West Roxbury, Mass.-- In 2040, Boston will look much smaller than it appears on a current map. Flooding from global warming could leave neighborhoods underwater and permanently displace residents.
Ms. Nora McGauley knows that. So, this May, she made sure her students did too.
In her online, middle school science class at Catholic Memorial School, Ms. McGauley challenged her 8th grade students to reimagine what areas of Boston might look like two decades from now.
Dubbed “Destination: Boston 2040,” the project spanned an entire month and culminated in each student creating and presenting 3D maps of how neighborhoods between East Boston and West Roxbury might look two decades from now.
"This project was done last year in a much different environment, namely the classroom," said Ms. McGauley.
"This year, the boys did a lot of research from home when creating their version of a future, 'island' Boston neighborhood."
Ms. McGauley created the hands-on assignment years ago. The assignment, she said, encourages her students to ask critical questions about the effects of global warming and to analyze historical maps of Boston dating all the way back to 1630.
Since 1630, Boston has added 1,121 man-made acres of land to its footprint. Landfill from Boston proper and Greater Boston communities account for a majority of those added acres. According to Ms. McGauley, flooding from global warming tends to deteriorate man-made land more than natural land.
“[In class] we discussed how man-made land is less apt to be able to withstand flooding conditions that may happen in the future,” Ms. McGauley said.
“The analogy I used was that of a sandcastle on the beach. You come back the next day and the sandcastle is gone. The ocean tide took it away, but the beach is still there.”
Each student started their project by examining an interactive map of Boston, which illustrated how the size of the city had changed from the years 1830, 1845, 1865, and 1890. They then needed to pick a Boston neighborhood and identify the areas created by landfill. After researching how rising sea levels might affect such landfill areas, the students then projected which areas might remain inhabitable in the future.
Once students identified areas safe for residential living, they creating 3D maps of a neighborhood in 2040 using common materials found inside their homes. Students accounted for energy sources, food supplies, water resources, businesses, waste management, transportation, and numerous other resources when creating their 3D maps.
In years past, students finished the project by displaying their maps inside Ms. McGauley’s classroom. Linked together, the maps would create a mosaic of a "futuristic" Boston.
However, due to the transition to online learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic this March, students shared photos of their maps instead and explained their findings with one another over Zoom.
The project caught the attention of a fellow middle school faculty member.
Ms. Sheila Hufnagle, a member of the science department, performed her own variation of the project. Just like in her colleague’s class, Ms. Hufnagle’s 8th grade students projected the effects of global warming on coastal communities. However, Ms. Hufnagle took it a step further by asking her students to research policies and practices already in place across the country.
“Having my students research what cities such as New Orleans and New York have done to prevent flooding got their imaginations going,” Ms. Hufnagle said.
“It made the issue much more real to them.”
Ms. Hugnagle’s students then wrote hypothetical letters to city planners. Each letter expressed the concerns of each student, who acted as stakeholders offering their own recommendations on how to prepare for the future.
According to Assistant Head of School Mr. Brian Palm, the project proved a perfect example of how the CM curriculum constantly tries to make learning relevant to its students.
Such projects allow the boys to think deeper about their local communities in the context of larger, global issues, he said.
“As I project to the experience that the boys could have in the AP Environmental Science curriculum, they further develop the idea that solutions to today’s problems are solved through interdisciplinary, ‘rangy’ thinking,” explained Mr. Palm.
“Having had this memorable and foundational experience in their learning background, the boys have already been stretched in ways that encourage the type of higher-order, complex thinking that is required at the AP level.”