Franklin — If these students are the future, the future seems bright.
A team of Forest Park Middle School seventh-graders took home the top prize at the Future City competition held Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, where middle school students were tasked with creating a city that could exist 100 years in the future.
Shriya Punati, Pallavi Kandipati and Pranav Iyer won first place for their city plan of a town named "Jivana," a future projection of the city of Mumbai. Their city solved the problem of creating public spaces by using a "snowflake system" of green spaces, with one large green space in the middle connected to other smaller spaces by pedestrian walkways and bikeways.
As the first-place team in the Wisconsin region, Punati, Pallavi and Kandipati will go on to compete at the national Future City competition in Washington, D.C., in February.
Forest Park also took home three other awards for specific aspects of teams' designs.
Seventh-graders Harper Navin, Sydney Lewandowski and Arianna Moen won best transportation for their city "Sunset Bay," which featured magnetic roads to power cars without pollution, flying buses and drones that can not only transport, but monitor health, control crime and fight fires.
Eighth-graders Irene Yank, Ella Kozelek and Sophia Dekke won best use of plastic for their city "KaUlu," and the winning "Jivana" team also won an award for best power system.
Each of the teams from Forest Park developed a project with several different components: a virtual city design created using Sim City software, a 1,500-word essay, a scale model of the project, and a presentation. At the competition, judges examined the different pieces the students had made, listened to each presentation, and ultimately chose the winner to send on to the national competition in D.C.
Students in S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) classes at Forest Park spent all last semester working on these projects, which required research, working with an engineer, teamwork and creativity.
"It really is project-based learning," said Mary Fassbender, the seventh-grade S.T.E.M. teacher at Forest Park. "They learn how to collaborate, they do some long-term planning, they learn time management. ... For some groups, it's harder, but they're still practicing these employable-type skills."
Students at Forest Park dive into the project beyond just the regional competition, though.
This year, around 75 students in S.T.E.M. classes formed groups to create their own Future City projects. Throughout the semester, three engineers with ties to the school – like eighth-grade S.T.E.M. teacher Beth Gorak's husband – visited the school to mentor the students.
"(The students) have to look for things that might be available 100 years in the future. They have to look up the scientific advancements to see what might be available," Fassbender said. "Some of our mentors were able to guide them to things that may be happening in the future."
After the projects were completed in January, Forest Park held its own Future City competition, bringing in other engineers from the mentors' companies to judge and pick four winners to send to the regional competition at MSOE.
Even though not everyone wins an award, or goes on to compete at the regional competition, Fassbender sees the Future City project as an excellent learning opportunity for all students.
"It can be very challenging. Everyone is at a different level," Fassbender said. "But the beauty of it is that they can take it as far as they want. ... Some kids that may be higher level or skilled kind of learn from the others, and others still get a lot by going through the process."
On to D.C.
As the champions of the region, Punati, Kandipati and Iyer will compete in the national competition, which spans over three days from Saturday to Monday, Feb. 18-20.
Future City provides transportation and lodging for the three team members along with a teacher and mentor.
In addition to competing for the grand prize, a trip to Space Camp and $7,500, the students will compete for runner-up cash prizes and awards for specific aspects of their design, such as best use of renewable energy, best city description, or a people's choice award.