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WJH Students are Building Industry

WJH Urbanization Activity One Waller Junior High (WJH) teacher is using a more hands-on approach to teach her classes about the Industrial Revolution. To get a feel for the time’s impact, 8th-grade teacher Allison Lee introduced the Urbanization Activity, where students built towns following the same standards of the Industrial Revolution. The secret; Lee does not tell the class the reason behind the activity. She first learned of the exercise when working on a Teachers as Historians grant program through Rice University 10 years ago. Another 8th-grade teacher shared the activity with her and over the years, Lee has tailored it to fit her class’s needs.

“I think hands-on experiences help students retain the information better, but more importantly, when a lesson is more hands-on, it helps students understand the perspective of people from the past,” Lee said. “It helps teachers guide students in understanding the positive and negative impacts of a historical event and also helps students formulate their own questions about how our past impacts our present and future.”

On a plain sheet of paper, Lee had students begin their towns with a river, four roads, and 10 houses. Students neatly laid out their towns without knowing what to expect. As the activity progressed, she instructed students to add several structures to their towns in shorter intervals of time. Many students had trouble keeping pace and quickly lost the organization of their town. What started out as a simple town, quickly turned into an overcrowded, disorganized mess. By the end, each town had around 80 houses, 20 factories, 30 tenements, 20 stores, 4 railroads, 5 churches, a hospital, and a school.

“Students get really frustrated because they want a beautiful, clean town but it ends with overcrowded, polluted cities,” Lee said. “It’s difficult not to laugh during this lesson because I can’t tell them why we’re adding more and speeding up!”Example of student town

After completing the Urbanization, every student disliked the look of their town noting several safety issues such as factories built next to schools and hospitals. This leads them to ask several questions about regulations, overpopulation, and city planning. Lee explained due to the boom of technology and manufacturing at the time, development was really fast-paced and profit was the major focus of the time leading the reform movements.

“I love this,” WJH Instructional Facilitator Paula Garcia said. “Lee is really getting her students engaged and interested in the material. Those students are excited to learn.”