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Indiana middle-school students take on health care at Future City finals

Can America's middle schoolers do a better job of tackling our nation's health-care crisis than its politicians? That's the question posed this year by the Future City® competition, which brings together teams of students to design solutions for real-world problems.

Health-care innovations from Indiana students will be unveiled Saturday (Jan. 15) during the Future City state regional at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne's Walb Student Union.

Each year, Future City, a program of the National Engineers Week Foundation, highlights a current issue and asks students to investigate and come up with solutions. This year's theme is "Providing a Reliable and Effective Health Care Product or System That Improves a Sick, Injured, or Disabled Patient's Quality of Life and Comfort."

Future City Competition

Students and teachers from Blackhawk Middle School celebrate after winning the 2010 Future City Indiana regional competition.

Print-Quality Photo

Participating students start with a research essay describing their concept. They use SimCity™ 4 Deluxe software to design a virtual Future City 3D map incorporating their ideas, then build a physical model using recycled materials costing no more than $100. The culmination of the project is a team presentation at the regional competition.

Last fall, IPFW held a session to help students with their research on medical products and healthcare, assisted by panelists from Medtronics in Warsaw, Ind., and Parkview Health in Fort Wayne.

Each team is guided by a teacher and an engineer-mentor. Nick Balmoria has been involved with the competition for 10 years as a teacher at Fort Wayne's Blackhawk Middle School, which won the state regional in 2010 and represented Indiana at last year's national contest. Balmoria said students enjoy playing the SimCity game, but they also learn that research is hard, serious work and that accurate model-building is challenging.

"They work so hard on a project for four months after school and on weekends," he said. "When the moving parts work and they answer questions with confidence, it's awesome to see their self-esteem and their aspiration to continue problem-solving in engineering."

At Woodside Middle School in Fort Wayne, all 300 eighth-graders take part in the competition as part of science classes and the school's Integrated Solutions Block program. Teacher Mike Gorman said Future City is a natural fit for educators who want to implement activities with authentic assessment in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"Future City stretches students and allows them to actively participate in of both problem-based learning and inquiry-based research," he said. "What they learn is a type of higher-order thinking skills that will be a prerequisite for today's students to effectively compete and function in the 21st century."

At the Indiana regional finals, sponsor Indiana Michigan Power awards gift cards and medals to finalists and participation gifts to each team member. IPFW offers Education Awards for a free class to the two teachers who guide the first- and second-place teams.

"The teachers and mentors should all be applauded for their dedicated semester-long support of their teams," said Carol Dostal, outreach director for the IPFW College of Engineering, Technology, and Computer Science.

First-place winners from 35 regional competitions earn a berth in the national finals in Washington, D.C., during National Engineers Week, Feb. 18-22, 2011. The national grand prize is a visit to the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., provided by national finals host Bentley Systems Inc. The second-place team receives $5,000 from the National Society of Professional Engineers, and third place wins $2,000 from IEEE-USA for their school's technology programs.

For more information on the Indiana regional, see