Creating a Scale Model of Your Utopian Community

Education & Technology

So, how far is a mile, really? How long does it take to walk it?
How far or how close do you really want your neighbors to be?
How big do you actually want your house?

These were some of the questions that we explored on the third live meeting of The SHINE Middle Grades Collaborative ( SHINE is a home-school cooperative that uses a weekly online meeting and a monthly face to face meeting, to safely shepherd children through middle school.

Most kids have a decent sense of time. They understand that it takes 20 minutes in the car to get somewhere, or that they have two more minutes of recess. They know that it is hard to get ready for school and eat breakfast in ten minutes. I have found, though, that many kids do not have a good sense of what a 25 foot house looks like, or what it feels like to walk a mile.

My online home-school is creating a model utopia this year. As part of the study, we are investigating culture from multiple points of view and thinking about many of the aspects of community that they want to incorporate into their utopian ideal (and their actual world view). They are also creating a scale model of the community in which they want to live.

As we began to create the model, we did some real life measuring to get a better sense of distances.

Beatrice and Sarah measure 25 feet

We were staying in a 20 foot square cabin, and the cabins were approximately 100 feet away from other cabins and the bathroom. I also marked off a mile with my car, and we all traveled that distance- actually, the students ran it, while another mother and I did our best to keep up while hauling my toddler.

I had brought a 2 foot square board for everyone, and we were seeking a good scale to use to make it possible to fit the community on the board, but still be able to see the buildings and understand the distances. As most of the kids want rural communities, a lot of their land is going to be farm land. Most of the kids wanted their communities to be about 3 miles from one side to the other side. They figured that would take them about one and a half hours to walk comfortably, but they would be able to easily ride their bikes to all parts of the town. There was a lot of math going on as they tried to figure out how to make an appropriate scale to fit 3 miles onto a 24 inch board. For the most part, they realized that including the whole three miles would make their houses minuscule. After a lot of trial and error, they decided that it would be easier to figure out approximately how big they wanted the houses to look on the model, and approximately how big they wanted their houses to be in real life, and then create a scale with that information. Most of the kids settled on a scale of about 1 inch to 10 feet, though some of them decided on 1 inch to twenty feet. They decided that they could use fabric or some other line of demarcation to represent the farm land that is going to span out from their community.

Their homework for next week is to create ten building footprints that are scale representations of buildings that they would want in their actual communities. My homework is to follow up on their questions about how big their garden should be. The kids want to know how many people can be fed per acre, so I am going to organize some of that information into a lesson for our next WizIQ class.

Alice and Amor play near the campfire.

Our time together ended as time with students should always end: we played. The kids chased each other with flashlights in the dark, played hide and seek and had fun.

With a blended curriculum, teachers can have online classes and face to face classes that complement each other and support student learning.






WizIQ, Home schooling


I am a teacher, hiker, mother, dancer and home-maker. I have taught pre-school through SAT prep. I am exploring ways to create on-line learning communities for home-schooled middle school and high school students. In particular, I am starting a low-residency on-line middle school. I would like to help young people explore important ideas while enjoying their lives! You can learn more about my programs at

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