles, press releases, and other documents that can fit inside the engine – ads for businesses, diary entries, photo essays, screenshots of social media posts from character’s accounts.

It would be fascinating to see how kids self-organize a city and then use what they want to do with it physically and virtually to design and ‘code’ both versions responsively and interdependently. Twine isn’t absolutely necessary to make this idea work (or to add LEDs to the cardboard city! or to model the city online!), but it’s a place to begin creating narrative connections that reinforce the cardboard community building done ‘IRL’ during class.

The same kind of approach could be done with any kind of collaborative world-building platform(imagining a more geography-focused Storium here) and as a civic engagement tool in describing, developing, or planning neighborhoods in students’ cities and towns.

I’m thinking of it all as a kind of nacent World Peace Game if kids’ made the world.

What do you think? How have you combine figurative and literal elements of community building where you teach and learn?