Graduate Admissions Blog

Center for Architecture Foundation Field Trip

On Thursday, my cooperating teacher and I took 27 second graders to the Center for Architecture Foundation. The trip ties in to a larger unit of study on how buildings work. The AIA New York Chapter was a wonderful experience for our second graders. The architect workshop leader for the day, Tim, was engaging and positive. He was particularly skilled at asking the kids intelligent questions and allowing them time to hear other responses before confirming or denying their answers. For example, he asked: “What might affect buildings and make them shake as they are built way high up in the sky?” The students had some interesting responses, including “tornadoes” and “earthquakes,” which Tim gracefully acknowledged before guiding their thinking into seeing how wind can cause buildings to move.


By activating some deep thinking, the slideshow and discussion were never dry. The students really became excited about knowing which building is the tallest in the world, and which buildings are taller than the new Freedom Tower. Tim had student volunteers holding up plastic representations of construction materials to show how beams are supported by columns, and that triangles in the beams (like those seen on the George Washington bridge) make the beam stronger and lighter. There was also a great discussion and diagram comparing a building to a human’s body. The siding of a house is like skin, the foundation like the strong bones of the legs, and the beams and columns like the skeleton. This was like a classic Bank Street inspired scaffolded lesson, because the analogy had the kids first think about themselves – in this case not what was inside their head but inside their bodies.

Armed with this information, Tim set about giving just enough hints to allow for some exploration of using toothpicks and marshmallows to build a strong structure. Tim modeled for them how to build a square and a triangle, and how to snap the toothpicks in a cardboard base. After that, the kids had about 25-35 minutes to build their structure. We have so many k’nex and lego enthusiasts in this class, so they really took to it! Some of the boys turned competitive for creating the tallest building, but Tim showed them many examples of buildings that were interesting and marvelous for reasons other than height. They were given baggies to take them home in, as well.

Logistically, this was a fairly straight forward trip. It was about 15$ per kid, it is centrally located near the West 4th street stop; and, one of the greatest field trip amenities ever: the kids could eat lunch there at the large project tables once their structures were cleaned up. The workshop ran from 10:00-12:00. The building seemed to be bustling with activity, like architects and event planning, which made the atmosphere feel professional and relevant to the activities. Luckily we had 4 parent volunteers as well, who were essential in helping the kids stay together, cross streets, and inspire students with their own expertise on the subject material.

Taking 27 kids onto the train is quite stressful. Make sure you have a headcount before you leave the building, and count up your kids often. This is one of those camp counselor tricks that you wind up using a lot as a teacher. Brooklyn New School has a procedure that gets drilled into the kids, which is that if you find yourself on the subway alone, get off at the next stop and STAY PUT – an adult will come a get you in that spot on the next train. One last tip is if your kids are used to getting snack between 9:30 and 10:30, make sure to bring something on the trip! There were a lot of hungry moans until we had lunch.