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Student Work: Writing – Building Green (Middle)

In 2022, Omar, from Ohio, earned first place in the middle division of Creative Writing (aka Scenario Writing). His story “The Big Bird” was inspired by the topic of building green. In a world where all storms are category 4 or higher, Luc, a biosecurity engineer, has to make a choice that could save, or destroy, people looking for shelter from the world’s storms.

Additional Information
Topic: Building Green
Division: Middle
Competition: 2022 International Conference (First Place)
Evaluation Highlights: At the world finals, students receive feedback from a team of evaluators. See highlights of their feedback at the end of this article.
Original Formatting: See the student work with its original formatting in an attached PDF below.

The Big Bird

By Omar

Luc opened his eyes as soon as the neural message chimed in. “Category 5 storm 127 miles east of Nupol. Approaching at 33 miles per hour.”

He hoisted himself out of bed and walked briskly to the window, motioning a screen where the projected hurricane’s path bloomed into a hologram. It was still dark outside. A canopy of stars flickered in the ocean’s whimsical waves, mingling with bioluminescent curves reflected from the towers lit by microalgae. Contouring the horizon, a slim silvery arc hinted at sunrise. From the 65th floor condo he could see the city slowly waking up, humming life from every nook and cranny. 

“Big day in Nupol, Lucky! Just the way you want to start. Trial by fire.” A grinning, freckled face coalesced within Luc’s visual field. “I’m Viktor. I’ll be your right-hand man in the control center today.”

“Quite a day from the outset. G’morning, Viktor.”

“Balmy 95 weather out here. I’m on an awesome ride to the Geodome. Are you coming?” Viktor asked.

Luc beamed a smile. He couldn’t wait. It was a big day. His first day in charge at the Geodome Command, holding the keys to the gate. Or rather the codes. As a 33-year- old biosecurity engineer, his promotion took many by surprise. It was a Promethean task to monitor Nupol’s Dome, a submerged complex scaffolded from mycotecture bricks and biomimetic polymers which could self-repair and expand in case of structural damage. When storm surges were predicted, it would firmly anchor the city’s pylons to bioengineered reefs entwined in an underwater pontoon and upheave to enclose the city in a holosphere.

“Be there in 5,” Luc replied curtly as he jumped in the shower. Beads of moisture pulverized the air for thirty seconds before the sensor started pinging, signaling the allotted water amount was reached.

Tiptoeing around the condo, Luc picked up his SecID lenses and hobbled on the unfolding deck to a hovering ARZev, an autonomous fuel-cell electric vehicle. Just as the doors were closing, a small figure materialized within frame.

“Viktor, I’m…hey, Sammy, ” Luc chuckled in surprise.

“Daddy, daddy!” A spitting image of Luc, a boy with brown, tousled curly hair waved cheerfully. “Can you finish the story?”

“Story? What story?”

“Grandpa fell asleep last night. He told me a story about the Big Bird. Long ago, when the waters came, the Big Bird flew to the city. Did she save the people, Daddy? When I grow up, I want to be the Big Bird, Daddy. I want to save the people.” Sammy twirled around, flailing his arms.

Luc laughed. “We’ll talk about the Big Bird tonight, Sammy. I’ve got to fly…”

Mirroring his son’s movements, Luc swung his arms, as the ARZev sailed over the city’s canopy. Lit by a smoldering sunrise, trees stretched their branches out from the rooftops, hugging bioadaptive breathing facades which allowed for natural cooling and heating, while sequestering carbon and filtering pollution. Sunbeams sifted through carefully crafted arboretums, as solar-powered nano drones pollinated the vertical lush gardens. Whenever he ventured out, air smelled like springtime.

Seasteading had exploded in recent decades as floating settlements sprouted along the flooded coastlines, forged by the convergent crises of Mainland’s resource depletion, accumulated toxic waste, and rising temperatures. At the dawn of the 22nd century, many of the world’s cities lie partially submerged due to rising water levels. With over ten percent of the world population afflicted, millions were forced to abandon their homelands. Only the wealthy were able to relocate to Nupol, a floating zero-carbon city which emerged as a new Green Culture, in a symbiotic connection with its environment, unlocking the power of the greatest technology ever created: nature itself. A self-sufficient micronation with a perfect circular bioeconomy, Nupol imposed strict rules on its inhabitants. Surveillance bots were constantly monitoring the water and energy consumption. Bioswales, absorbent rain gardens, collected and filtered the rainwater for reuse. Permeable sponge-city surfaces let precipitation percolate through the soil and sink into the water-table. Nothing was overlooked or wasted. It was the bargain that the citizens had to make with the government: less individual freedom in return for First World living standards and security.

“Storm upgraded to Category 6.” A public billboard flashed the update just as Luc walked into the Geodome quarters, where 4-D images of the storm streamlined from reconnaissance drones.

Viktor was intently scanning the screens, his usual blithe disposition evaporated. He jumped at the sight of Luc. “Whoa, it’s a torpedo, man, picking up speed by the second. We should update the Saffir-Simpson scale, since all storms are 4 and up.” With a swipe, he pulled the city’s infrastructure into view. “Powering down the underwater farms. All aerial vehicles to pods. Underground platform secured. Prepare to close.”

Luc felt an inkling of unease. Surveilling the data, he tapped the initiation codes. The city would soon be cocooned within the Dome, sheltering its six million inhabitants. We’ll be safe. “Ready to lock systems,” he uttered tensely, when an unaccountable flash cleaved the screens. “Wait! What…what is this?”

Fragmented holoimages flooded the walls. Just outside the Dome’s perimeter, a floating structure was approaching, shaking in the ever strengthening winds.

 Viktor zoomed in, shaking his head. “Just one of those boathouses. Some of the mainlanders are trying to get in again. Didn’t you get the info on that? Close the Dome; we have no time.”

Pointing to the distress signals, Luc stepped away from the screen.“Hold on, Viktor!” 

“We can’t let them in. What’s wrong with you? Do you need a history refresher? Mainlanders never followed the rules. They built coal mines instead of green homes, cut their forests, wasted water, and clutched their fossil fuels. And they were warned. Then what? Heat wave after heat wave until the rising seas sank the cities.” Viktor sighed heavily with desperation.

Danger! Danger! Blasting alarms pierced the air.

Images of the drifting boathouse filled the screens, inside four people huddled at the whim of the surge. Tossed like a toy by the spinning behemoth, it didn’t stand a chance.

Squeezing his forehead, Luc tried frantically to filter through the neural messages.

They’re people out there.

“Close the dome!” Viktor bellowed, his eyes widened with distress.

Luc turned to the board. Viktor’s distorted voice echoed far away, only the thumping of his heart anchored him to that moment in time. He blinked. The uproar blared back with a thud. Setting his hand on the security portal image, he scanned the initiation codes. The ear-splitting din came to an end.

“Protocol initiated. Closing in,” he uttered.

Relieved, Viktor fell in the chair. “Well, that was…What was that, man?”

Silently, Luc watched the barriers upheaving from the briny waters. He tried to quell the storm raging inside him. A paralyzing hurt spread through his body like liquid metal. He turned sharply to Viktor.

“They can change. We did. Yes, Nupol and a handful of other floating cities were built when mainlanders quarreled over plans and deadlines. Yes, they failed to act in time, but they are reversing their actions.They did start to redesign their cities, future-proof their buildings, and reuse their resources.”

“You’re so naive,” huffed Viktor, rolling his eyes.

Luc shook his head. He had seen hopeful updates from the mainland. After the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate and Earth Restructure released their foreboding 2091 report, where buildings were responsible for 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, the mainlanders finally acknowledged the necessity of an energy efficient infrastructure and agreed to abide by the Net-Zero Carbon building commitment.

“Viktor, listen to me,” Luc hurried. ”We can hide behind a wall. We share the same planet. We need them too. If things worsen, where are we gonna move next? We are in the same boat!” 

Luc took a deep breath. He turned to the control screen. “Everyone needs a Big Bird,” he murmured, swiping the protocol to a halt.

Dumbfounded, Viktor did not utter a word.

They watched as the angry gale pushed the boathouse to safety inside the Geodome’s perimeter. “Resuming protocol.” Surveying the shield’s closure to the end, Luc stood motionless.

Rescue drones were steering the boathouse to the city’s main platform. Quietly, Luc removed his SecID and set it on the desk.

Outside, four people stepped out of the boathouse, eyes brimming with relief.

***

“The storm battered the city for days, snarling waves engulfing the houses with fury.

Stranded on the roofs, the people lost all hope. It was in that moment when from far, far away, the Big Bird flew through the menacing storm, through the roar of the wind and crashing seas, unperturbed by the raging tempest.

People saved their lives by climbing onto her wings to emerge into a sunburst that lined the horizon. And from then on, people never lost hope again.”Luc raised his eyes from the book. Smiling in his sleep, Sammy was dreaming of the Big Bird. Warmth filled Luc’s chest. We won’t lose hope, Sammy. Only together we can rebuild this world.

Evaluation Highlights

At all stages of competition, registered students receive authentic assessment of their competitive writing submissions from trained evaluators. Our rubric-based evaluations share learner-focused feedback to support students in their growth as writers and creative thinkers.

Evaluators use the rubric to provide quantitative feedback as they score student submissions. Evaluators leave qualitative feedback as comments for students, in order to support their future competition submissions and thinking skills. At our world finals, students receive feedback from multiple evaluators.

Here are highlights from the evaluation team about this submission:

  • There’s a line midway through the story that really struck me: “We share the same planet.” It’s such an important point to make, and it’s really at the heart of your story. You do a good job building a futuristic world and creating a scenario that feels realistic and with high stakes. I would love to know more about Viktor and his background. What makes him tick? It’s character points like that which can help you go from a great story to an amazing one.
  • It may have been interesting to find out a little more about what climate events have brought the world to the state you depict, how difficult it was/what technological advances needed to occur for the Dome to be made and what toll have all these events had on humankind as a whole, in so doing broadening the context of your scenario. Overall, a finely crafted scenario which has a well-constructed sense of urgency to it as well as demonstrated well integrated futurism. Well done.
  • This is a beautiful scenario, both in its crafting as well as its story. The floating city of Nupol is described clearly and thoughtfully, a wonderful creation that nonetheless has its origin in devastation. The citizens of Nupol live restricted lives in exchange for security and a high quality of life that is not available to many outside of its walls. There is a question, then, of who gets to live there, which this scenario examines carefully and with hopeful optimism. The world in which Nupol exists is one that we already see on our horizon, given the current intensity of climate disasters. This scenario is thought-provoking and also inspiring, pushing for conservation while also valuing humanity and kindness. I thoroughly enjoyed this well-written story, and I thank you for sharing it.

Disclaimer: Student work and evaluator comments may have been adjusted by Future Problem Solving for privacy and clarity.

Attachment – Submission PDF

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April Michele

April Michele Bio

Executive Director

A seasoned educator, April Michele has served as the Executive Director since 2018 and been with Future Problem Solving more than a decade. Her background in advanced curriculum strategies and highly engaging learning techniques translates well in the development of materials, publications, training, and marketing for the organization and its global network. April’s expertise includes pedagogy and strategies for critical and creative thinking and providing quality educational services for students and adults worldwide.

Prior to joining Future Problem Solving, April taught elementary and middle grades, spending most of her classroom career in Gifted Education. She earned the National Board Certification (NBPTS) as a Middle Childhood/Generalist and later served as a National Board Assessor for the certification of others. She was trained and applied the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP) in Humanities, which helped widen the educational scope and boundaries beyond the U.S. In addition, April facilitated the Theory and Development of Creativity course for state level certification of teachers. She has also collaborated on a variety of special projects through the Department of Education.

A graduate of the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s in Elementary Education and the University of South Florida with a master’s in Gifted Education, April’s passion is providing a challenging curriculum for 21st century students so they are equipped with the problem solving and ethical leadership skills they need to thrive in the future. As a board member in her local Rotary Club, she facilitates problem solving in leadership at the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA). She is also a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute and earned her certificate in Nonprofit Management from the Edyth Bush Institute at Rollins College.