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Educational Innovations Through 'learn And Serve" Projects

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.216.1 - 4.216.4

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Paper Authors

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Phyllis Sperling

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2606

Educational Innovations through “Learn and Serve” Projects

Phyllis Sperling Department of Architectural Technology New York City Technical College

In the beginning of my career as an architecture instructor I had first to learn the rudiments: how to get a point across, how to organize material, how to make this material interesting and vital. Once I learned the basics, I was ready to pursue creative approaches to teaching. I learned that sessions with students were more productive when I organized the subject matter around problem-solving projects rather than by “chalk and talk” lecturing. I discovered that students absorbed things faster and more permanently when the assigned projects were “real” rather than theoretical.

Some of my assignments required that I follow strict course outlines that left little room to explore or innovate. In other courses, however, I was given a list of “learning objectives,” which meant that I had some latitude to figure out how best to teach the subject. For these courses, I tried to develop complex projects that met several criteria: to involve students in original research, to insure that I, too, learn and develop as a professional, and to provide a service to the community or to the architecture profession.

I was not alone in this pursuit. Over the years, some of my department colleagues had integrated community service projects into their coursework. When a large section of downtown Brooklyn adjacent to the college was being planned as the MetroTech Urban Revitalization Area, one of our instructors volunteered his site-planning class to design the “street furniture”-- lamp posts, parking and street signs, etc. Much of their design work was incorporated in the final streetscape. A more recent MetroTech project (integrated into a model-making course) involved the construction of models showing New York City’s “urban” gardens and vest pocket parks.

Another colleague offered the services of his class to the Bronx community surrounding Yankee Stadium; the City had cited the area for urban renewal, but an ad hoc community group objected that this plan would demolish their neighborhood. They chose to demonstrate to the city planning commission that most of the existing housing and commercial buildings could be rehabilitated without disrupting the neighborhood’s vitality. Working with the community group, our students constructed a model of a four block area that demonstrated how the plan could work. When the model was completed, the community scheduled a press conference which received a great deal of publicity. Photographs of the model, and our smiling students, appeared in all the city’s newspapers.

A few years ago, working with the New York City Fire Department, my design class researched and designed a new “state of the art” firehouse for downtown Brooklyn. This project piqued my students’ interests. We visited existing stations, interviewed firefighters and followed them around for many hours. We studied crisis response time, traffic patterns around the site, interior

Sperling, P. (1999, June), Educational Innovations Through 'learn And Serve" Projects Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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