St. Athanasius students plan a future city for competition

The future is now in Evanston, at least in a city created by a team called Destiny in a St. Athanasius School classroom under the guidance of math teacher Maggie Dolan.

Dolan, of Grayslake, is mentoring sixth-grade students (plus one fifth-grader) on a project called “Future City.” Their city of canister and plastic squeeze-bottle buildings soars over a model base.

“They’re working together, they’re talking about what needs to be where, how it’s going to be, how it’s going to look, what makes it look cool. They’re discussing a lot of different things,” Dolan said.

Dolan spoke while the group worked Jan. 16. Two 11-year-old students, Sophie Johnson and Erin Watson, both of Evanston, worked at a whiteboard with markers, sketching out plans for a currently purple street lamp.

Future City is an annual competition put on by DiscoverE, a consortium of professional and technical societies and major U.S. corporations.

Roughly 40,000 middle school students take part, learning the basics of engineering and city planning in an annual competition as they design a model based on virtual versions of a “Future City,” using the latest SimCity software.

Students from 1,350 schools in 37 regions nationally have been tasked with designing a way to move people in and around their city, figuring out those much-needed solutions for DiscoverE’s 2013-14 Future City Competition.

Besides St. Athanasius School, two other North Shore teams are vying for the title, Winnetka Saints Faith, Hope & Charity Catholic School at 180 Ridge Ave. and St. Paul of the Cross School in Park Ridge at 320 S. Washington St. are two local schools making urban/global models.

In the Illinois/Chicago region, 30 teams are participating in the regional finals, which will be held on Sat., Jan. 25 at the University of Chicago’s Student Center East.

Future City encourages the STEM education model which champions science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“One of the parents came to us last year and said, ‘Do you know about Future City and could we start it?’” Dolan said. “So we started it.

Using the SimCity software, one of the things they noticed was that decisions affected how the city was going to be in the future.

“They (the children) decided to set off fireworks and then there were fires. You can’t go back and say, ‘Oh, no, we don’t want fireworks anymore.’ So the kids saw that the decisions they were making were going to affect what was happening.”

The Destiny team also includes a brother and sister. Maeve McMahon, 10, a fifth-grader, stays after school with her big brother Aidan, 12, a sixth-grader.

“I have ideas that could help the environment,” Maeve said. “Electric cars. Cars having neon colors so they wouldn’t need headlights.

“My favorite color is, like, bright pinks and blues,” Maeve said.

Aidan said he would like to be a doctor.

“I would want to see that patients are comfortable and safe and that they could get to the hospital very quickly,” said Aidan.

Dolan believes the project is getting the kids excited about learning math and engineering.

“So much of our world has to do with math, science and engineering and sometimes kids around middle school start to stop enjoying that,” Dolan said. “The kids that I have been working with really enjoyed it and I think that’s the best thing that happened from it.”

First-place winners from each qualifying regional competition receive a trip to the Future City Competition national finals in Washington, D.C., Feb. 15-18 during Engineers Week. The national grand prize is $7,500 for the team’s school or after-school’s STEM program and a trip to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.

DiscoverE’s annual Future City Competition for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students is held from September 2013 through February 2014.

DiscoverE works year-round to sustain and grow a dynamic engineering profession critical to public health, safety, and welfare. The foundation benefits from the expertise of volunteers and more than 100 professional societies, businesses and government agencies.

By: BY KARIE ANGELL LUC For Sun-Times Media | @KarieAngellLuc

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