Future Cities competition addresses transportation

sbarr@newsobserver.comJanuary 21, 2014 

— For months, a team of Wake Forest Middle School students have spent their afternoons imagining what a city on the Hawaiian islands might look like several hundreds years from now.

They’ve mapped out where people will live and work, researched and designed a transportation system and built a scale model of their vision with recycled and donated materials.

In their model, a clear tube with beads traveling through it becomes a passenger train, treetops are made from bits of green sponge, and the core of a broken hair dryer is a key feature of their city’s skyline.

The team has done this work as part of the Future City competition, which challenges middle-school students to design a city with a focus on a particular city feature.

This year, they’re tasked with responding to the theme of “Tomorrow’s Transit” and designing a way to move people in and around their city.

The scale model is just one part of the process though. The teams also must design a virtual model using SimCity computer software, write a research essay and an explanation of their plans, and present their city to a panel of judges.

“They’ve been extremely busy,” said Erin Lawrence, a science teacher at the school who coaches the team after school. “It’s amazing what they can do when they put their minds to it.”

The regional Future City competition takes place Sunday. Students from middle schools and academic programs from across Wake County, including Daniels, Ligon, Centennial Campus, Martin, the Science House at N.C. State and the North Carolina Mathematics and Science Education Network Pre-College Program at N.C. State, will participate.

Wake Forest sixth-grader Lucas Le, 11, said the students started out “basically clueless,” but were able to bring their city to life with lots of research.

“I think it’s pretty cool how kids can hang out together and be productive,” he said.

Beth Healy, a social studies teacher at Ligon has led the school’s Future City team for nine years as part of an elective class at the school.

The competition requires that students engage with subjects from science and math to social students and language arts, all with a creative spin, she said. On top of that, they have to practice time management and working with others.

Healy said students also have to learn to balance their zaniest ideas with what’s realistic. Their solutions need to be rooted in research, not just pulled out of the sky. If they don’t, they’ll hear about it from the judges.

“You have to know your stuff,” she said.

Wake Forest eighth-grader Emma Paquette, 13, said she enjoys math and science, which is one reason she likes participating in Future City. But she’s also had a chance to work on giving speeches and doing detailed design work through the club. She learned how much she likes the latter – and she’s glad she found out.

“I just never really had an experience to experiment with it before,” she said.

Barr: 919-836-4952

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