Future City Challenge: Tomorrow's Transit

Several area middle school student teams competed in the Future City Challenge "Tomorrow's Transit" competition on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, at IPFW's Walb Ballroom. Journal Gazette video by Chad Ryan.

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At a glance
Final standings of DiscoverE’s 2013-14 Future City Indiana challenge:
1. Santos, Woodside Middle School, Fort Wayne
2. Imperium Aquatilium, Blackhawk Middle School, Fort Wayne
3. Nova Key, Riverview Middle School, Huntington
4. Astumobilis, Ellis Homeschool Academy, Fort Wayne
5. Sapphire Atlas, Canterbury School, Fort Wayne
Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Indian Springs seventh-graders Mikayla Whitehurst, 13, center, Brenden Schaper, 13, second from right, and Cole Meyer, 13, explain their project “Aquavania” on Saturday during the Future Cities challenge at IPFW.

Students compete in building Future Cities

Model windmills made from drinking straws represent an energy-generating field in the project titled “Candesth,” created by Susan Chen and her teammates from Woodside Middle School.

Anything and everything is fair game when middle-school students are building a city of the future.

Empty water bottles, soup cans, tape dispensers, straws, toothpicks, marbles, dominoes, hair curlers, bubble wrap, breath mint containers and more were used in display models for the DiscoverE’s 2013-14 Future City challenge.

Students on 25 teams vied Saturday in regional competition at IPFW’s Walb Student Union. This year’s theme for the nationwide contest was: “Tomorrow’s Transit: Design a way to move people in and around your city.”

The team that created the city of Santos won first place, marking the third consecutive year that Woodside Middle School students took the top prize, an all-expenses-paid trip to the finals in Washington, D.C. Winners of the 37 regional contests compete Feb. 15-18, during National Engineers Week.

The winning team designed a city that uses magnets to power a train and moving walkways. A bicycle-sharing program encourages residents to exercise. And small devices attached to pedestrians and bicyclists allow their motion to generate electricity for community use, said Jodi Camino, 13.

After designing a city with computer software, students build a tabletop model. They also write an essay on how the city handles various challenges, including energy generation and waste disposal.

Teams must consider cost, safety, efficiency, appearance, environmental and health impacts of their approaches.

“Really, it’s a tool to learn city planning,” Carol Dostal said. She’s the outreach director for IPFW’s College of Engineering, Technology and Computer Science and the Future City competition’s Indiana coordinator.

“Students are pushed to think about what real cities do,” she added.

Almost 1,000 Indiana middle-school students joined teacher-guided teams last fall. About 40,000 participated in the nationwide competition, organizers said.

Each year’s challenge requires students to explore concepts in science, technology, engineering and math, commonly referred to as STEM.

The national grand prize is $7,500 for the team’s school or after-school STEM program and a trip to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.

The program is open to teams of students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades and meets various national standards for math, science and technology education.

Teams can range in size from three students to an entire class. Organizers estimate that teachers who mentor teams might spend 35 to 45 hours on a project while students might spend 70 to 100 hours.

Bill Bostain teaches eighth-grade science at Riverview Middle School in Huntington. He incorporated the competition in his lessons. An English teacher on his team worked with students on the written portion of their projects.

Half of Riverview’s eighth-graders participated. Teachers chose the three best of 20 projects created by 110 students to take to the regional competition.

Bostain was impressed with the final projects and with students’ enthusiasm for the program.

“I think the kids really enjoyed it,” he said.

A team from Indian Springs Middle School in Columbia City created Aquavania, a city that places industrial, commercial and health care areas on one level and the residential and recreational elements on the lower level, which is underwater.

“There’s a spa,” 13-year-old Brenden Schaper said as he pointed to items on the lower level of the group’s detailed model. “There’s a window. Dolphins can swim right up to you.”

Residents of the future city can travel in vehicles that operate on both land and water. The students dubbed them “yaudis,” a mash-up of yacht and Audi.

Amanda Heck, also 13, was the team’s leader.

“It’s like a vacation every day,” she said. “Our motto is: A city built for you.”

Brenden and Amanda credited 12-year-old Leonie Trabert with the model’s clever design, which included a dentist’s office shaped like a tooth and a cellphone/computer store that had keys from a computer keyboard glued around its base.

“I don’t think our model would be half as good without Leonie,” Brenden said.

Brenden, the team’s architect and engineer, said the judges laughed at one point during their oral presentation.

“When you really connect with the judges,” he added, “it calms your nerves.”