Cool Caves

Hunter and Caleb added a creative challenge for visitors of their “cool cave” at Open House last evening.

Can you find the hockey puck?

What, you might ask, is a hockey puck doing in a cave? According to the story of the boys’ “Street Cave”…

One day, two boys named Charlie and Jake were playing street hockey. Jake took a slap shot. It ricocheted off the goal post, then slid on their mom’s windshield and fell in a crack.”

The story goes on to describe the boys’ adventure as they fall through the crack into a cave. Despite their best efforts, they never found the hockey puck. Thus, the challenge to visitors to find it for them.

Hunter lifted the cardboard cover to reveal an entrance to the cave. In addition to a hidden hockey puck, the cave contained the usual formations, plus some fossils and cave dwelling creatures, like a giant spider.

“Some cave animals are used to being in complete darkness,” Hunter explained. “They can’t see so it’s hard to find food.” The animals develop other senses to compensate, he said, such as bats and their use of echo-location. A small white insect called a springtail has no access to food in a cave, so it has adapted to feed off hair cells, such as hairs that drop from people or animals that venture into the cave.

Jackson’s “Minnesota Cave” features “lots of formations, like draperies and cave bacon,” he said. “The formations are made of calcite mixed with water. Carbonic acid makes the cavern.”

Draperies are formations that develop along cave walls and either hang down (like drapes over a window), or spread across the wall. He described how stalagtites and stalagmites grow toward each other and eventually become one. “Over years, they become a column,” he said.

His cave also includes soda straws – “really skinny and hollow” – and a “bathtub, which is a cave formation with water in it.”

Sylvia and two other classmates created a massive cave structure by combining three individual caves. They distinguished their individual cave sections from the outside with personalized cave drawings.

“When people didn’t have paper, they used to write on cave walls,” she explained. “They wrote the things they love, so that’s what we did.”

Sylvia pointed to the crinkled brown paper covered in colorful symbols on the side of her box cave. The objects she loves most are colorfully documented. “Dolphins, cats, dogs, water – well, swimming mostly – presents, TV,” she said.

You know, the types of things that ancient cave-dwellers would have drawn, like televisions, I teased. Sylvia laughed. “Yeah, like TV!”

Ocean Adventures

Ocean Adventures is the perfect class for a budding marine biologist and passionate dolphin trainer. “When I grow up, I want to be a dolphin trainer,” Isla said. “I thought it would help me learn about dolphins. I learned about sharks and lots of fish.”

Sporting a stylish fish hair accessory created by her mom for Open House, Isla picked up a clear, plastic bottle of blue-green liquid. “This is supposed to be an ocean in a bottle,” she said. “It has oil, food coloring, and water.”

She shook the bottle and let the water settle until two distinct layers appeared. “Down here is the midnight zone.” She pointed to the darker layer at the bottom of the bottle, and then moved her finger to the top. “And up here is the sunlight zone.”

Isla handed her younger sister an orange marker and invited her to color one of the clay animals she had created for her sea creatures diorama. She said the colorful sea star was her favorite. “What about the sea cucumber?” mom, Sarah, prompted. Isla smiled. “The sea cucumber,” she explained, pointing to her clay replica, “scares away predators by spilling his guts out!”

Architectural Design

Imagine your dream house. Would you have a swimming pool? Stables for your horses? A gym, or two separate laundry rooms?

If you purchased Rylee’s house, “The Grand”, you could have them all, PLUS a bonus room. “The bonus room is like the kids’ extra room,” Rylee said. “The kids can play and hang out.”

Rylee’s mom, Maisee, was partial to Rylee’s kitchen design and the coveted craft room – a designated space for crafting, building, and being creative. “My favorites are the kitchen and the craft room,” Maisee said.

Rylee created her dream home in the class Architectural Design. In the process, she learned that architectural design is more difficult than she realized.

“It’s actually pretty hard,” she said. “I started by looking at some plans and made a floor plan. Then we actually have to build the walls and the inside.”

The most difficult aspect of the project came during construction of the model of the home. “I’d say building the inside walls was the hardest,” she said, “because it takes a long time to stand them up and to make sure they’re in the right place.”

Rylee set her home on 11 acres of land in Andover (where she currently lives). “I kind of wanted horses, a fire pit, and a pool,” she said, so the acreage was important.

Ella’s Norwegian Modern Tower House is set, as you’d expect, in Norway. “It’d be really cool to have it there in the forest and also near the ocean,” said the architect.

Ella was inspired by the homes in Norway, but wanted to be creative and do something unexpected. “I chose my own unique design,” she said. That design includes a 3 1/2-story tower that houses a library, all the way up. A spiral staircase curves through the 3-plus floors that are lined with hundreds of books.

“In the basement, there’s mini golf and a coffee house,” Ella giggled. There is also a movie theater, game room, and a gym to keep occupants busy during those long, dark Norwegian winters.

Ella chose an alternative power source for her home. “I have solar power,” she said, pointing to the cardboard panels on the slanted roof. “I knew it’d get a lot of sun, especially since I have a shed-style roof.”

The biggest surprise on the property is a large indoor garden – part “normal”, part hydroponic. “In a hydroponic garden, instead of dirt, they’re grown in water,” Ella explained. “They actually take up less water and they’re more efficient,” she said about hydroponic plants.

That’s impressive, and all, but the feature I found most endearing was the roof chicken. Yes, a small, plastic chicken, straddling the peak of the roof like a feathery crown jewel.

Parents Agree: Summer Academy is a Special Place

Parents like Summer Academy because their children like Summer Academy.

Rylee’s parents, Maisee and Jerry, have been impressed with the Summer Academy program. “She’s excited to come every day, which is good for me as a parent, (to know) that she’s motivated and excited to get up and come,” Maisee said.

Maisee said Summer Academy comes home with Rylee each day. “She thinks about it when she’s not at school,” she said. She walks in the door still thinking, planning, and creating. She involved the whole family in some of her work and her parents enjoyed helping her research and brainstorm.

Jessica has been sending her daughter, Sylvia, to Summer Academy for four years. “She wants to come,” Jessica said. She likes how Sylvia is able to learn new things, “different things you don’t learn in school,” she said.

Sylvia took the class Cool Caves this year. Jessica appreciates the fact that Summer Academy classes go in-depth into one topic. “It’s a different kind of opportunity,” she said. “You don’t often get those opportunities.”

A big selling point is that Sylvia makes new friends every year.

Sarah and Tim were attending their second SA Open House with daughter, Isla. “This is the first year she got to choose her class,” Tim said. Last year as a first grader, Isla participated in the First-Grade Project. This year she chose Ocean Adventures. “She’s always been interested in the ocean and sea life,” Tim said.

Mom, Sarah, said Isla meets new friends and enjoys the opportunity to experience different people and ideas at SA.

“She comes home and tells us about what she’s learned,” Tim said.

“She teaches us new things!” Sarah laughed. (Important new things, such as “gutsy” sea cucumber defense mechanisms….)


Go West, Young Woman

Farida wrapped brown paper bag remnants around an empty pint milk container.

“I’m making little houses for our town,” she said.

“Our town” is a model of a typical pioneer settlement made of cardboard. “We have a barn, some houses, hotels, and mostly what pioneers would have,” Farida said.

Jennie’s contribution to the fledgling town was a photo studio –  Jennie’s Photography Studio, to be exact. She said students randomly picked buildings to create, but she decided to trade her first choice. She doesn’t remember what she originally picked, but she does know that the photographer’s studio was better than whatever it was.

In addition to building a pioneer town, cooking pioneer foods, and designing quilt squares, students created fictional young women and wrote about their experiences as early settlers.

Sophia shared the journal of her alter-ego, Tanya Grald. Tanya immigrated to Minneapolis from Sweden with her parents and nine siblings in 1852. Her journal recounts her journey and experiences as a settler in the new country.

Speaking as Tanya, Sophia explained, “We came for more land and a better life.”

According to the journal, the family experienced many hardships while they traveled, including a lack of fresh food. “They used hardtack when traveling so it wouldn’t get moldy or old,” Sophia explained.

In the journal, Tanya wrote: “I do not like hardtack. It makes me want to gag. I do not tell Ma or Pa that because they will not want to hear it.”

Sophia said the students made hardtack in class using just flour and water. “It was hard. I couldn’t get through it,” she laughed. “I ended up sucking on it.”

Kira enjoyed the field trips and looking at actual items used during pioneer days. “You are in a room where pioneer people lived,” she said about visiting Oliver Kelley Farm in Elk River. “It felt like I was one of the people who lived there.”

Teacher’s Assistant Evie enjoyed the class as much as the students. “It’s been pretty awesome,” she said. “All the field trips we went on were really interesting. I learned a lot about pioneer life.”

Evie – or “Evsters” as the girls nicknamed her – loved seeing how Summer Academy makes learning come alive.

“All the girls were so engaged in the learning because they want to be here,” she observed.

Well said, Evsters.

Are you a Mythbuster?

We associate the game dodgeball with aggression. After all, players hurl balls at each other hoping to hit their opponents.

At Zero Gravity trampoline park yesterday, one young Mythbuster student approached the game from a very different perspective.

Finneus performed a sort of aerial yoga as balls whizzed by him. “I thought, why don’t I just ‘peace out’,” he said, “and not let things cloud my mind.”

As he jumped, Finneus clasped his hands and brought his legs up in a classic zen meditation pose. “I’ve been reading and playing a game called Dragonball,” he explained. “It’s about aliens who come from different places and they have to get in zen – in peace mode – to fight.”

Getting into “zen mode” seemed to keep Finneus safe from being hit. “It worked out pretty well,” he said. You could say he busted the myth that one has to play offensively to stay in the dodgeball game.

High above the trampolines, Sydney tentatively stepped on a panel that teeter-tottered under her weight, throwing her off balance.

She had a personal myth she was working to debunk. Does wearing a boot for several weeks affect one’s balance?

“I have really good balance because I’m in gymnastics,” she said. But after breaking her foot playing basketball, she noticed a change.

“I just got my boot off and it’s hard. I don’t have balance,” she said. She wanted to tackle what she called “The Air Zone” high ropes course to test and improve her balance.

Other ‘busters had different ideas about myths they were busting at Zero Gravity. “We’re coming here to bust the gravity myth,” said Ethan. “We’re seeing if when you jump on a trampoline, do you have more gravity, or less gravity, or the same?”Sawyer conducted mini myth busting at the Dunk Tank. “I like jumping and I like basketball,” Sawyer said. The Dunk Tank allowed him to do both and to confirm the myth that jumping on a trampoline allows you to dunk even higher than launching from solid ground.

Naima said the class came to Zero Gravity “kind of just to have fun.”

The class Teacher’s Assistant, Andrew, turned her idea into a myth challenge: “We’re busting the myth – can you have fun at Zero Gravity?”

“It’s busted!” shouted Naima. “You can have fun!”

“You mean, it’s confirmed,” corrected Andrew.

While students had some rather creative ideas about the myths they were busting, teacher Becky Marshall clarified that the trampoline experience was designed to explore myths associated with an earlier activity involving the moon landing.


Simulation Games

Playtesters crowded around the square board, as game developer Henry organized pieces and passed out cards. It was a pivotal moment for the game creator, because it was the first time his game was played.

“We spend like a week working on a game,” Henry said, “These are simple games, they’re prototypes. And now we’re seeing if our games are working so we can fix our mistakes.”

“We’re working out the bugs,” said playtester Russell, who, along with Archer and Miles, analyzed the game and provided Henry with feedback for improvements. (Playtester is an actual job title. In the real world of gaming, game designers “playtest” new games for bugs and design flaws before bringing them to market.)

Although still unnamed, Henry said it’s a “settlement and area control” type of game.

While traditional board games are still the primary type of game created by students in Simulation Games, new technologies have allowed tech-savvy gamers to branch out.

Michael held up a tiny orange figure used in his Star Wars/Fortnite-inspired game. “This is the smallest Obi-Wan ever,” he smiled. He created his mini Obi-Wan and the other Star Wars character game pieces using a 3-D printer in the classroom.

3-D printing specialist, Erol, helps the students to make their figures come “alive” through the 3-D printing process.

“They use Tinker CAD,” a free online design site, he said. Using simple shapes, students build an image of their figure.

Michael used the CAD (computer assisted design) website to create his figures, then, through what seems to me to be a process of technological magic, software instructed the printer to make the shape.

“It uses filaments,” Michael said about the printer. He looked through the printer window as tiny robotic arms spun and molded filaments. “It melts it and gets super thin,” Michael explained. A green and orange figure took shape behind the glass.

In another first for Strategy Games, Laura used programming to create a computer strategy game.

“I’m recreating Settlers of Catan within Minecraft,” she said.

“It’s a game within a game,” added Jackson, who watched as Laura input codes.

Although I didn’t catch most of what the young programmer said, I did learn about command blocks. “I built the images with blocks,” she said.

She demonstrated “fill commands.” “When you place a block…it fills the area around it.” For instance, a wool block strategically placed on the game grid fills the designated area with wool. An activated hay bale block makes the area turn brown with virtual hay.

The commands run the gamut from simple to more complex. “The robber is a complicated command,” she admitted.

Even something simple like the color of a character’s helmet can require a long stream of code. “This is a complicated code that makes a helmet a certain color,” she said, pointing the cursor to a nonsensical (to me!) line of letters, numbers, and characters.

The self-taught coder learned to program “partly by going online and partly through practice,” she said.

Back at the playtesting, the boys helped Henry to streamline his game.

“There’s kind of a little bit of a flaw,” said Russell. “If you roll a number nobody has, then you can’t do anything.”

Henry and the testers explored ways to solve the “bug”. “We could make the dice less random or have a 6-sided dice. Or, I could give players more resources at the beginning,” Henry suggested.

All the playtesters agreed on one thing. After just a few tweaks, Henry’s game is going to be a lot of fun to play!


Lego Robotics Lab

Parents should prepare to be dazzled and amazed during the Open House tonight, as students show off the creative work they’ve accomplished in less than three weeks.

Those who visit the Lego Robotics room will have to prepare themselves to experience a time warp. It’s like stepping into the future.

Anuraa and Krisha can’t wait to demonstrate their Lego Robotics creation.

“We had to pick a big project that we wanted to show our parents,” Anuraa explained. “We wanted to build a big animal that could move.”

“We’re making an elephant!” Krisha exclaimed.

“We’re going to program it to move its trunk back and forth,” Anuraa added.

The girls said nature-inspired robotics are the wave of the future. “In the future, people will study animals to figure out how to build robots,” Anuraa said. “It’s called biomimicry.”

One of the more difficult robotics tasks they performed during the class was the orchard challenge.

“The most difficult challenge was the orchard challenge,” said Krisha. Students had to drive a robotic tractor through an orchard.

“It was really hard to stay on the paths,” Anuraa said.

Krisha and Anuraa participated in Lego League at their school, which led to their interest in this class. It also helps them to prepare for their future careers.

“I want to be a robotics engineer,” Krisha said.

“I want to be a software engineer,” said Anuraa.

Max and Miles attempted a risky mechanical design that the teacher said had not worked in past attempts. “It hasn’t been tried successfully in this class,” Miles said.

Max said the idea came about when the team was brainstorming ways to maneuver a tricky obstacle. “We were saying, what’s a way we can get something over the wall for robo-cross?” he said. Their Teacher’s Assistant suggested an element she had successfully used in her high school robotics experience – a rack and pinion system.

According to Google Dictionary, a rack and pinion is a mechanism, as for a car steering system, using a fixed cogged or toothed bar or rail engaging with a smaller cog.

“Basically you have a motor that turns a gear and raises the rack,” Miles explained.

The boys were anxious to try the system out in a real challenge, like the Science Olympiad.According to the boys, teams earn points for completing various challenges in the Olympiad. “It’s a course with objects to move into different zones,” Miles said.

“There are two kinds of ways to do it – autonomous or remote control,” said Max. Autonomous robots are programmed to run a series of actions. Max and Miles chose to build a remote device to control their robot’s motions.

“It’s a lot of, ‘if then,’ do that,” said Max.

Noah, Jack, and Giovanni created a working assembly line for their final project. “It assembles spinners and then spins them,” Noah explained. Their massive and complex construction required two Lego programmable bricks and color sensors.

Predators of the Sea and Sky

It may not be shark week on Discovery Channel, but it certainly is shark crazy in Predators class!

Evan, Wyatt, Ava, Annika, and Jaden all had exciting things to say about one of their favorite predators – sharks.

Evan and Wyatt both chose megalodon sharks for their final projects. “A megalodon was a great white shark. It’s extinct now,” Evan said.

“Yeah, it’s a big version of a great white shark,” added Wyatt. A bigger version of a great white??

Evan gave an example: “A megalodon tooth is as big as a man’s hand…and as long as a bus.” Wyatt was excited that Evan made the same size comparison as he had.

“I did ‘it’s as big as a school bus,’ too!” he exclaimed, holding up his poster featuring a drawing of the shark alongside a vertical, floating school bus.

Ava said she loves sharks. “I like learning about them a lot.” One thing she’s learned is that there are a lot of myths about sharks.

On the “Fact or Fiction – Shark Myths” door, Ava pointed out her poster and explained that a lot of people think sharks are dangerous because of what they see in movies. “My poster tells people that sharks aren’t killers,” she said. “They’re nice and calm.”

Jaden’s goblin shark may be one reason people don’t trust sharks in general. “They look creepy, of course, because they’re goblins,” he said. He pointed to one of the photos he was placing in his slideshow. A long, grotesque protrusion jutted over the face of the prehistoric creature. “I think that’s the nose,” he said.

Jaden said not much is known about goblin sharks. “Like for most sharks, scientists have not figured out their lifespan, migration, reproduction, social groups, population counts,” he listed. One reason, is that it’s more difficult to study creatures in the water, especially a bottom-dweller like the goblin shark that lives as deep as 3,940 feet, he said.

Jaden would love the opportunity to study goblins someday. “If I brought a sub down then I definitely would not leave the sub. It’d be very creepy for a shark like this,” he speculated. “It’s probably harmless, but it’s rarely been encountered.”

Annika showed us the “Shark Superlatives” wall that categorized sharks into biggest, smallest, fastest, longest-living, etc. “We had to research all these,” she said. “We looked in books and online.”

The whale shark was listed under the “biggest” category, since it grows as long as 40 feet. “The smallest is five inches,” Annika said in contrast. “It’s a dwarf lantern shark.”

Amidst all the shark mania, Evie chose a different kind of predator to study, one that is neither of sea nor sky. “I looked up the fennec fox and I found some facts,” she said, as she worked on her poster. The fennec is a small nocturnal fox with distinctive, unusually large ears.

She was discouraged when she learned that the fox is not only a predator, but also prey. “People hunt them for their fur,” she lamented. “But fennec foxes are good to the world. They eat insects.”