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Bricks and Beats: Michael Ford shows kids how to design cities inspired by their favorite songs.

Take a look around your neighborhood. You might see skyscrapers, rows of brick houses, parking lots, or playgrounds. Have you ever wondered how each of those structures got there?

They all began as an idea in someone's head--someone like Michael Ford. He designs buildings and other structures. But Ford's job has a twist. He also teaches kids about architecture, the art of building design, so they can have a say about what's built in their neighborhoods.

To make the lessons more meaningful, Ford connects them to something many kids already love: hip-hop music!

From Lyrics to Cities

Ford is known as the "Hip Hop Architect." He runs a week-long program in U.S. cities called the Hip Hop Architecture Camp.

Hip-hop and architecture may not seem like they have much in common. But Ford draws interesting connections between the two art forms. Hip-hop artists often sing about problems they see in their communities, like poverty. Architects design things that can help, such as affordable homes.

At the start of Ford's camp, students learn how to make models. Architects use these small versions of buildings to plan their designs. Ford helps kids build towers with LEGO[R] bricks and wooden blocks that are inspired by hip-hop lyrics. For instance, longer lyrics turn into taller towers. Students pick colors or shapes to represent rhymes and other sounds.

Next, campers identify problems described in the rap songs. They brainstorm ways to solve them with architecture. "The goal is to get young people to not only listen to music but to respond to it," Ford says.

Students make sketches that include details like what the buildings will be made out of. They use a computer program called Autodesk Tinkercad to test 3-D models of their designs. If a shape is unbalanced, the building will collapse. Students adjust the structures until they are stable. Finally, they build their models with a 3-D printer.

That's a "Rap"

Architects have to be able to explain their designs. At the end of Ford's camp, kids write and perform their own rap songs about their projects.

Since 2017, more than 1,200 students have attended a Hip Hop Architecture Camp. Ford hopes the camps spark a passion for architecture in African-American kids who might not see it as a possible career. In the U.S., only 2 percent of architects are African American.

Ford wants to inspire kids of all backgrounds to become architects. That will allow them to shape their own communities. "Imagine walking into a space that was the fantasy of a young person who grew up in your neighborhood, who listened to the same music as you," Ford says. "How different would it be?"

READING LEVELS: Lexile 860L / Guided Reading Level S

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Work within criteria and constraints to build a model structure that solves a community problem.



Core Idea: ETS1.B: Developing possible solutions

Practice: Defining problems

Crosscutting Concept: Systems and system models


Language: 3. Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.


Science: 3.2A, 4.2A, 5.2A, 6.2A ELA: 3.2A, 3.6E, 4.2A, 4.6E, 5.2A, 5.6E, 6.15B, 6.27

Lesson Plan

(1) Use photos of buildings and other structures to prompt a discussion about architecture.

Before the lesson, print out pictures of a variety of structures, such as a stadium, a skyscraper, a playground, your school building, and a house. Place the images at different stations around the room.

Have students walk around the room, record observations about the structures on sticky notes, and attach the notes to the images. Ask students to consider what makes the structures different.

When everyone is finished, have them share their observations. Ask: Why do you think the structures look so different? (They are designed to meet different needs.)

Explain that all these structures were designed by people called architects. Architects research, plan, design, and help build all types of buildings, including your school and your home.

(2) Read and discuss the article.

Read the article as a class, switching readers after each paragraph. Ask:

* What are Ford's goals with his Hip Hop Architecture Camps? (He wants to get kids from different backgrounds interested in architecture and to inspire kids to improve their community.)

* How are hip-hop and architecture similar? (Both are art forms and both are related to communities.)

(3) Develop models of a structure that could help your community.

Divide students into small groups. Pass out the skill builder sheet "Community Spaces" (T5) to complete the design challenge.

Explain that students will work in their groups to design a community center for kids in their town.

Discuss the meanings of criteria and constraints within the engineering design process. Remind students that their designs should fit within the criteria and constraints but that the design process is creative too. When students have finished building their structures, ask the class:

* How did sharing ideas help you improve your design?

* How could you help your group work better in the future?

(4) Write a rap song about your community.

Use the skill builder sheet "Write a Rap" available at /superscience and have students compose a rap about an issue in their community they feel strongly about. Ask for volunteers to perform their raps.


available at

Community Spaces (T5):

Plan and build a model community center for kids.

Write a Rap (online only):

Write a rap related to your community.

Caption: Students design cityscapes based on the rhythms of rap lyrics.

Caption: Students from one of Ford's camps pose in front of their home city of Chicago.
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Title Annotation:engineering
Author:Potenza, Alessandra
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2019
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