Future City cost $100 and most of it went to epoxy.
In this model metropolis, painted plastic bottles represented green buildings, while smooth Styrofoam represented the rolling hills of tropical southern Japan. The epoxy resin represented the rivers that ran through the mock city, at least until middle school students ran out of material.
This used to be the city of Storm Point, Japan, and this is how a team of students at Seaman Middle School see cities of the future dealing with the effects of climate change.
On Saturday, Seaman Middle School hosted and entered teams into a Future City regional competition, in which sixth, seventh, and eighth graders compete by submitting a model city they’ve designed to adapt to and mitigate climate change.
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“It’s a way to introduce students to the world of engineering and architecture while implementing STEM and other skills like teamwork, collaboration and goal setting,” said Todd Berry, a science educator of Seaman Middle School who also coached the school’s competing students.
The regional competition brought 45 teams from Raytown, Missouri while Seaman Middle School entered five teams.
The Future City competition challenges middle school students to think about sustainability
First started in Virginia, more than 45,000 students from across the United States and the world now compete in the annual Future City competition, which challenges students to imagine and build model cities a century into the future. Every model city faces a theme that changes every year but falls under the broader category of sustainability.
Some schools treat attendance as an after-school extracurricular, but Seaman Middle School integrates Future Cities as an entire classroom elective for seventh or eighth graders.
Middle school students had to prepare and build model cities that deal with climate change this year. Each model was to be built using only recyclable materials and a budget of $100.
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During the competition, students submitted their cities to a panel of engineers, architects, and others in Kansas STEM fields.
Panels rated each team based on their model and a 1,500-word essay on climate change, among other criteria. The competition awarded nine prizes, each named after sponsoring companies such as Evergy, Bartlett & West and Shell, recognizing an overall winner.
Saturday’s regional winner, a team from Southwest Middle School in Lawrence, will be invited to compete in national competition next month in Washington, DC
The Future City competition is a natural tie-in to middle school science classes
Berry, who primarily teaches science classes in addition to future city electives, also uses the classroom to teach students about other aspects of city infrastructure, such as transportation. One of the next projects he’ll have the students work on is building an air car.
“The upside for me is that my main class here is science, and a lot of my kids, I have for both classes, so there’s a lot of interdisciplinary classes,” Berry said. “We look at the city around us: We look at our city and the Seaman community to see what’s not working or could be improved.”
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This year, the theme was climate change, which Berry says might be difficult for students to understand.
But he made the topic relevant by helping students understand how climate change can affect them, even in Topeka.
“We talked about erosion and how it affects farmers in Kansas if the topsoil is washed away,” the science teacher said. “We also talked about what happens when there is not enough rain and there is a drought. We try to apply all of these concepts to Kansas.”
For the students, the most fun part was building the models and thinking about the ideas they could implement in their projects. Some students incorporated mock fusion reactors to provide clean renewable energy, while others had more out-of-the-box ideas for tackling climate change, like pumping glacier runoff and refreezing it.
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More than anything, though, they were looking for ideas that might work.
“It’s really not about being unique when it comes to preventing climate change or doing what’s beautiful,” said seventh grader Richard Evans, who was part of the City of Storm Point team. “It’s just about what works.”
Rafael Garcia is an educational reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 785-289-5325. Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.