Middle schoolers learn about engineering in the real world

13 teams compete in regional Future City Competition


The middle schoolers that competed in the Future City Competition can tell you exactly how their city functions — how people travel or how the city is powered, for example.

“They really get into the role of what their city is all about,” said Dr. Rebecca Spearot, a retired professional engineer and current regional coordinator for the Future City Competition. “It's neat to hear their ideas.”

On Jan. 19, 13 teams of middle schoolers from across the state competed in the regional finals of DiscoverE's Future City Competition, which took place on the Colorado School of Mines campus in Golden.

“They got to learn about engineering as a career field,” said Heather Haberman, a science teacher at Excel Academy Charter School in Arvada, which had two teams enter the regional competition. “They learned information in a real-world context. That made the learning meaningful for them.”

The first-place team, a group from Liberty Classical Academy in New Castle, won an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., and will compete in the Future City Competition National Finals Feb. 17-19.

This year, the theme is Powering Our Future, and the students were tasked with designing an electrical grid that can withstand and quickly recover from the impact of a natural disaster.

The competition “got the kids to think outside the box, using their imaginations,” Haberman said.

The national Future City Competition is in its 27th year. Colorado did regional competitions in the early 2000s, but stopped having them for a number of years, Spearot said. She was one of the professionals who brought it back, and it is now in its second year, Spearot said. As a retired engineer, she said, it is her passion to bring competitions such as Future City to the younger generation.

For the competition, the students' overall project entailed writing a 1,500-word essay, using SimCity software to demonstrate their city's growth, coming up with an original project plan, building a scale model of their city with recycled materials and presenting their project at the competition. In addition, the teams were not permitted to spend more than $100 on their projects.

Simi Basu, a computer science teacher and cyber security coach at STEM School Highlands Ranch, which had one team enter the regional competition, noted that the competition gave the students an opportunity to dream, make a change in the world and discover their passions.

“The students learned to celebrate accomplishments,” Basu said. “They understand it's not always about winning. The sense of accomplishment is the best award.”

Excel Academy Charter School in Arvada, Colorado School of Mines, STEM School Highlands Ranch, Future City competition


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