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Colorado teens brainstorm the future of cities, and they see drones – The Denver Post

Colorado middle-schoolers have been racking their brains over how to make the world a better place. They engineered their big ideas into future city models featuring renewable energy, heated sidewalks, curbside composting, drone-based health care and smart homes.

The students showed off their work at the regional Future City Competition, which took place Monday at the Global Village Academy in Aurora. The program is designed to teach students how to solve real-life problems by creating a city from scratch. This year’s theme was “The Age-Friendly City.” One group even visited a nursing home to get a feel for a population its members were unfamiliar with.

Students were tasked with identifying a problem, brainstorming solutions, designing, building, testing, improving and redesigning, and finally, sharing their concepts.

They were building from scratch, designing their own zoning, infrastructure and city planning processes. They were then required to write an essay, build a model, form a presentation and defend their city in front of a panel of judges, which included a city planner of Denver and engineers. Judges then grilled the students on how engineering played a role in their city, what the main challenges were, how their cities evolved through the process and what residents in the cities would be doing for a living.

  • AURORA, CO - Jan. 15: Liberty ...

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Liberty Classical Academy 8th-grader Grace Miller, 7th-grader Olivia Newitt and 8th-grader Josephine Koschal explain the workings of Terra Mare, the city they built that won first place in the Future City Competition, an educational program that asks middle-school students to imagine, design, and build cities of the future.

  • AURORA, CO - Jan. 15: Home ...

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Home-schooled students Emma Lindo, 8th grade; Eowyn Shreve, 7th grade; Amanda Lindo, 7th grade; and Liberty Classical Academy students Grace Miller, 8th grade; and Josephine Koschal, 8th grade, wait to defend their cities during the Future City Competition.

  • AURORA, CO - Jan. 15: The ...

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    The world’s largest wind turbine tree in Terra Mare, the project from Liberty Classical Academy that won first place in the Future City Competition.

  • AURORA, CO - Jan. 15: Judges ...

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Judges Nick Haag with RAFT Colorado, Ianin McLeman with Bentley Systems, Lisa Barnes with Bureau Veritas North America and Eugene Howard of Denver Community Planning and Development look over Denora, made by students of Global Village Academy of Aurora, during the Future City Competition.

  • AURORA, CO - Jan. 15: Home ...

    Joe Amon, The Denver Post

    Home-schooled students Eowyn Shreve, 7th grade; Emma Lindo, 8th grade; and Amanda Lindo, 7th grade, defend their city, Polar Ljos, during the Future City Competition.

  • Eighth-grader Josephine Koschal explains the workings ...

    Eighth-grader Josephine Koschal explains the workings of Terra Mare, the city from Liberty Classical Academy that won first place in the Future City Competition, an educational program that asks middle-school students to imagine, design, and build cities of the future.

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Judge and IDS GeoRadar manager Steven Ulrich said he was impressed with the number of drones that were implemented in the cities.

“The use of drones as an immediate act of medical assistance,” Ulrich said of what he found to be the most impressive innovation that went into the cities. “How far can we take the drone technology?”

The entire process was intended to help shape tweens and teens into well-rounded adults, teaching them important skills such as critical thinking and public speaking. Students had to learn how to speak coherently in front of a panel of experts, how to take criticism and how to think on their feet.

Deric Walter, a consulting engineer from Boundaries Unlimited in Glenwood Springs, volunteered as a mentor and said his main focus for the young engineers was getting them to think outside themselves. Why does Denver function the way that it does? How do plans get put into construction?

“It builds up the hope for the future,” he said. “It gives them a purpose.”

Groups excelled in different ways — one group’s model was very conservative while their rendered images were immersive, another group’s model was two-stories and included a 3-D printed tree. Egg cartons, bike lights, old shampoo bottles, toothpicks and marbles all made an appearance in the models for these futuristic cities.

Grace Miller helped engineer the winning city, Terra Mare, along with Josephine Koschak and Camden and Olivia Newitt. The team, from Liberty Classical Academy in New Castle, earned a trip to Washington, D.C., where they will present their city in hopes of winning the national title and a trip to NASA.

Grace, 13,  competed last year and said the most important part of the whole process was having a team that was attentive to everyone’s ideas, which was a huge problem last year.

“It sounds silly, but it’s just really great to see my teammates grow,” she said. “And my knowledge grow.”

While some students have dreams of becoming engineers, others don’t, but the lessons learned are lifelong.

“Your actions really do have an impact,” 14-year-old Josephine said.

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