A mixture of SwissMiss hot chocolate boxes, toilet paper rolls, cupcake pans and paint bottles cover one of the tables in Angela Robinson’s classroom at Thompson Junior High. Every morning at7:30 a.m., about 14 students from sixth to eighth grade gather around and begin to discuss and put together the materials.
What are they making?
The “Emerald City,” said Jack Moore, an eighth-grader.
Well, to be more precise, they are constructing a “green” city, aptly named Emerald, as part of the Future City Competition, which has middle school-year students creating and designing a city based on a theme in the engineering or current world.
This year’s theme is alternative energy sources, according to Jennifer Buglione, a contact for National Engineers Week, which sponsors the competition.
“The students have to create an essay, and from there they use software to create a model of their city. Then they create a 3-D table top model and it becomes more hands on,” said Buglione.
Oswego has taken the theme literally and figuratively and is using recycled and found materials for their city's construction.
Oswego has joined the annual competition, now in its 19th year, for the first time. Angela Robinson, an art teacher, said right now only Thompson is participating, but there is talk about all of the junior highs getting involved next year.
A teacher for 18 years, Robinson has been very involved with STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – which she, along with many other educators have changed to STEAM – art –, to help students explore and understand the common core subjects.
An active member in the educational world, Robinson heard about the Future City project and knew immediately she wanted to incorporate it into the school.
“Due to the budget we can’t always get the kids to STEAM activities, but we can bring activities to them,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for the students.”
The project is broken down into groups. There’s the technology and engineering part that is created with software of the town. Scientifically the students have to create forms of green energy and then mathematically create a scale for their model. And then using art, they put it all together.
Moore headed the technology aspect of his team’s city, using Sim City 4 software. “Here’s the factory,” he said pointing it out on the map. “And here’s the houses and living section.”
It isn’t as easy as laying out a design and calling it done though. Moore has had to coax “people” to live in the city, and said they were having some trouble in the beginning with their class levels. “The rich just kept getting richer and no one from the middle class was moving in,” he explained.
The city is supposed to advance 150 years into the future, but at the moment the Thompson group’s is at four years.
“It’s our first time doing this so we’re not expecting to win,” said Robinson. “It’s more for the experience.”
Around the table, Gina Thom, eighth grade, and Sarah Mereness, sixth, try to decide where the waterfall they had created was going to go.
“I think over here, by the factory,” said Thom, as Mereness nodded her agreement.
The student have fun brainstorming as they go along, contemplating using lightning as a power source – “Storm power!” suggests Moore – and deciding how the final presentation will look – “We want the trees to have snow on them,” said Mereness.
Brittany Breedlove, eighth grade, really loves the art portion of the project.
“It’s fun to do the painting and designing," she said.
The students only have about half an hour each morning to work on their city, so they have to make the most of that short time and multi-task. As several students paint, others organize materials and look over the diagrams while others aid in the clean-up and suggest new ideas to the overall look of their city.
“They’re not here because they have to be,” said Robinson, observing the students as they wrap up for the morning. “They’re here because they want to be.”