Creating Caverns

Cool Caves

Calvin peered over a mound of molten sugar cubes, analyzing and critiquing the design. “There’s a cave entrance,” he said, pointing to a small bluish hole in the side of the model.

Students in Cool Caves built cool models today to study the structure of limestone caves. “It’s all made of sugar cubes then we put a raw egg frosting on it,” Calvin explained. “We use hot glue water to melt caves in it.”

Calvin and his group created their own cave system then joined others who were rotating around the room comparing each others’ creations. “Now we’re observing other people’s caves,” he said.

“It’s got thick frosting,” Allie noticed at one table. “There are two holes. It looks like they used as much sugar cubes as possible.”

The students created the sugary mountains to demonstrate how cave systems are formed. “We make a hill and put liquid in it,” said Devin. “It’s like the carbonic acid that creates real caves.”

Teacher Michelle Lynum explained this natural process: “Ground water mixes with carbonic acid to create limestone caves.”

“Karst” is the type of landscape where limestone is located and caves are commonly formed. Before building their sugar-cube cave systems, students explored karst caverns through paper models that identified the characteristics of limestone caves.

Nora was intrigued by a model that tumbled across the platform in a particularly delicious way. “It looks like a gravity-defying dessert,” she observed.

In evaluating each other’s work, students were asked to notice if cave tunnels went all the way through the structures. “We tested ours and it goes all the way through,” said Leo.

Thomas noticed that the “gravity-defying dessert” model had more than one cave. Another one displayed a sink hole on the top.

The final activity involved lifting the sugar mounds from the platforms to reveal patterns formed on the bottom. Some students found cavern openings, while others marveled at the beautiful icy blue of the sugar formations.

Breaking Out!

Predators of the Sea and Sky

It’s fascinating to watch young children problem solve. Even when faced with a tough challenge, they are curious, creative, and intrepid enough to keep investigating even after multiple dead ends.

This was demonstrated brilliantly in Predators of the Sea and Sky today as students worked together to “BreakOut”!

A BreakOut activity generally involves a complex set of clues, and two boxes, each secured with one or more locks. Students are given a basic scenario and asked to work out the clues in order to find the lock codes and open the boxes.

After a diligent search of the entire classroom to find clues (photographs, coded messages, a circular cypher, for example), the students huddled together to start problem solving their way into the boxes.

One of the clues was an email message. Tyce noticed that certain numbers in the message were bolded. He predicted they might be the code to open the 3-number lock on the smaller lockbox. But the first few tries failed to open the lock.

“Try arranging the numbers in a different way,” suggested Riley. “What if you put the two on the top. It might have those numbers, just in a different way.”

Rory focused on the cypher wheel. “What I found out is there are 26 letters in the alphabet,” he said as he turned the wheel lined with a layer of numbers and a layer of letters. But something wasn’t right – instead of a Z at the end, there was a zero. “It’s hard because you have to make sure they’re in the right order,” but the zero confused him.

At one point Annabel expressed her frustration. “There are millions of patterns,” she groaned. “Does anyone have a hairpin? We could try to pick the lock,” she giggled.

Another joker suggested: “We need a pneumatic drill!”

Meanwhile, Chris stood alone at a table working intently to copy labels from a shark worksheet onto a clue form. At some point, he realized he was copying “PARTS” – as in shark body parts – onto the sheet. He shared his find with the group and they put P-A-R-T-S into the word lock. “Yeah! We got one!” they shouted as the first lock sprang open.

In the small lockbox was a flashlight and photos of animals. “It’s the food chain! The food chain!” yelled Alexander as he realized the significance of the animal pictures. Students put the photos in food-chain order and turned on the flashlight. Suddenly, arrows written in invisible ink were revealed. Students quickly got to work opening the directional lock on the larger box.

A persistent group figured out the cypher wheel and finally revealed a coded message:

“Sharks have cartilage!” said Charlotte.

Teacher Amy Rouzer sprang into action. “I heard the magic word!” she said, and handed Charlotte a key, which quickly opened the key lock.

Just one lock remained. Anabel hunched over photographs of sharks with their length measurements. She organized them by size and paid particular attention to any patterns that might be revealed. “It’s always take away two,” she noticed. “No, wait…this one is take away four. No, Wait! I got the number!” she exclaimed, running to the main box and that final lock.

When the box sprang open, the students were rewarded with miniature sharks – the greatest predators of all.

Flames & Sharp Edges

To Be An Artist!

Normally, you don’t imagine that exposing elementary students to cut glass and high temperatures is a good idea. But, the lucky Summer Academy kids in To Be An Artist had the opportunity to safely and creatively work with both at Potekglass in Minneapolis today!

Glassworks studio owner Malcom sat at the end of a large table lined with excited students. In front of each child was a torch (a kind of Bunsen burner turned sideways), a pair of safety glasses, and a metal flint contraption for creating a spark. Safe behind their safety glasses, students practiced striking the flint as Malcom explained that temperatures at or above 2,000 degrees are required to melt glass.

Malcom demonstrated the glass melting process at his station and then started the flames for each student. “This is the tricky part,” he told them. Each student held one end of a long glass “straw” at the edge of the flame to pre-heat it before plunging it into the hottest part. Students learned that putting glass directly into the hottest flame without pre-heating can cause “thermo-shock”, much like an ice cube that cracks when hit with water. The students watched with big eyes as the tips of their glass rods began to glow red and melt.

Harmoor was nervous about the flame at first. “Because fire is really dangerous,” he said. But he relaxed as he watched others melt their glass. “I got a bigger piece of glass than before,” he said, which made it more comfortable to hold. Harmoor’s melting produced several round amber-colored beads that he planned to incorporate into a tile project at the next station.

The second activity at the flame involved “pulling a stringer”. Students again heated their glass straws and, using oversized tweezers, pulled the molten glass into long, thin strings.

In another area of the art studio, Grace and Eleanor stood at a counter experimenting with glass tools following a lesson on glass cutting. Eleanor held a clear piece of glass with pliers and snapped off a clean-edged piece. “We’re just practicing cutting glass right now,” she said.

Grace created precise squares of glass using the special tools. “I made four ‘squarey’ shapes,” she said. “It’s so satisfying!”

Jocelyn took a bit longer to warm up to the cutting tools. She held up the “running pliers”. “I’m scared to use the big pliers,” she laughed. Jocelyn had drawn a blocky cat shape onto the paper surface of her work space. “I’m drawing a cat so I can try to make one out of glass,” she said. She held a large piece of clear glass over one of the cat blocks to size it and then cut a line using a scoring knife. With careful pressure, she cleanly cut the glass into the desired shape.

Veronica worked on a complex mosaic in shades of green and blue. She first drew the pattern on the work surface and then began cutting glass to fit the shapes. “I chose a mosaic because you can do lots of different colors and decide what goes where,” she said. The individual pieces of her mosaic will be placed onto a white glass tile and then melted together, she said.

Frenzied Strategy

Strategy Games of the World

The game was called “Frenzy” and it didn’t take long to understand why.

Staff members at the Scout Base Camp in St. Paul dumped four hula hoops and a few dozen colorful plastic balls onto the grass. The boys’ only instructions were “to work together to get all the balls into the hoops.”

As soon as the colored balls hit the ground, the excited young boys burst into action, grabbing, running, tossing, and wrestling to get the most balls into their group’s hula hoop. Various strategies arose as the kids contemplated how to get control of the most balls. We had the “nesters” who sat in the middle of the hoop and hoarded the group’s balls. Then there were the stealers, who grabbed balls from other groups’ hoops and tossed them into their own. There were the grapplers who wrestled balls away from others, and sneakers who stole around the outskirts grabbing errant balls to keep as their own. It was frenzied chaos.

After the first round, the boys discussed the result. “Why were you unable to accomplish the goal?” asked a Base Camp staff member.

“Because everyone was stealing and taking all the balls,” said Thomas.

“Every team was trying to get all the balls, and we would get nowhere,” added Luke.

“Everyone was targeting ours,” complained one young man. Another replied: “Yeah, because you had the most!” Who knew second and third-grade boys were so competitive? Lol

The group discussed strategies that might be more effective. They suggested sitting on the balls so others couldn’t get to them, or ganging up to take balls from the group with the most. Reed suggested, “How about bringing the hoops to the balls?”

One young man had a striking thought. “What if we stack the hoops on top of each other?” Liam suggested.

The beginning of the second round of Frenzy started much the same as the first, until someone remembered Liam’s comment. It was an epiphany. Suddenly two hoops were stacked and two groups were working together. Then another group joined, and finally all four hoops were stacked and the balls were contained together within them.

What was the trick? asked the Camp counselors. “To work together!” the boys cried.

Jareer summed it up. “We were all working against each other in the first round, but in the second, we all worked together.”

The boys had a similar experience with a bean bag toss game earlier in the day. “We threw and catched bean bags,” explained Kian, “and the second time we had to do it in the same order. Once we even did it backwards.”

Luke and Jareer said it was difficult at first to remember the order to toss the bean bags, especially when they had five bags going at once. “You had to remember who you go to and who goes to you,” Luke said. Working together, the boys figured out strategies that helped the game to run smoothly.

Archie said the team building was fun, and he also liked the chance to try archery. “The bow’s heavy and it’s hard to pull the string back,” he said.

“But, when you get to the way back, it’s easy,” Tiago explained. Tiago had success hitting the targets, “but I didn’t get the bullseye,” he said. Archie was happy that he was able to hit the blue and red sections of the target on his first tries.

Lessons in strategy will follow the boys back into the classroom tomorrow where they will apply the ideas to board games from around the world. Self-proclaimed electronics “gamer” Luke said he is enjoying the board games. “For board games, you have to have more strategy,” he said.

Pattern Recognition

First-Grade Project-Variety

“We are color coding patterns in a weird way,” is how Hannah described her work in First-Grade Project Variety today. Students around her colored different patterns onto the block letters of their names.

“We code them by the symmetry of the letters. If it’s vertical symmetry, we do purple hearts,” Elaina elaborated.

“If it’s horizontal, we use red hearts,” added Hannah.

Confused, Erinn and I looked at the students’ papers to try to understand the “code”.

“Some letters have no lines of symmetry,” explained Elliana. “Like F, G, J, L, N.” When we expressed our confusion, Elliana assured us: “It’s quite easy for us.”

“J has no symmetry,” Jada further explained. “You can’t fold it in half. The pattern for no symmetry letters is green stars.” Other letters have vertical symmetry – A, H, I, for example. Letters like “E” in Elliana have horizontal symmetry and are coded by using a pattern of red hearts.

It’s only day 2, but students had already completed several projects involving patterns. Inked hand prints showed “the lines of patterns on our hands,” said Ruby. She learned that no hand prints have the same patterns.

Students also created a “Pattern Person,” much like a paper doll dressed in the patterns students wore the first day.

Even though the Bloggers were momentarily perplexed, the kids are characteristically nailing it.

Patterns are “things that repeat,” shared Lydia.

“They’re made with a lot of things – numbers, foods, letters,” added Olivia.

“And, they never end,” said Lucas.

Caleb summed it up: “Patterns are the same things that can be different colors and different sizes.”

Rat – It’s What’s on the Menu

Castles, Kings, and Other Things

Scout slurped the rat tail down his throat like a string of slimy spaghetti. “That’s so cool!” a student shouted.

“Rat is what is on the menu today,” said the handler from the U of M Raptor Center. Scout, a large red-tailed hawk, perched on her gloved forearm and stared out at the students.

Raptors visited Summer Academy today as part of the Castles, Kings, & Other Things lesson on social class structure in medieval Europe. “We were talking about raptors and how they showed social standings,” said Alton. According to Alton, Emma, and Tristan, Emperors could have golden eagles, merlins, and vultures. A Duke was permitted a peregrin falcon. Commoners could only own old-world kestrels.

“If you owned one above your class level, your hands would get cut off,” Emma shared.

Four raptors were featured in the demonstration today – the red-tailed hawk, a peregrine falcon, a great horned owl, and a bald eagle. The handler explained the various reasons raptors are taken to the center for rehabilitation, including car collisions. Scout, the red-tailed hawk, was raised as a pet and didn’t have the skills to survive in the wild.

“Basically, he wasn’t able to do the things a normal red-tailed hawk could do, but now he can come see us!” said Savannah.

The students learned the three main characteristics that set raptors apart from other birds – “They have good eyesight, a hooked beak, and talons,” said Alton.

Alton learned that the hooked beak is not only for capturing prey, but also designed for eating. A raptor “holds down food with their talons and uses their hooked beak to tear off strips of meat to eat,” he said.

Tristan said he learned that feathers are fragile and the birds don’t like to be touched. “I didn’t know they got new feathers each year,” he said. “It makes sense why you can’t touch them.” He also learned that it is illegal to own any part of a bald eagle, including a feather.

All the students were impressed to see the raptors close up. “I didn’t realize how big they were,” said Emma. “I also didn’t know they eat such gross foods and they can eat the bones. It was surprising to see the owl eat a whole mouse!”

Teachers Reflect on a Fun & Energetic First Day

Teachers and students alike were excited and a bit anxious for the first day of Summer Academy, especially after a year off due to the pandemic. For some students, yesterday was their first day back to school in person after a year of distance learning in their own school districts.

Perks of working with young people are the fun and sometimes outrageous things they say. In the class Safari!, teacher Kirenza Cooper overheard a child express relief that they were able to be a part of the class. “I am so glad I am not too old! After last year I thought I would never make it to Africa!” the child exclaimed.

A Cool Caves student had an epiphany about the special kind of learning that takes place at Summer Academy: “Wow! Learning here at SA is not like at my normal school!”

Walking out for pick up, Teacher Joleen Lundin heard a kid tell his friend, “This school is fun, there isn’t any work!” And that is exactly why Summer Academy is so special – children work hard and learn lots, but it feels like play.

Simulation Games Teacher Bill Nara overheard some students fact-checking animal terms while playing the game Settlers of Catan. “That’s a lamb, not a sheep!” one child insisted.

While they argued species in Sim Games, students in Predators of the Sea and Sky, actually became animals. “My class loved playing Food Chain Tag! Students took the role of a ground squirrel, hawk, or vulture to learn about how ecosystems stay balanced,” said teacher Amy Rouzer.

Fun fact: Did you know that 50% of Tiktok users are actually OVER the age of 25? Students in Social Media Marketing Bootcamp now know it! “We tested our knowledge of social media platforms with a ‘Who Am I?’ game,” reported Teacher Brittney Klingl. “There were six clues for each platform, with each clue getting more specific. It was fun to compare them!”

Students in the class It’s Greek to Me arrived timidly, but their nerves soon calmed. “They quickly began passionate, in-depth conversations,” shared teacher Krysta Doughty. “This group ‘clicked’ right away.”

Sara Palkowitsh, First Grade Project Teacher, is thankful for the normalcy of SA. “(I was) just grateful to be driving back to SA – feels like a normal summer.”

Judy Klein was also feeling grateful. “Grateful for students being brave and making mistakes! We learned that scientists make mistakes and that is how we learn,” said the First Grade Project Teacher.

And, in characteristic Summer Academy interactive, hands-on learning, something was already on fire day one. “The water and sidewalk were on fire with the reaction of sodium and water,” shared Elizabeth Genskow, Teacher of young chemists in the class, A Chemist’s Number One Tool: The Periodic Table.

Summer Academy “Rises Up”

A Time to Rise Up: From Emmett Till to George Floyd

I am from cucumber perfume,

from lake days and travel.

I am from, “We love you no matter what,”

and from Vikings and Velveeta mac and cheese.

excerpt from Where I’m From poem, by Sami

Knowing who you are and what has shaped you is an important first step in approaching issues related to social justice.

Students in the class, “A Time to Rise Up: From Emmett Till to George Floyd” explored their own identities today through poetry. The exercise was inspired by the poem, “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon.

Students connected to their own families, traditions, ancestry, and values through memory and sensory images. They were inspired by Lyon’s poem which included descriptive lines such as these:

I am from the dirt under the back porch

(Black, glistening. It tasted like beets.)

To characterize where she is from, Ingrid captured a common image from her own Minnesota neighborhood. She wrote:

I am from angry red squirrels in the backyard.

Ella recalled holidays with her bilingual family and her strange siblings:

I am from speaking Spanish at Thanksgiving

From odd brothers and happy dogs.

Students had many reasons for choosing a class about social justice this year, and all agreed that it is an important topic.

Xavier is a veteran Summer Academy student, having taken several classes in the past, including Graphic Novels, and Stop Motion Animation. “I chose to come to this class to learn about the injustices faced by others so I can be educated on the topics of today,” Xavier said.

Naomi had similar reasons for choosing A Time to Rise Up. “I was interested in this class because social justice was always a topic that interested me,” she said.

Nova wanted to learn more about the topic because she fears that not all people are treated fairly. “It caught my eye because I think the social justice system is all messed up,” she said.

Bridget’s interest in history inspired her to take A Time to Rise Up. “I chose this class because I am interested in black history and want to know more about it,” she said.

Rosalie is also interested in the history of the social justice movement. “The George Floyd incident made me curious and mad, so I thought it might be nice to learn some more about the history,” she said.

Sami – whose lines started this blog post – said she has “met fun people in past years” and she enjoys learning and expanding her knowledge at Summer Academy. She took this class because she was interested in the topic. “I want to know how it could help me better support my community,” she said.

Open House!

Summer Academy Open House is a show we really should take on the road!

Families viewed not only their own children’s fantastic work, but also had opportunities to play games, watch a live musical, view animated movies, eat pizza, throw clay on a potter’s wheel, and so much more.

In the class Incredible Machines, Devices, and Gizmos, Sheridan and Jim listened to their son, Henry, as he explained his baseball-themed pinball machine while he played it.

Incredible Machines was the third class Henry has taken at SA. “It’s a lot more fun,” he said. “I like that we get to do a lot of stuff on our own.”

Sheridan and Jim appreciate Summer Academy for the opportunity it gives Henry to engage and learn with other high-performing students. “He needs the challenge in a classroom that he doesn’t always get,” Sheridan said. She said teachers at Summer Academy recognize the students’ needs and accommodate their creativity.

Jim said that if he had gone to SA as a child, he would have gravitated toward the tech classes, like Lego Robotics. “Even as a kid, I made robot kits,” he said. (I say this every year, but we really should have an adult version of Summer Academy, don’t you think? What class would you take?)

Kai demonstrated his complex marble run roller coaster to Open House visitors. His contraption required two differently weighted marbles, a loopty-loop spiral, paper funnels and cups, switchbacks, tubes, and a tunnel through the middle.

“It was really fun,” Kai said of the class Incredible Machines. “We didn’t have certain requirements. They let us do what we wanted. I liked the freedom in that.”

Kai’s mother, Wendy, liked that Kai had the freedom to express his creativity and to work hard on a product. “He doesn’t like camps where you don’t do anything,” she said. She was also impressed when she witnessed students in the class collaborating and helping each other.

Aldous, a first-time SA student this year, took the class Rock World. “I think it was great,” said mom, Emily. “He talked about it every day. He was so excited!”

At Design Studio, Samantha (or Sam) pointed out her artwork to her parents, Brandon and Jill. Brandon said he likes that SA students focus on one particular skill and get a choice of class. “It’s a great opportunity to learn and grow,” he said.

Jill appreciates that SA is “a chance to do something different than what’s normally offered in school.”

Zaley also showed her family her projects from Design Studio.

Shelli was impressed by her daughter’s work. “I particularly like the chance they have to delve deeper into something that’s of interest to them,” she said about Summer Academy.

Zaley’s father, Jeff, appreciated the opportunity for his daughters to explore potential careers, like graphic design or business. Zaley’s younger sister, Vienna, took the class Pay to the Order Of this year. “It was a real-life experience,” Jeff said, with second graders learning what a paycheck looks like and how to run a business.

Vienna described her favorite activity – Cookie Battles – in which students learned to make decisions about purchases and to stay within a budget.

In Video Games for Good, Marley’s mom, Wendy, learned about how Marley created a video game through computer coding.

“He’s very creative and (SA) is a very unique experience,” she said. Wendy likes that the classes challenge her son and “teach him balance and how to keep learning through the summer.”

She and Marley have already decided on next summer’s class. “Next year, he’ll be back to cook!” Wendy said.