Middle schoolers showcase innovative science projects at regional Future City Competition at UAH

Huntsville, Alabama- Middle schoolers have gone beyond making paper mache volcanoes and homemade lava lamps for a more innovative scientific challenge.

Nearly 20 teams of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders from around the state competed in the Alabama Regional Future City Competition this morning at the Shelby Center at The University of Huntsville.

This year, students were tasked with reviewing and creating solutions for transportation issues in their cities. Students built physical models of their cities using mostly recycled items costing no more than $100.

Randolph School teacher Lindsey Dunnavant and engineering mentor Caitlyn Durham said their diverse group of students have been preparing for the competition for six months and are pleased with the ownership they've taken in the writing, researching and creative phases of the project.

"Some kids just wanted to see what it was like and others already had some background experience. It was nice to see them break out of their comfort zone and try something new," Dunnavant said.

She was also surprised at how knowledgeable her students were.

"There are things they talk about that are over my head and I have to go make sure what they're saying is correct," she said before referencing one of her students' inquiries about an advanced physics principle discovered in a magazine.

Computer pieces, spray foam, Christmas ornaments and plastic cookie containers are a few items Randolph students Esper Chao, Joshua Huber, Craig Clemmons and Tristan Hunnewell used to create their city model. Their city, Kathahimikan, is located in the Philippines. They've been tasked with fixing the city's transportation infrastructure damaged by natural disasters.

"I think the best part about Future City in general is just the real world skills it teaches you. It teaches you how to balance a budget, save receipts from what you've spent, just the whole thing ...working through a process and publishing your concepts that you've made into something that's actually going to work," Hunnewell said.

Mayor Tommy Battle and Mayor Troy Trulock said students got a taste of what they do on a daily basis through the project. Trulock told students that if they keep making achievable solutions with a limited amount of resources to meet the need of the most amount of people, they could have a good chance at taking his job one day.

Sixth grader Amari Bell of the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club in Birmingham is looking forward to creating futuristic community spaces when she gets older.

"I want to be a city planner. It's just so fun," Bell said.

The annual competition is sponsored by DiscoverE, a conglomerate of professional and technical societies dedicated to engineering outreach, education and engaging students through hands-on experiences.

First place winners from each regional qualifier will earn a trip to the national competition in Washington D.C. Feb. 15-18 during Engineers Week. The national grand prize includes a trip to Space Camp and $7,000 for the winning team's school or after school STEM program.

More than 40,000 middle schoolers from 37 regions around the country will participate in the competition.

By Amethyst Holmes | aholmes@al.com 
on January 18, 2014 at 5:20 PM, updated January 18, 2014 at 6:34 PM

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