‘Future City’ Program Lets Middle School Students Experiment with City Planning

For these students, the city's creation is more than just a project -- it is the beginning of careers they hope to carry through the rest of their lives.

by Shanon Quinn, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho / January 19, 2016

(TNS) -- Dozens of middle school students in various stages of anxiety, pride, excitement and relief underwent judging Saturday in a crowded ballroom at Washington State University for the "cities" they had worked months to create.

It's the first time Future City, a national program to get young students interested in math, science and engineering, has been held in the Pacific Northwest.

Ali Terry, Kayla Remsen and Emma Brown, sixth-graders from Kootenai Elementary School in Sandpoint, Idaho, stood in the Compton Union Building Junior Ballroom behind their model of Sunny City and went over their cue cards in preparation for the imminent panel of judges.

"They've been working on it since pretty much the first day of school," the group's teacher, Alan Larsen, said. "They've been doing their research, figuring out what a city was, and this is just the stuff that you see. This is the final culmination."

It's more than just building the models, Larsen said.

A group of three students must obtain a teacher sponsor and engineer mentor before embarking on a series of four project phases.

First, each group develops its own city of the future using research and Sim City 4 software. Then, it builds a scale model of a portion of its city, followed by writing a 500 to 700 word essay related to its city's design. Finally, the group gives a timed presentation to a panel of judges.

Terry, Remsen and Brown's Sunny City model, created with upcycled household containers such as egg and milk cartons, water bottles and popsicle sticks, was brilliantly colored with poster paint and construction paper to demonstrate what industry, crops and housing are available, as well as some insightful additions.

A paper mill stands at the edge of the town, and a composting facility - fed by food waste materials residents can flush down a drain in each home - creates a source of income for the community.

"We sell the compost to neighboring cities," Terry said.

The compost remaining in the town is used to feed a community garden to provide all residents with fresh veggies.

For these students, the creation of Sunny City is more than just a sixth-grade project -- it is the beginning of careers they hope to carry through the rest of their lives.

"We wanted to get involved because we really like engineering," Terry said. "We think it's really cool how engineers build and create all of these amazing inventions."

All three students said they plan to pursue careers in engineering.

They've also learned some lessons about how to work effectively in groups.

"You have to work together," Remsen said. "And feed off each other's ideas."

"And work your hardest," Brown added.

Tyler Palmer, a judge for the competition and deputy director of operations for the Moscow Public Works Department, said he was pleased with the competition and impressed by the innovation of its participants.

"As we age we get locked into more normative ways of thinking, and these kids are so creative in the way they look at things," he said. "Some of these ideas seem way out there - until you start thinking about it, and it's like, 'Why not? Why wouldn't that be feasible, and why isn't that a different way of doing it?' It's really fun, it's productive and it's great for these kids to gain understanding and start thinking about these things."

©2016 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.