Architectural Design: Dream House Edition

Where would you build your dream house, if you could pick anywhere in the world?

Henry decided his dream house would fit well on the shores of a lake in Iceland. The home has front facing windows and a deck that runs the length of the front overlooking the lake and the mountains beyond.

The location is certainly beautiful, but required unique design considerations. The roof, for instance, had to be practical for a snowy region. “One thing I took into account was the slope of the roof,” Henry said. ” I couldn’t just make a flat roof. It had to be sloped so the snow would just slide off.”

Cooper’s dream house is set in Copper Mountain, Colorado, “right on a hill – ski in, ski out,” he said. “Our friends built a house right on the lot I’m building on.”

While the location and lot were based on the friend’s house, Cooper added his own extravagant amenities.

“I added the things it was missing,” Cooper said, “like a ski room, kind of like a mudroom, but you come in after skiing and you can store your skis in there.”

The house also has a trampoline (yes, IN the house), and a foam pit in the living room. The second story is lofted “and you can jump into the foam pit from the second floor,” Cooper said.

If you think that is over the top, wait until you hear about the garage. The garage/warehouse includes a pool with changing rooms, storage for mountain “toys” like Jeeps, ATVs, skateboards, and bikes, and – wait for it – a skate park, with a second foam pit. “When I built my house I kinda wanted it to be unique so I put a skatepark in it,” Cooper said.

Although many Colorado mountain homes are used for vacation, Cooper wants to make it his permanent home. “I’d probably live here full time,” he said.

The homes created in the class Architectural Design range from the extreme to the elegant. Cece’s house on the North Shore features a great room with a grand piano and “a morning room facing Lake Superior where you can watch the sunrise through the window. There is a hidden library; if you slide the bookshelf it’ll open the library.”

While she splurged on some areas like the hidden library, other design decisions were based on practicality. “We had to think about the design, too, like how many bathrooms, bedrooms. You can’t just have a fun house.”

Cece learned to pay attention to details when designing. “I had to keep in mind the size (of appliances), especially for the kitchen sinks and toilets. You don’t want it to be too small or too big to fit.”

Space, light, and flow also had to be considered. “I learned that once you start putting walls up you see how open or closed the space is,” Cece said. “When you block off space, it can feel closed in.” She discovered this when she built her dining room. “I removed a wall because it would be too closed in,” she said.

Sophie’s property features a forest of large construction paper trees and a tree house. “It looks kind of crooked like the kids living in the house built it,” Sophie said of her unique tree house.

Ryan placed his dream home in a new development outside of Fargo, North Dakota. “I like flat areas,” he said as he flipped through google images of his building site. The flat open prairie stretched for miles in all directions. “It’s kind of out in the country and it’s away from busy streets, like in St. Paul,” he said.

Sadie’s house is located near Washington, D.C., on High Island in the middle of the Potomac River. “I wanted it to be cabin-like,” so she designed the house to feature a field stone and brick exterior.

One thing she learned about architecture was, “it actually matters where the sun sets and rises. It matters where in the house you would be (during those times),” she said. Those elements determine how buildings are angled and where windows and rooms are placed.

Sadie was happy to be in the design class. “I really like building stuff,” she said. “I came in here every year for Open House for five years.” She was so excited to finally try her hand at designing her own dream home.

Strategy Games of the World

If you’re a gamer, stop in to the class Strategy Games of the World during Open House tonight to play original games created by second and third graders.

“We’re making games for the Open House tonight,” said Henry. His original game is based on an old board game from Norway, called Fox and Geese. “I used the same game board, but added more,” he said. “The objective is not to lose the big piece and all the little pieces.”

Sage’s game is “kind of like checkers and go-muku,” a game from Asia. He started with an original game board design from Morocco, and added his own elements.

Like in checkers, players can use jump moves in Sage’s game. “You win by capturing all the opponent’s pieces,” he said.

Henry and Sage learned lots of different strategies in the class. “We play a game and then we tell our strategies, and then play again,” Henry explained. “After we share our strategies, we practice trying them out by playing again.”

Ramatee took Strategy Games because she “loves to play games,” she said. “My favorite game is Hex. It was easy to learn.”

Ramatee colored the intersecting points of her four-by-four game grid with different colored markers. Her “Four-Way Rainbow Game” is played using blue and pink plastic gem pieces that move along the points with the objective of creating four in a row. After teaching me the game, Ramatee quickly used her learned strategies to defeat me in about six moves.

Teacher Tom Mathern reminded the students to be sure their game was fair and that they can clearly teach it to others.

“What he means by fair is that someone can lose,” Nathan explained. He knows he has accomplished the “fairness” test because, “I haven’t won once!” he said about playing his own game.

Nathan and Maksim reached across the game board and shook hands. From their wide grins and good sportsmanship, it was difficult to figure out who had won and who had lost.

Nathan’s game is based on checkers, which he thinks originally came from England. The square grid board forms the base and the pieces are yellow and blue plastic disks. “You can move and hop any direction and you win by capturing all of the pieces,” he taught me. “You jump over your opponent’s pieces.”

Maksim’s game was influenced by Ceega, a game played in ancient Egypt. It features the unique “sandwich capture” that occurs when a player has surrounded an opponent’s piece on two sides. “The sandwich capture was interesting to me,” Maksim said about why he chose the game board from Ceega.

Good luck defeating these strategic kids at their own games!

Pay to the Order Of: State Fair Entrepreneurs

We all get excited about new food and shopping opportunities at the Minnesota State Fair. The students in Pay to the Order Of have some creative and innovative new offerings for this August.

“Soviet Cakes is a tribute to the Soviet Union for helping us in World War II,” said Tate. The booth sells yellow cake cupcakes with yellowish and strawberry frostings and a raspberry on top. The store flies Soviet flags and includes outdoor and indoor seating.

Tate feels passionately about his business. “I wanted to do a tribute for something,” he explained. “The Soviets helped us in World War II against the Nazis, to help us not get taken over by Nazis. Hitler was a terrible person.”

Matthew pulled a detailed State Fair map out of his cardboard portfolio. “It’s right by the Mighty Midway,” he said, pointing to a prime location on the map. The team had also figured out the best places for customers to park.

While the cupcakes were Matthew’s idea, Tate ended up baking them. “I came up with the idea, but I allowed him to make them,” he said, pointing at Tate.

Willow contributed to the interior design of the business. “They allowed me to bring in some of my doll furniture,” she said. She showed me a fully apportioned bathroom and kitchen complete with necessary appliances.

For Tate, this is no childish fantasy. “In the future, I want to design the actual business of Soviet Cakes,” he said.

Kieran, Firdawsa, and Logan’s fair business is “a booth for ice cream,” Kieran said. “There is a cookie on top, a cookie on the bottom, and ice cream filling.”

They plan to call their booth, Cookie Sandwich. “We figure out how much profit we’re making, where we’re going to put our shop, and what it’s going to look like,” said Kieran.

Alec, Aiden, and Jackson came up with an entirely new business model for the State Fair.

“It’s based off the tabletop adventure game Dungeons and Dragons,” Alec proudly explained. “We’re selling things that have to do with the game.”

Fair goers can enter the business and join in at the gaming table. Alec and Aiden realized as they described the set up that it might be difficult to maintain the game at all times.

“We won’t always have an active campaign running,” Alec mentioned.

“We should have an hourly shift,” Aiden suggested.

The sales floor of the business is organized into categories. “Over here is ancient ruins to buy,” Alec said. They also run a daily talk show about gaming.

They have created a logo, picked monster nicknames, and planned a uniform to wear when they’re on duty.

Parker, Ava, and Elle have marketed their product – multi-colored elephants – to children. “They are sweets that are shaped as elephants, any treat you can think of,” Parker said. “Our target for buyers is kids.”

But unlike the other groups, profit is not a primary concern of their business. “We don’t really expect to make a lot of money. We hope we get money, but that’s not really our target,” Ava said. “We just want people to come, eat, and have fun.”

Eating and having fun – I think they’ve captured the true spirit of the State Fair experience.


Graphic Novels: Melding Pictures with Stories

Haaken elbowed an enormous paperback book to the edge of his desk to make room for his sketch book. Bone, a graphic novel by Jeff Smith, is at least two inches thick and contains more than 1330 pages.

“It’s nine volumes packed into one giant book!” Haaken said. “I finished it and I’m halfway through reading it again.”Haaken said his own graphic novels are influenced by the style of Bone.

In describing the process of creating a graphic novel, Haaken said putting time into creating characters is key. “You put together a story line, figure out how the characters act, and their physical distinctions, and then create them,” he said. “You figure out how to make it clear and figure out the word/picture combinations. The picture does most of the work.”

One of Haaken’s characters is Loki, a very intelligent cat. He described the character as “low key”, but also known for his pranks and schemes. “Loki is Norwegian for prankster,” Haaken said.

Another character – Carl, the Scout – is essentially a square with a face. “He annoys people very easily,” Haaken laughed.

Haaken’s plot involves the ominous awakening of a beast. “A couple of friends in school have to defeat all of its evil minions that come out to attack them at night,” he said.

Lauren worked at finishing the final draft of her very first original graphic novel.

“I really only read graphic novels,” she said. “They’re easier to read – not as many words – and they’re funny! I decided to do this class because it interested me most. “

The plot of Lauren’s graphic novel is a combination of adventure and humor. “Two kids who get sucked up into space by a spaceship have to defeat an evil duckling,” she said. Luckily, the characters do end up victorious.

Lauren based her story on Captain Marvel plots. “I start generating ideas off Captain Marvel,” she said.

One thing she’s learned about writing graphic novels is “it has to make sense and it has to be in order.”

In the hallway, Emma, Olivia, and Shea worked amidst blackline sketches spread out on the floor around them.

Olivia said she used to draw comics, and thought the Graphic Novels class would help her get better. “We learn how to put stories together,” she said.

“I’m not a great artist but I’m kind of a writer,” said Emma. “It’s actually been working out okay. At first my people looked like giant blobs, but then they started to come together.”


Chemistry: Fun with Matter

Chemists in the class Chemistry: Fun with Matter today learned about the importance of quantitative data.

“It’s more important to scientists than the more descriptive, narrative qualitative data,” Teacher Brian Marquardt said.

But, getting that data proved difficult for students who were trying an experiment for the second and third times today.

“This is our third time doing it,” admitted Giulia. “The first time we waited too long to add the iodine so it didn’t react.”

“The second time we forgot to add the starch,” Lynnea added.

Giulia was proud to say that attempt number three seemed to work. “This time we did it right.”

According to the lab instructions, the experiment involves biological catalysts – enzymes – and discovering what it is that influences the activation of a particular digestive enzyme, amylase.

The experiment was an effort to “learn what amylase does to starch,” Giulia explained. “It (amylase) breaks apart starch into sugar, from a long chain of glucose into single molecules of sugar.”

Or, in lay-person’s terms: “We’re learning about enzymes in the body and how you dissolve things you eat,” Giulia said.

Light readings are used to determine how much the starch has broken down. The chemists shine a beam of light through the mini beakers and a detector measures how much light shines through. The darkness of the liquid indicates the amount of starch remaining; the darker the liquid, the more the starch.

At another lab table, Abby and her team were using the light test. “We put different amounts of amylase each time we do the test to see how much the light shines through.”

“We figure out how much light gets through the liquid and how much is absorbed,” Olivia said.

Olivia, Mia, and Abby had run the experiment two times and were processing the data they accumulated.

“We don’t know the result yet because we don’t have all the data,” said Olivia. “We have to do more experimentation.”

They suspect a mistake was made in the first attempt. “We believe we messed up the order of when we dropped in the iodine,” Olivia said.

“We’re supposed to put iodine in every 15 seconds, but we did it every 10 seconds,” said Abby.

The good news is that the scientists learned not only from their successful experiments, but also from the not-so-successful ones.

“We learned you have to work quickly and to read the directions,” Lynnea concluded.

Patterns & Impressions: Variety

Little dancers in Patterns and Impressions Variety today learned to use and identify patterns through dance.

Teacher Leah’s every movement had the elegance of smooth, practiced choreography. “I’m Miss Leah,” she said, sweeping her leg out and slowly swirling her arms. She asked each first grader to come up with a movement to use to introduce themselves to the group.

Students practiced their signature movements. Around the circle were powerful kick outs, gentle twirls, awkward shimmies, and silly gestures.

After introductions, Leah asked the children to describe what they noticed from the exercise. Lena raised her hand. “I noticed that everyone did a movement.”

“Everyone was saying their names in syllables,” offered Ananya.

Juliana hit on the theme of the class: “Some people looked like they were doing patterns,” she noticed.

Further patterns arose during movement warm ups. A foot movement pattern was 1 and 2, and 1, 2, 3. The shoulders hunched up and down – 1 and 2, and 1 and 2.

When students returned to a neutral position, Miss Leah asked how feet should be placed when standing back in place. “Feet are always parallel,” offered Abigail. She had learned about keeping feet parallel to each other from her ski lessons, she said.

Editorial comment – Every child should dance every day! It was wonderful to see our little limber students embracing the movements with no self consciousness and using their boundless energy in expressive ways!

The students caught on quite remarkably to the abstract concept of positive and negative space. Miss Leah asked them to touch their arms, legs, bellies, shoulders, while saying, “Positive space!”

If that is positive space, what is negative space? she asked. Nathan gave it a shot: “It’s up and down,” he said, “and horizontal.”

Olive added, “Right and left.”

It’s “everywhere around the body,” Miss Leah confirmed.

“Make a shape that complements your partner,” she asked the students. “Make a shape around them in the negative space, like two puzzle pieces.”

El Mercado: Día de Muertos In Living Color

Alia handled the tiny white skull delicately. “They are skulls for Day of the Dead,” she said. “You would make your own skull and you would give it to a friend or a family.”

The skulls, molded from sugar and glue, “are kind of like a Valentine,” Alia said. “They have something to remember their family. They would put it out for them.”

The Mexican tradition often involves a culinary version (sugar minus the glue). “There are ones that you can eat, but these kind stay longer,” Alia said. She painted her skull with colorful flowers.

Avery said the skulls are usually decorated in bright colors instead of dark and scary colors. Hers was festooned in feathers. “I chose feathers because I really like feathers and I’m making hair out them and glitter to make them shiny,” she said.

Millie’s skull featured long orange and yellow yarn hair plus a bit of bling. “I just tried to make it sparkly, so there is lots of glitter,” she said.

The name “Hagen” was written on the forehead of her sugar skull. “I made it for my teacher,” Millie said.

Theo said that instead of being scary, like Halloween, Dia de Muertos is a time to honor those who have died. “The skulls can be brought to a family of someone who died,” he said. “They put up pictures of them and their favorite food. They put the skulls around for decoration.”

Landon added: “They do things to turn the day into fun,” instead of being sad.

Landon was excited to share another craft with us. His rainbow painted hedgehog (or spikey porcupine) is an example of Oaxacan folk art wood carvings.

“It’s an alebrijes,” Landon said. “It’s a spiritual animal. If you die, he always saves your life.”

Landon said the carvings have the power to gain a special ability. “I don’t know what it is yet, but I hope they turn into propellers.” He pointed to the brightly colored spiky toothpicks sticking out of the back of his hedgehog.

To further the students’ Spanish language acquisition as well as introduce them to Latin cultures, the class is reading a book called La Pinata de Renata.

“This girl Renata gets a pinata…and she flies to different Spanish countries to explore them,” recounted Eden. (I missed the part about how getting the pinata results in travel, but maybe there was some magic involved?)

One thing she learned from the book is that the people in some Spanish-speaking countries eat octopus. “It’s very popular,” she said. “I really want to try it. It probably tastes like chicken.”

Eden was cutting out an image of a skeleton wearing an oversized flowery hat, another decoration for Day of the Dead. “I made it of my grandma and it’s for my grandma,” Eden said. She assures me that grandma is very much alive.

The Great Mathematical Escape!

Imagine. It’s 1990. “The Capitalists are taking over. The Soviets are trying to call for help from the aliens so they can take over the world in Communism.” – Kevin

In this Escape Room scenario created by Andrew, Joseph, Warren, and Kevin, the objective is to solve puzzles, figure out riddles, and find clues to “Save the World from Communism”, Kevin said.

“We made a code,” Andrew said. “You have to decipher the code to get a clue.”

“The objective is to escape and go to the command center and shoot down the aliens,” Kevin said.

The team of Evan, Nolan, Mitch, and Winston created an escape room called “Mayday”. “You’re an astronaut in a space capsule on a mission to Mars,” Evan explained. “A meteor hits the capsule and damages it. It starts to lose air fast. The astronauts have to get out quickly before losing air.”

Participants need to “crack the codes”, Evan said. One such clue involves a poem, another requires the use of calculations and the help of calculators. “In an astronaut helmet there’s a code you need to access the second room,” he said.

The second room contains a power generator game players need to access to get on the escape pod. Participants have only 45 minutes to break out before their oxygen is gone.

There is also a game master who can give three free hints when the participants get particularly stuck.

Students in Mathematical Investigations not only created their own escape rooms, but they actually tried to escape from puzzle rooms at Escapology in Bloomington on a recent field trip.

Lauren said her group’s escape room was “sciency. It was called Antidote” and featured Jonas Salk, the developer of a polio vaccine.

“We had to escape the room because an evil scientist doctor made diseases and our brains got infected,” Lauren explained.

“(The scientist) made a thing that would explode in six minutes,” added Golawlye.

Anna said some of the clues were hard to find. “We had to look at this fake alien,” she said.

“It had clues under it,” Lauren continued.

Although the group worked hard to solve their escape, they didn’t quite make it out in the time allotted. “We were so close!” Golawlye said.

Chanel “really likes math” and was excited to take Mathematical Investigations. “When my teacher told me I got invited, I thought it’d be fun,” she remembers. “It was a new opportunity for me.”

Today in class, the students worked together using Pentominoes to create different configurations and patterns. The Pentominoes are colorful, plastic tiles in different sizes. “We have to find different ways to create squares using the Pentominoes,” Chanel explained.

Solving a Pentominoes challenge may just show up on an escape puzzle in the future.

Written & Illustrated By…Future Famous Authors!

Penelope crouched over her paper, drawing intently. “It’s a thumbnail sketch,” she explained. “Illustrator means drawing pictures. We draw four different pictures for one page. We number them and then we choose which one we want for our page.”

In Written and Illustrated By, students create characters, a story, and detailed illustrations that result in a digital storybook. Penelope’s story involved a horse and pegasus, conflict, magic gold dust sprinkled by angels, and a happy ending full of lasting friendship.

“I love writing stories and I love drawing pictures. Almost everyday I draw pictures,” Penelope said. “I wrote about five stories in my school and read them to my class.”

The plot of Cooper’s “Robo versus Doctor Robot” was a far cry from flying horses and gold dust. “It’s a super hero and a bad guy robot fighting,” he said.

“Robo is a robot and he has lightening bolts on his head that shoot lightening as his super power,” Cooper continued. “He has jet boosters on his feet” that allow him to fly.

Cooper also worked on his initial sketches today. “Thumbnails is to practice the pictures and try to get them as good as you can.”

Eliana was in the middle of deciding which background to use for one of her illustrations. “I like the watercolor one because it looks more realistic.” She picked up her black paper cutout of an adorable dog and a white bathtub and placed them on the yellow and brown striped background.

Eliana chose to use multi-media forms for her illustrations. “I didn’t really want to do just color pencil, so I’m doing cutout paper, water colors, drawings,” she said.

Eliana’s story features three different dogs, all owned by the same owner at different times. “My antagonist is the only mean dog in the story,” she said.

Orange and red colored pencils rolled around Evan’s desk as he colored in an spaceship on fire. In “Eye Wars”, there is an invasion of space ships coming toward Earth. “Eye Warriors are fighting the invasion,” Evan explained. “They shot one down.” He pointed to his fiery ship. “Sometimes when they are shot down they come in like a meteor.”

The students use the software “Story Jumper” to create a digital storybook as the final version. Their text and illustrations can be uploaded onto pages. Not only can they digitally turn pages like a real book, but they can also record their voices reading the story. The stories can be shared digitally, or even purchased and printed out in book form.

Evie edited her story, “Jent’s Clue”, on the computer. “Wait, that’s supposed to say ‘fixated on’ the butterfly, not ‘saw’,” she said as she read a line about Benny. Benny, the two-year-old cat, “fixated on” a butterfly, ran into a tree, was knocked out, and taken to the veterinarian with friend, Jent. A fox on the next vet table scratched him in the eye, and later, after other adventures, Jent and Benny foil a burglary attempt at the museum, involving, of course, that mean-spirited fox.

Kaylani put finishing touches on her precious drawing of Stella the Turtle. “She finds a glass bottle that has a letter in it from a girl in California,” Kaylani said. The literate turtle and the girl become penpals, save money to visit each other, and have wonderful adventures in their respective home cities.

From Story to Stage: Making Stories Visible

“We’re choosing colors for our costumes,” Sam said, pawing through colorful fabric scraps piled on the Fabric Store table. “For our people in our plays.”

In Story to Stage, students choose favorite stories and transform them into a script and, ultimately, onto a stage. Sam’s story is from the novel, Wonder, and the two characters who will take his stage are Auggie and Summer.

Auggie, he decided, will wear a black sweatshirt and black pants. “I have to figure out what black to use for the sweater and which one for the pants,” he said, holding different swatches to his costume drawing of Auggie.

Summer, he said, “is wearing a pink shirt with peace on it. That’s what it said in the book, that she was wearing a peace shirt,” he clarified. “It didn’t say what color so I made it pink.”

Eavan copied her costume sketch onto poster-sized paper to display as part of the showcase of her work. “The fabric samples will get stapled to the side to show the costume plan,” she said.

Eavan’s story was from the book, Judy Moody, and the character she was costuming was Judy’s little brother. “His name is James, but everyone calls him Stink,” she said. Stink will be wearing a blue hoodie and black pants “because I like that color combination.”

Students begin by choosing a passage from a book that they would like to stage. “I already made the script,” Eavan said. “It’s a certain part in the book, my favorite part. Judy puts a rubber hand in the toilet. Stink thinks there’s someone in the toilet!”

Ilsa shows me her Director’s Notebook, a binder containing all of her work on the project. There are tabs for script, lighting, make up, costumes, props, staging, and even special effects and music.

Just like theater professionals, the students have to consider all aspects of production when creating their own stage. “Two girls got to be make-up models,” Ilsa said about learning stage make-up tricks. “They got make-up put on them to make them look different.”

The story that Ilsa will stage comes from the book, Darth Paper Strikes Back, and she named her script, “The End of Origami Yoda.” Her character, Origami Yoda, will not wear make-up, because he will be “super green” and look like paper, she said.

Lillian’s stage drawing is a cacophony of shapes and vibrant colors. “The book describes it as messy because it’s an art room,” she said. She pointed to a sad computer dripping spider webs in the corner of her drawing. “There’s not really a lot of computering so there are cobwebs on the computer!”

Gillian chose a book that mixes up the plots of traditional fairytales. Remember the “evil” queen from Snow White? It turns out she wasn’t really evil, she just had a traumatic experience that soured her personality. In Gillian’s script, “The Wishing Spell,” the evil queen has lost her true love and uses a wishing spell to try to free him from a mirror. Yes, that mirror.

“She tried to release the one in the mirror, but he died because he had been trapped in the mirror too long,” she recounted. “He started losing his human form and turning into the mirror.”

“Well,” she said nonchalantly, “That’s what happens when you’re stuck in a mirror too long!”