Picture provided by the author, attribution CC-By.
During the school year 2022-2023, the project Global Thinkers – Local Solvers was implemented as part of the eTwinning project “Artful STEAM Tellers, Creative STEAM Solvers.” The project aimed to promote the concept of an inclusive city through participatory design. Six Kindergartens from Greece and Turkey, 18 early childhood educators, and 160 children participated in the project, where they envisioned a city that is accessible, sustainable, ecological, emotional, and smart, the “City of their Dreams.” Creating sustainable inclusive cities is vital for achieving collectively agreed sustainability goals at local, regional, and global scales. Cities are not isolated; they interact extensively with their surroundings and increasingly with the rest of the world. However, urban development has resulted in the degradation of the environment and peri-urban space, leading to environmental and social challenges such as traffic congestion, air pollution, overconsumption, discrimination, and inappropriate urban planning. To mitigate these challenges, we must create inclusive, environmentally friendly, and economically sustainable cities, which can pave the way for a more sustainable future for the planet.
Our project revolved around Project-Based Learning (PBL), STE(A)M education, and educational robotics. The goal was to highlight technology’s role in fostering critical thinking. We combined this with creative writing to enhance inquiry-based learning. The project prompted children to envision an inclusive city, aligning with the 10th and 11th sustainable development goals. Our focus was on creating sustainable, friendly cities that prioritize inclusivity and education for a better future.
1st Phase – Trigger and Question Formulation
Inspired by “Pink Monster” by Olga De Dios, students from partner schools embarked on envisioning their dream city. The initial question: What could our dream city be like? sparked a chain of inquiries about inclusivity, design, and desirable features. Utilizing Jamboard, an online tool, they recorded their ideas. From this brainstorming, they pinpointed commonalities and differences, organizing the proposed elements.
Next, they collaboratively drafted a blueprint for their ideal city. In pairs, the schools materialized their visions, resulting in cities characterized by sustainability, intelligence, green spaces, inclusivity, animal-friendly features, emotional connections, and creative stimulation.
2nd Phase – Conducting Basic Research
During the phase of the city planning process, the children engaged in discussions about what elements should be included in their respective cities. They explored questions such as how to make a city accessible and inclusive, what constitutes a sustainable city, and how a city can be emotionally resonant. The children drew upon their scientific research -utilizing the S(science)from STE(AM)- personal experiences and insights to address a range of problems that a city might face. They actively participated in the city design, both in terms of content and the selection of materials for utilization. The result was a collection of creative, joyful, and emotionally resonant cities that were green, inclusive, sustainable, and friendly to animals.
The materials utilized in their construction, such as clay, finger paints, building blocks, and recyclable materials, were chosen by the children.
Overall, this phase of the city planning process was enriched through collaboration, exploration, critical thinking, and expression of opinions.
3rd Phase – Reflection-Feedback-Review
The children engaged in several activities to enhance their understanding and refine their city creations. After completing the construction of their cities, the children had the opportunity to step back and reflect on their work. They also received valuable feedback from their peers and educators about their city designs. This process allowed them to thoughtfully evaluate their creations, considering both their strengths and areas that needed improvement. The use of innovative technologies played a pivotal role in this phase.
One such technology highlighted was the Makey Makey Invention Kit. This kit introduced the children to new ways of learning and offered interactive experiences. The Makey Makey kit is particularly effective in teaching programming and engagingly creating tangible interfaces. Thus, Makey Makey addressed inclusion.The children demonstrated creativity and empathy by using the Makey Makey kit to address the needs of visually impaired individuals in their city. They recorded audio messages and designed tangible interfaces that allowed sound messages to be played from recycling bins. They extended this concept to other aspects, like designing smart traffic lights and even creating musical chairs within a designated “pocket park.”
Apart from the Makey Makey kit, the children also worked with other technological tools. They utilized the Micro: bit, a pocket-sized computer, and the programmable Bluebot floor robot. Collaborating with educators, they incorporated a pre-designed program to count different species of birds and insects in their city. This activity extended beyond the city’s boundaries as they used the Micro: bit to observe and count birds in the schoolyard, bridging the virtual and real worlds.
The Bluebot floor robot was creatively transformed into what they called the “Pink Monster.” The children programmed this robot to navigate through the city, moving from one point to another. Its task included transporting cards depicting garbage and placing them into the appropriate recycling bins.
Lastly, the Kidsbits coding robot was employed to follow a designated black line that guided it through the city’s layout. The children took on the role of guides, leading the robot and presenting their city’s features to a robot named Steamy Tsiou, who was the mascot of the program.
The combination of both physical and digital technologies provided the children with a unique opportunity. It allowed them to develop important skills such as computational thinking, design prowess, and creative problem-solving. This learning process was not only informative but also fun and engaging. By channeling their creativity, the children effectively tackled real-world challenges within the context of their city creations.
4th Phase – Presentation and Dissemination of the Project
The students’ presentation of their urban design proposals holds significant value as it directly contributes to the enhancement of their cities and the environment. For the project’s impact to extend beyond the classroom, effective dissemination is essential. This involves active involvement from the educational community, parents, and residents. Sharing the project through diverse platforms like school blogs, presentations to parents, and promotion in local municipalities and newspapers can ensure broader visibility. Through these efforts, the project can generate a concrete impact, ultimately striving to forge cities that are both sustainable and conducive to the well-being of their citizens.
The current educational approach adopts an interdisciplinary framework rooted in STEAM education. This approach revolves around sustainable development goals and embraces the philosophy of inclusive education. Children are actively encouraged to nurture skills spanning design thinking, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, and effective communication, all facilitated through “Project-Based Learning.”
Collaborating with other schools, children voiced their ideas for their ideal “City of their Dreams.” They focused on accessibility, sustainability, well-being, and smart design. This project expanded their knowledge, skills, and attitudes, leading to inclusive, sustainable cities through participatory planning.
Children embraced technology to create smart, people-centric cities that ensure equal access and rights. They took on roles as designers and guides, navigating robots through their inclusive, sustainable urban landscapes.
Children’s commitment to sustainability is evident in their city designs. They created universally accessible playgrounds, wildlife areas, ramps, and tactile pathways. They introduced innovations like colored sidewalk tiles, smart traffic lights, public transport stops, and interactive bins. They proposed solutions to urban challenges, including wind parks, recycling facilities, waste-sorting robots, hydroelectric stations, and sustainable transportation options and buildings.
Children’s visual ideas show their evolving perspectives and beliefs. Encouraging them to explain these changes fosters reasoning skills and shapes them into active, responsible, and sustainable citizens, ready to build future cities.
As we observe the challenges in our world, it’s evident that we’re facing significant environmental and social issues. It’s essential to equip children with skills and attitudes to tackle environmental and social issues. This includes promoting problem-solving, creativity, and innovation, while fostering confidence and collaboration. Let’s join forces in our communities to build inclusive and sustainable cities where citizens actively participate, innovate, and work towards a better future.
Arkouli Anthi, Msc, Early Childhood Educator, Kindergarten of Nea Penteli, ICT Trainer, Certified Educator STEAM and Robotics.
Koniou Antonia, Med, Early Childhood Educator, Kindergarten of 68th Kindergarten of Heraklion Crete.
Liapi Angeliki, Msc, Med, Early Childhood Educator, 2nd Kindergarten of Likovrysi, Scientix Ambassador.
Papadogkona Konstantina, Early Childhood Educator, 22nd Kindergarten of Keratsini, Master’s student IHU, Certified Educator STEAM and Robotics.
Tsapara Maria,Msc, Early Childhood Educator, 2nd Kindergarten of Perama, PhD Candidate UOWM, ICT Trainer, Leading Teacher EU Code Week, eTwinning and Scientix Ambassador, Certified Educator STEAM and Robotics.
*This project could not be implemented without the collaboration and contribution of our motivated colleagues Neslin Mindavallı (Akdeniz Anaokulu – Anamur Turkey), Vaia Archonti, Pinelopi Georganti, Katerina Rentzepi, Eleni Voudommati – Stergiou, Voula Koulimpi, Fani Salavasili, Lambia Theodoropoulou, Maria Tsifteli, Vasiliki Michasouridi (2nd Kindergarten of Perama), Eleni Spantidaki (2nd Kindergarten of Lykovrisi), Anna Niniraki (68th Kindergarten of Heraklion-Crete), Giota Nterou (22nd Kindergarten of Keratsini).