CyberFair Project ID: 6938

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International Schools CyberFair Project Narrative
Title: Downtown Detroit
Category: 3. Business and Community Organizations

School: Birmingham Covington School
    Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, U.S.A

54 students, ages 10-12 worked together to complete this CyberFair project on March 15, 2012. They have participated in CyberFair in the following year(s): 2011

Classes and Teachers: Pauline Roberts, Rick Joseph

E-Mail contact:

Our School's Web Site:

Project Overview

1. Description of Our Community

Detroit is the largest city in the U.S. state of Michigan and the major city in the Metro Detroit area, a region of 5.2 million people. It was founded on July 24, 1701, by the French explorer, adventurer, and nobleman Antoine de la Mothe, sieur de Cadillac. In 2010, the city had a population of 713,777 and ranked as the 18th most populated city in the United States. Detroit is known as the world's traditional automotive center, hence the nickname the Motor City, and is also the home of Motown music. Detroit and the surrounding region are a major center of commerce and global trade. In recent years the automotive industry has fallen into decline and the population has dropped as residents moved into the suburbs. The city has had to adjust its role within the larger metropolitan area. Downtown Detroit has seen an increased role as an entertainment hub in the 21st century with the opening of three casino resort hotels, new stadiums, and a revitalized riverfront. The metropolitan region currently holds roughly one-half of the state's population.

2. Summary of Our Project

After learning about the differences between the needs and wants of a community, we wanted to learn about how Detroit is able to fulfill the needs and wants of such a large population. Our school in situated in the Metro Detroit area and after doing research, we discovered that we relied upon the city of Detroit to fulfill many of our needs and wants. We rely on the city for our water and energy supplies and many of us travel into the city for major sporting or entertainment events. We split into small groups and chose a business in Detroit that we were most interested in. We studied the history of those businesses, how they had fulfilled the needs and wants of a changing community over time, and we also wondered how those businesses would evolve in the future to continue to meet the needs and wants of future generations. We researched how businesses could be more sustainable in terms of their energy use, water use and resources. We developed a sustainability checklist to help us determine how sustainable businesses are, and we created an educational pamphlet to inform businesses about how they could become more sustainable in the future. We then used technology to locate and contact businesses in Detroit in order to visit with them, and interview managers about the history of their business and their sustainability efforts. We gave each business our educational pamphlet, explaining to them how they could make small changes that would have a big impact. We also distributed our pamphlet to local Birmingham businesses to help educate them about how to become more sustainable. The aim was to start a culture where businesses “out-green” each other.

3. Our Computer and Internet Access

A. Percentage of students using the Internet at home:more than 50%

B. Number of workstations with Internet access in the classroom:more than 6

C. Connection speed used in the classroom:not sure

D. Number of years our classroom has been connected to the Internet:more than 6

E. Additional comments concerning your computer and/or Internet access (Optional):

We are fortunate to be a science and technology school so we have access to laptops, desktops, cameras and flip cameras. In order to be more productive we also used our own net books, I-pads and I-touches. Most of us have computers at home so we were able to continue to edit our wiki, email our experts and conduct research from home.

4. Problems We Had To Overcome

The biggest problem we had in completing this project was actually getting out to do field research. Travelling as a group of 54 is very expensive when it comes to paying for buses and entrance fees to museums etc. The Metro Detroit area covers a lot of land and we wanted to explore as much of it as possible. To overcome this problem we enlisted the help of parent volunteers and organized mini field trips. With parents driving us small groups went off on different trips to keep the cost down and then reported back to the whole class. “The power of 54” became our class motto and we learned from the experiences of each other. We also invited experts in our community to come into our classroom to share with us their knowledge and this was very successful since we had several visitors who taught us a lot within our own classroom. At the very outset of our project we tried to contact businesses in our local Birmingham area but since they were small local companies they frequently could not give up the time to help us. We overcame this by extending the community to the Metro Detroit area and we were much more successful in contacting larger organizations and companies. Time was also an issue for us but we were lucky enough to be able to be flexible with our schedules.

5. Our Project Sound Bite

We learned that businesses play a vital role in fulfilling the needs and wants of a community. In order for the needs and wants of future generations to be met, the whole community must become more aware of the need to adopt sustainable practices.

6. How did your activities and research for this CyberFair Project support standards, required coursework and curriculum standards?

Throughout the course of this project we took an interdisciplinary approach. We merged science, language arts and social studies objectives in a way that allowed our students to gain a much deeper understanding of human impact on the community in the past, present and future. Social studies objectives focused upon how to prepare our students to become responsible citizens, displaying social understanding and civic efficacy. Science objectives focused upon sustainable practices regarding waste handling, water and energy.We learned about science processes such as inquiry, inquiry analysis, communication, reflection and social implications. This project also complimented our school theme for the year which is “G.E.E.K.ed about learning” (Global Education Engaging Kids) Working collaboratively our students practiced reaching consensus, being politely critical, respecting and utilizing each other’s strengths and differences and fulfilling their roles to be a productive team. Instead of students learning to pass a test, this was an exercise in authentic learning with real meaning and purpose. Technology enabled our students to take charge of their own learning journey. They chose the most appropriate tools to acquire knowledge and then determined an action plan that would achieve something real with the knowledge that included service, leadership and global improvement.

Project Elements

1) What information tools & technologies did you used to complete your CyberFair project?

We used approximately 25 laptop and desktop computers between our 54 students that belonged to our school and our students themselves. The computers enabled us to conduct a wide variety of research, host our web-site (wiki) and upload photos, video, voice, and text. We also emailed experts to gather information about our topics .We used video and digital still cameras to document and share our site visits, and activities inside and outside of school. We called adult experts on the phone and conducted interviews to gather information about our topics. We used Microsoft Powerpoint and Bing Maps to create presentations about our learning and then created movies by using Screencast-O-Matic. We embedded two useful widgets on our wiki to enable visitors the site to translate our pages into their native language and to enable us to track the number and location of visitors to our site. We used Microsoft Publisher to create our educational brochure, flip cameras and digital cameras to record our field trips and Animoto to create reflective movies about our adventures. Google documents were used to create and share research and data.

Our most valuable informational resources were the experts we contacted so the laptop computers were key tools in helping us locate them and learn their contact information. The cameras were an excellent tool for us to document and share our experiences and the wiki itself was a great vehicle for us to communicate our learning not only with each other but the wider community.

2) In what ways did you act as "ambassadors" and spokespersons for your CyberFair project both on-line and in person.

Our students made many phone calls and sent many emails to reach out to experts in our community who helped us learn about our topics. Adults were typically very surprised at the higher level of inquiry and understanding our students displayed. During their field trips, students were respectful, eager to learn and enthusiastic about their topics. Every adult with whom the students interacted was surprised that students at the 5th and 6th grade level would be working on a project with this level of sophistication. After each visit the experts wrote emails to tell us how interested, polite and informed our students were. Several business experts expressed their joy in being able to spend time with the students and share their knowledge and passion. The students acted as ambassadors with teachers, administrators, business leaders and community members. Through emails, flyers, the media and district wide communications, the students were able to involve members of the wider community who were all impressed and motivated by their commitment and determination to succeed.

3) What has been the impact of your project on your community?

Our project has made a difference in our community because it is so multi-faceted. People have expanded their awareness of the history, current status, and projected ability of local businesses to fulfill the needs and wants of future generations. Visitors from around the globe can recognize commonalities in the issues that we in southeast Michigan have faced with the issues they are addressing in their own communities all over the world.

By visiting local businesses and questioning them about their sustainability policies, we have made them aware that the community is placing higher demands upon them to adopt responsible business practices. We have found businesses to be very receptive to our tips and suggestions about how they can become more sustainable and we are hoping to hear back from them about new policies they have introduced as a result. Our Earth Hour commitment has raised awareness with many people in the community about how businesses can make small changes that can have big impacts. We hope that we have educated consumers about how to make informed decisions about where they take their business, and that those decisions can have major consequences for future generations. We have forged strong links within the community with local businesses, volunteer organizations and educators and we hope to continue to strengthen those relationships as we continue to promote sustainability awareness in the future. Fundamentally, our website and real-time advocacy has helped to shift the awareness of students, families, and community members about their daily living habits and the ways small changes can significantly impact the quality of life for the whole community today and in the years to come.

4) How did your project involve other members of your community as helpers and volunteers?

We couldn’t have completed this project without the help of our teachers, parents and all the students at BCS. Our teachers helped us to build our wiki, learn how to use new technologies and pointed us in the right direction when we became a little lost on our learning journey. Without our parents we would not have been able to get out into the community to visit theaters, sports arenas, hotels, hospitals and car factories. The adults we met and who helped us at these places were also extremely helpful in developing a deeper understanding of our community, it’s history and the important forces at work within it today. Our research and learning would not have been as thorough if it weren’t for the experts that we contacted for help and guidance. The experts who gave up their time to come into our classroom were very helpful for our understanding and knowledge of the city of Detroit and business practices. They answered our questions carefully and thoughtfully and when they didn’t have the answer they pointed us in the direction of somebody who could. To help raise awareness of our project we made a commitment to Earth Hour. If 1000 people accepted our challenge to turn off their lights during Earth Hour we pledged to dress up as green eco-clowns and visit every business in downtown Birmingham to distribute our educational brochures.To everyone who helped us we offer a huge thank you for your time, support and encouragement.

5) Discoveries, Lessons and Surprises (Optional)

Our students learned that Google is not the only way to access information and that a face to face interview and conversation are a much more meaningful way to learn about a topic. As teachers, we were really proud to watch our students grow into educated consumers of information, able to be selective with sources, to extract relevant and reliable information and then use that knowledge to formulate their own ideas and opinions. This project also provided our students with the opportunity to learn a lot about character. Working collaboratively they gained a deeper understanding of trust, reliability, responsibility and accountability. Our students also became very creative with the way they shared their learning, opting to use new and exciting technology tools. In learning how to manipulate those tools they learned a great deal about digital literacy and how to problem solve and persevere when encountering a challenge. One of the amazing lessons learned here is that the intelligence, capabilities and creativity of children should never be underestimated as a force for change. Our students developed an effective and efficient way to determine the sustainability of a business, and through their educational and informative pamphlet they realized that an individual can be a powerful agent of change within our community. They have also learned the power of collaboration and for deep and meaningful change to take place at a city wide level, an entire community must come together to articulate their vision of the future and determine an action plan to make it happen. Our students have surprised everyone, including themselves, with the high level of insight they acquired. They have set themselves on a lifelong path of reasoned analysis and advocacy.


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