Project Overview 
Interdisciplinary Middle School Curriculum Unit Table of Contents 
Looks Count Introductory Slide Show: What Is Community Character?
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Teaching Resources 
Looks Count For Communities (NTSA Science Scope Article Jan 2004)*
(PDF 209kb)

Looks Count!
Community Planning, Natural Resource Protection and the Visual Environment

An Interdisciplinary Middle School Curriculum Unit
for Social Studies, Language Arts, Math, Science, and Art

Project Overview

In 1999, Hancock Middle School teachers collaborated with the Western Upper Peninsula Center for Science, Mathematics and Environmental Education at Michigan Technological University to develop an interdisciplinary unit for middle school students titled: Looks Count!—Community Planning & the Visual Environment. The unit can be adapted to any local area and can be team-taught in social studies/geography, language arts, math and science classes. The unit is correlated to Michigan and National Content Standards for Social Studies, Language Arts, Science and Math.

As part of the unit, students are able to:

a. Identify the character of their community and what makes their community visually appealing;

b. Describe how the visual environment impacts the economic, environmental and aesthetic

qualities of their community;

c. Design, conduct and tabulate public surveys to determine community attitudes (towards future growth,

sprawl, private property rights, and community character);

d. Become familiar with how community planning tools can be used to enhance their community's

visual appearance and preserve the "character" of their community.

The development of the unit is funded by a grant from the Dunn Foundation of Warwick, Rhode Island. The Western Upper Peninsula Center (formerly Center for Science and Environmental Outreach) collaborated with the Hancock Middle School teachers to submit a grant proposal after attending a teacher workshop, Viewfinders—Visual Environmental Literacy, conducted by the Dunn Foundation in Hancock, MI in November 1999. The Hancock Middle School teachers who contributed to the development of the curriculum unit are Linda Rulison, geography; Ruth Ann Smith, school librarian; Jean Dunstan and Ashley Hanson, language arts; Paul Dube, mathematics.

Unit Activities

1) Design and conduct "Shaping Our Future" survey with community members in each of four age groups and graph results by age group.

2) Organize teams of 3-5 students. Assign an area of the community to each team in which they will:

a) Take photographs of different land uses and viewsheds that they observe using cameras (provided).

b) Prepare tracing of one photograph to show how a building or space could be enhanced to make it more visually pleasing. Explain why they made the changes to their photo and why it enhances the visual characteristics and livability of their part of the community.

c) Design brochure that highlights the most positive, visual features of their assigned area, and how their changes improve the community from their perspective.

d) Prepare display boards

3) Review children’s literature - read and critique stories of how land use changes affect plant, animal and human communities over time; identify the message and the author’s perspective.

4) Interact with guest presenters – invited to provide local history, and share their expertise and perspectives on community growth and planning:

¨ Landscape architect/designer

¨ City planner

¨ City manager

¨ Planning board member

¨ Environmental organization

¨ National Historic Park

Industrial Council or Chamber of Commerce

¨ Photographer

¨ Tourism planner

¨ Scenic Michigan or Scenic America

¨ Realtor

¨ Member of local planning and zoning boards.

¨ Private property rights advocate

5) Student presentations to show their posters and share what they learned.

a) Presentations delivered to:

¨ Parents’ Night

¨ City Council

¨ School Board

¨ County Commissioners

¨ Community Arts Center (display of student posters)

b) Content of student presentations:

¨ Describe the key activities of the unit

¨ Discuss what they learned

¨ Make recommendations for how to enhance the visual appearance and livability of their part of the community.

Proposed for 2001-02:

1. Students will design and implement a Community Enhancement Project to improve a part of the community (landscaping, adding park furniture, public awareness campaign, improving signage, etc.)

2. Teachers and Western U.P. Center will produce a guidebook titled, “Design Guidelines to Enhance Community Appearance” that will serve as a teaching and learning tool for middle/high school students. The guidebook will provide:

Ø Definition of visual character and community appearance;

Ø Design guidelines of "common" and "better" approaches for selected developments or community growth, including: landscaping, community character, open space, natural resource protection, land division, traffic circulation and access, signage, corridor and gateway development;

Ø Planning ethics

Ø Sketches of "common" and "better" approaches; discussion of the concern addressed by the better approach; and the community planning tools needed to accomplish the better approach.

Funded with grants from the Dunn Foundation and Wege Foundation

Developed by Hancock Middle School teachers:

Ruth Ann Smith (geographer/librarian), Linda Rulison (Geography/Social Studies),

Jean Dunstan & Ashley Hanson (Language Arts)

With Assistance from

Joan Chadde and the Western Upper Peninsula Center for Science, Mathematics and Environmental Education at Michigan Technological University

Funded by

a grant from the Dunn Foundation, Warwick, RI

and the Wege Foundation of Grand Rapids, MI

Developed by

Joan Chadde, Jean Dunstan, Linda Rulison, Ruth Ann Smith and Ashley Hanson

Western Upper Peninsula Center for Science, Mathematics & Environmental Education

Michigan Technological University

1400 Townsend Dr., Houghton, MI 49931-1295

Tel: 906-487-3341 Email:


© 2002

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