A handful of Iowa schoolkids are in the nation’s capital this week, toting their own model town. The popular video game “Sim City” is the basis for a city-planning competition among middle-schoolers from around the nation. Ron Griffith, a civil engineer for the city of Cedar Rapids, is regional coordinator for Iowa’s participants in the “Future City Competition” going on in Washington, D.C. One element is using the game “Sim City 3000” provided by the software company, then they must write an essay about their imaginary town. The teams also have a topic they must work in to their plans. Griffith says this year it was using bio-engineering and biotechnology to reduce pollution in their city, something that ironically Iowa does a lot of with all the bioscience done here and the management used in raising crops and making ethanol. The kids also must write up an abstract, a summary of their virtual city, and build a scale model of the imaginary town. In Washington at this week’s national competition they must also stand up and tell judges about aspects of their plan. Griffith admits the students who take part in the “Future City” competition with simulated towns may be learning how to plan and run real cities of the future. Planners, engineers, lawyers, doctors — he says they learn a lot of life-skills as they do team-building, write their essay, make their model and do their presentations. Griffith says it takes a well-rounded team to win at this competition. Each team has three students from seventh and eighth grade, and gets help from mentors who work in engineering or related fields. Out of nearly 60 teams that competed, Iowa’s finalists in Washington are a trio of kids from Harding Middle School in Cedar Rapids.
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