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Mall Sprawl

Context for this Lesson

Teaching Strategies: 
School District: 
School or Organization: 


  • What are the ethical questions involved in the clearing of natural land for man-made developments?
  • What are the geographic and economic consequences of development?
  • How might changing the erosion and deposition patterns of an ecosystem affect all the inhabitants of that ecosystem—plants, animals, and humans?

Review Weathering and Erosion: 
We have been learning about weathering in science class - about erosion and deposition. Today, we’re going to continue working with those ideas in some new ways. First, I am interested in what you already know about weathering. Let’s brainstorm. What are some words or ideas that come to mind when you hear the word “erosion”? Have students “poster” about the following words: weathering, erosion, deposition. These are all great ideas that are connected to our topic of weathering.
Weathering: When rocks and minerals are broken down into smaller and smaller pieces. This is caused by extreme heat and cold, water, ice or wind.
Erosion: The transportation of weathered materials.
Deposition: When sediment are deposited or laid down in a different location.
Review Supply and Demand: 
We have also been discussion supply and demand and how this impact local economies. Can someone remind me of the relationship between supply and demand? If demand increases and supply remains unchanged, then it leads to higher price and higher quantity. If demand decreases and supply remains unchanged, then it leads to lower price and lower quantity. If demand remains unchanged and supply increases, then it leads to lower price and higher quantity. If demand remains unchanged and supply decreases, then it leads to higher price and lower quantity. And now I’d like to ask you to imagine with me that there is a town that is really thinking about how to use their land. This isn’t a real town, it’s a pretend town that we are going to create. What do you think our town might be named? Solicit student suggestions and choose one.
Introduce Town: 
Great. The town of ___ is a small, remote town that doesn’t have access to a lot of stores. (Ideally the teacher can show a very large map of the town during this next section, that has many of the landmarks described labeled) There is only one grocery store and it doesn’t have a very diverse selection of food, fruits or vegetables. There is a McDonalds and a very old playground. There aren’t many places for kids and families to play except for Preservation Park a very large hill in the middle of the town with a stream at the bottom. A lot of young people don’t have much to do. People generally have to drive 30 min to BIG CITY to shop. There are also a lot of folks who are out of work and looking for jobs. If they have jobs they drive 30 min away to BIG CITY to work. In a few minutes we will become citizens of (name of town). We will become people (adult or young people) who have come to town hall meeting because they think something needs to change in their town. Think for a minute about which people might want to come to a meeting like this? Any ideas? I’m going to give you the count of 10 to become a person in ____ town, who might want to come to an important town meeting. Here we go 10-9-8-7…etc. Put on glasses and become the Asst to the Mayor.


Town Hall Meeting (Pro v. Con)
Teacher In Role: Ladies and Gentlemen of (name) I am so pleased that you have come to join us tonight in city hall to discuss some very exciting news. My name is [insert name] and I am the assistant to Mayor Salinez. Mayor Salinez is running late so she asked me to get our meeting started. As you know our town is having a terrible time. No one has jobs and you elected Mayor Salinez to make big changes and fix some big problems in our community. We’ve heard your complaints about no where to shop and not having anything to do with your families. And, that you’re tired of driving to the BIG CITY for everything! Well, folks, I’m delighted to tell you that the mayor is ready to deliver on her promises! I have in my hands a copy of the contract from Major Malls, Incorporated, they are going to build a brand-new 2 million square-foot shopping center, right here in (name), in the woods at the top of the hill in Preservation Park! This is an amazing opportunity for our town. Major Malls, Inc., has agreed to bring in some great retailers—Whole Foods, Phil’s Ice House and Amy’s Ice Cream. We’ll have one of those fancy fun movie theatres that serves food and drinks. There are plans to have a Farmer’s Market and live music in the community space on the side of the building. The plans are to make the whole thing a “green” eco friendly building.
The mall will also provide many new jobs. The mayor has heard from many of you that unemployment is a real problem here in (name), so I’m sure you’re excited about this. Just think, in a shopping center this large, the enormous parking lot that surrounds the mall—why, that alone will employ several dozen people as security guards and so forth! Not to mention the many hundreds of people who will work inside!
Now, all I need from you is a yes vote saying that we do want Major Malls, Inc. to build the shopping center in our town. We might even be able to get this vote in before the Mayor arrives. Say yes to the Mall and our little town of (name) can get ready for some BIG changes. Does anybody have any questions about the mall?
Take Questions from Students Ask each student should introduce themselves and their profession as they ask their question. During conversation, the teacher in role reveals the following information. The intended mall site is at the top of a heavily wooded hill. Building the mall would mean clearing the hill of all trees, rocks, etc.—potential for erosion is high. Those woods are home to a lot of animals, many of whom were driven deeper into Preservation Park as the town developed around it. This is now the only place that red foxes and a bat colony can locally be found. At the bottom of that hill is a stream full of wildlife and which also feeds the town’s water supply. Deposition from eroding soil, etc, would be really bad news for the ecosystem and also the townspeople.
Solicit student opinions on whether or not mall should be built. Both characters can answer questions. Students usually take a fairly strong stand on one side or the other, but prompting may be necessary—what would be the benefits of the development? The drawbacks?
TIR Coaching
It is important to continue to raise the stakes for both sides of the argument as it further engages the students and deepens the discussion. If more pressure is needed against building the mall:

  • Lots of potential for pollution here—increased traffic, dumping in the stream, etc.
  • Other developments elsewhere by Major Malls, Inc. are under investigation for vague & highly shady environmental catastrophes—lawsuits?
  • Ground is being broken for the new mall this very afternoon! (if needed to up the pressure)

If more pressure is needed for building the mall:

  • Emphasize lack of jobs.
  • Solar panels on roof for electricity
  • Will get the highest Leed rating for construction. Hope to use local construction company (a kid in the room hopefully).
  • With extra money can create new park elsewhere.

Mayor Asst.: Well, it seems that we have opinions on both sides in the room. However, I need to give Major Malls, Inc., an answer tonight. I will remind you all that the mayor has done what you wanted. You wanted an answer to our shopping woes and she has provided for it. I would like to take a vote. I will ask each person what their decision is and they may answer yes or no. Each student makes their decision. If desired, have each explain his/her vote in one or two sentences. Stop the drama and step out of role. Let participants know that you are no longer in role.
Writing Exercise: Editorial
Explain that there was indeed heated debate over this issue, and that the town was divided. A group representing each side of the issue decided to write an editorial to the local newspaper. Divide the class into two groups, along the lines people voted. Have each group compose a letter to editor that expresses their feelings on this subject. If you are discussing environmental impact please be sure to use scientific terms. If you are discussion economic impact please use economic terms or phrases to support your arguement. Have them each sign the bottom of the letter. Teacher should move between groups and make sure that they are working well together. After letters are written, bring entire class back together. Have each group read their letter and discuss the opinions that have been expressed. Comment on the many sides of the argument.


D - What happened in our story today? (pull out the major issues/problem)
A - Who or what was affected by the issues being discussed in this story? (community, animals, land, etc.) How were they impacted? Who was impacted the most? Why? What is the relationship you saw between our science and social studies learning?
R - Where are similar conversations happening in Austin right now? (could discuss Waller Creek and other areas that are being considered for development, bond issues from recent election) How might we get involved in these sorts of decisions?

Extensions/Applications : 

ELA - Write a newspaper article.
Have students write a series of three newspaper articles which detail the beginning, middle, and end of their character’s story. Decide the point of view of the newspaper. Are they in favor or opposed to the mall?
ELA/Theater - Based on the drama work, ask students to script and stage/film an investigative news segment (e.g. 60 Minutes or Dateline) that tells the story of what happened when the mall came to town.
Science/Social Studies - Have student choose or assign students to research one side of the debate around land development or erosion. Have the two halves of the class work in small groups to prepare their case. Encourage them to include live interviews with “experts” to support their argument. Invite another class in to watch the debate and have your students lead a post-show discussion about the issues.

Students go into role as inhabitants of a small town not far from Big CIty to discuss the implications of building a new environmentally friendly Mega Mall. This lesson invites students to try out geology terms and knowledge, while considering the environmental and ethical considerations of urban development.