Third Grade Imaginative Inquiry Innovation in Transportation: Past, Present and Future

Submitted by Mary Catherine Coleman and Sarah Beebe, ILIS Department

During their ILIS time, 3rd graders have been engaged in a yearlong, deep dive “Imaginative Inquiry” project connected to their study of the history of Chicago. Students have been receiving missions and challenges from a mysterious Agent X. The challenges focus on researching, collecting information and exploring primary source documents related to the history of transportation in Chicago. Some of the challenges focus on collaborative working and design skills.  
Students kicked off their work by looking at innovation in transportation from the past, studying birch bark canoes the Ojibwe tribe used in the mid- to late 19th century. Students examined time-period sources, including letters, maps and renderings about the innovative design of the birch bark canoes. Students scrutinized other primary sources to see how and where tribes used their incredibly sophisticated canoes and learned the canoe’s purposes, including food gathering, communication with other tribes, etc. Students then participated in a building project to create their own birch bark canoes. They tested them to see if they were buoyant in the water as well.
Next, 3rd graders looked at the current transportation system in Chicago: the Elevated Train. Students focused on the train system’s design and explored the history of the el train in Chicago. Agent X presented them with a challenge to build a replica of the train system. They had to use precise measurements to create 3D designs in a program called Tinkercad. Students designed the base of the tracks, then overlaid the base and the tracks on a current map of the city. The final product is on display now in the library.
For the final challenge, students had to “look to the past to inform the future” and design a transportation system for the future of the City of Chicago. Third graders thought about what they had learned about innovative transportation systems from the past and design new systems that were environmentally sustainable and provided access for all people in Chicago. They focused on five systems: trains, bus, boats, walkways and bicycles.
Students used materials from the TIDES Garage to prototype and build their transportation systems. They came up with amazing ideas, from walkways that had solar panels to train systems with greenhouse garden cars providing fruits and vegetables.
The whole 3rd grade shared their prototypes in the Kovler Family Library on Wednesday. We also sent a booklet of all their ideas to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City of Chicago’s transportation commission. Mayor Emanuel sent a thank you note to students for their hard work and amazing ideas.
Third graders did amazing work this year! They were thoughtful and creative in their collaborative work and their designs for the community, city and planet!

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Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.