Not many people can say they’ve designed a town from scratch, giving 8th grader, Angelou Davis something to brag about. “I actually did two city designs for Angeloutopia,” he said, “a city with 20,000 residents.”
For the past five years, Sligo Adventist School, in Takoma Park, Md., has named 8th graders as city engineers through a project developed by Melody Trauthwein, 6-8th grade math and science teacher. Students choose a population size, from 1,000 to 1 million residents, and consider 12 areas like water sources, sewage/landfill issues, sustainable energy sources, types of housing, road designs to avoid traffic congestion, food availability, green spaces and civil services.
Once those parameters have been set, students begin shaping their towns on paper. “It takes about a month to complete the project, even working in groups,” said Trauthwein. “Keeping everything to scale is always a challenge. Students begin to see how much goes into keeping even a small town viable and must consider how one choice affects another.” Once complete, the final projects are laminated and displayed around the school.
This idea stemmed from Trauthwein’s involvement with CoastLines, a program through the National Science Foundation which focuses on Geographical Information Systems and using that technology to study water quality in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. “The program emphasized that geography is key to understand many topics, including politics and town planning, which made me interested in why things are where they are when a town is designed,” she said. “This project builds critical thinking skills and hopefully better decision-making as they consider the short-term and long-term variables.”
Students are often surprised both by the challenge and by their own creativity. “I did two designs,” said Davis. “The first design took a day to draw, but then I did it in 3D and it took a lot longer. One of my biggest challenges was building the streets of the city so everyone could get around. My favorite part of the project was placing the buildings in the right locations, like the school near the hospital.”
This year, SAS is bursting with a collection of science projects. Students have also had the opportunity to draw pinto bean plants as they grow to new heights, choose a biome and create a food chain/web within that biome and create a presentation about common teenage lifestyle risks.
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