Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Futuristic city project functions as one of many enrichment programs

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Bill Ryan⁄The Gazette
In preparation for the statewide National Engineers Week ‘‘Future City Competition” in Baltimore, Windsor Knolls Middle School eighth-graders John Juliano and Jack LaPilusa look at plans for a mock city of the future. Bill Ryan⁄The Gazette
If it is hard to imagine what life would be like in the year 2200, a group of seventh- and eighth-grade students at Windsor Knolls Middle School in Ijamsville may be able to help.

Using SimCity, a popular computer program, a group of 13- and 14-year-olds created and visualized ‘‘VanHornville” and ‘‘RopoA Mapca,” futuristic cities where life has become a lot simpler, thanks to the Internet and other technology.

Since November, two student teams have voluntarily met during and after school to design the futuristic cities using engineering and math concepts as part of a new Renzulli enrichment activity at Windsor Knolls Middle School.

On Saturday, the boys and girls presented a model of their cities and gave a presentation during the statewide National Engineers Week ‘‘Future City Competition” in Baltimore.

The seventh-grade team won first place in the competition, an all-girls team from The Visitation Academy in Frederick won second, and Windsor Knolls’ eighth grade team placed third.

The National Engineers Future City is one of 13 Renzulli Schoolwide Enrichment activities at Windsor Knolls Middle School. The Renzulli program is a series of learning activities designed to enrich all middle school students’ interest and learning in various topics and subjects.

Every middle school in Frederick County and some elementary schools offer Renzulli programs coordinated by teacher specialists during regularly scheduled classes, lunchtime or after school.

Each school’s program varies slightly depending on students’ interests and needs, but activities such as Destination Imagination, Trout in the Classroom and Stock Market Game are shared among many Frederick County middle schools.

At Windsor Knolls Middle, Renzulli enrichment programs range from academic trivia contests to producing grade-level newspapers and individual research projects.

Judith Main, a Renzulli specialist at Windsor Knolls Middle for 11 years, said she visits social studies and science classes in the beginning of the school year and allows students to sign up for Renzulli activities. ‘‘I try to get them doing different activities where I can get different audiences,” she said.

Although Renzulli activities are open to all students, Main said she uses Maryland State Assessment scores and teacher recommendations to place students in programs.

Main noted that it is tricky finding activities that all students would enjoy, but the element of competition seems to attract them. ‘‘A little bit of competition drives them,” Main said. ‘‘They need challenge.”

The prospect of competition motivated the seventh- and eighth-graders to come to school on their day off - Jan. 22 - to construct a model scale of a futuristic city.

Connor Hobson, 12, waited for his seventh-grade teammates inside Main’s classroom and said his city, ‘‘RopoA Mapca,” was Russian for ‘‘Mars City.” The Martian city of more than 200,000 in the year 2300 boasted a spaceport, sportsplex and a sophisticated energy system that broke down the city’s waste into atoms.

‘‘It’s cool to see what you can think up,” Connor said of the competition. ‘‘You can go wild. You can explain any ideas you want.”

At a nearby table, John Juliano and his eighth-grade team recreated the suburbs of ‘‘VanHornville” in model scale with a $100 budget and mounds of clay, paint, glue and thread.

John, 14, said the Future Cities competition was not the only Renzulli activity he was involved in, but that it was one of his biggest projects.

Though the work for the competition meant missing class, John’s teammates, Chad Byrd and Matt Juliano, said that their teachers encouraged the work.

John noted that since many of his team members are in his same classes, including high school level courses, they help each other catch up in class.

Windsor Knolls students are not the only ones to engage in Renzulli activities. Main also organizes staff development for teachers so they can incorporate Renzulli activities in the classroom.

What Main does not want are bored students. If teachers find their pupils in a rut, ‘‘they can meet with me,” she said. ‘‘We try to work together so they don’t lose their interest in school.”