The Power of Water

The ranger made it clear: “Erosion never sleeps.”

At St. Anthony Falls, this is particularly true as millions of gallons of turbulent water churn through the heart of Minneapolis, eroding rocks, shoreline, and infrastructure. During a trip to the Falls Lock & Dam Visitors Center yesterday, students in The Power of Water class learned just how destructive that water can be.

“We learned about erosion from cavitation,” said Grace.

“Cavitation is when the pressure is so low that water starts to boil on its own when it goes really fast,” explained Hailey. “When the water cools down, it implodes and contracts.” That process, confirmed the ranger, creates erosion, leaving rocks, turbines, and other water structures pocked with rough, damaged surfaces.

The ranger encouraged students to explore an old turbine mounted at the Visitors Center so they could experience the effects of cavitation erosion. Small hands touched the rough blades impacted by years of seething water.

The ranger took students up to the observation deck overlooking the lock, and then across the lock to get a better view of the falls. But getting to the other side created a dilemma for a few students. “Do I have to do that?” asked Devin, looking with big eyes at the narrow catwalk hundreds of feet above the lock. “It’s so unstable!”

Jocelyn assured Devin that it was perfectly safe. “The architecture is stable,” she said, doing a quick engineering analysis of the walkway.

“I studied architecture a couple of years ago at Summer Academy and just by looking at it, I can tell it has a strong hold.” She identified a familiar zigzag pattern in the bridge construction that she knew created stability in a structure.

Hailey also felt it was safe. “I saw that it said ‘maximum capacity 3.5 tons’. All of us couldn’t take that bridge down,” she laughed. Despite their assurances, Devin made sure to “just kinda run” across.

Once on the other side of the lock, Sammy was struck by the differences between the two sections of water. “I think it’s kinda funny that over here is all calm,” he motioned to the water in the lock, “and here it’s all crazy!” The “crazy” falls raged over the ramps put in place to slow the water down and minimize cavitation erosion.

In the end, the ranger challenged the students to continue learning about and preserving the beautiful river and falls that have made the Twin Cities what they are.


Incredible Machines, Devices, & Gizmos

Every household has one: that ubiquitous junk drawer where bits and pieces, odds and ends, go to languish in a purgatory of “stuff”. Imagine stepping in to such a drawer. That’s exactly what it’s like to enter ArtScraps.

ArtScraps describes itself as a “Creative Materials ReUse Store.” Students from Incredible Machines, Devices, & Gizmos visited the St. Paul craft supply store to purchase materials and get inspiration for their creations.


“This place is the best!” exclaimed Eli. “There’s a bunch of cool stuff that’s cheap!”

Barrels, bins, and boxes of all those thingamabobs you might find in your own junk drawer – corks, bottle caps, squished ping pong balls, puzzle pieces, small tools, buttons, and shells. Perfect materials for creating machines and gizmos.

Nick was overhelmed by the shear volume of scraps stacked from the floor to the ceiling. “You could walk through this store and miss half this stuff,” he said, as he walked one aisle again for about the fourth time.

“There are things that look like junk, but they’re good for my purposes,” said Jace. Jace was planning a Minecraft-inspired pin ball machine. He held up a pair of purple, plastic 1980s earrings. “Like this could become a portal,” he said.

“We’re here to buy things, but also to get ideas,” said Gus. “I have a lot of ideas.” One of the first things Gus noticed in ArtScraps were corks. “I noticed corks and they float so I wanted to build a boat,” he said. He sat at a crafting table with his purchases – a bag of rubber bands, a package of wooden coffee stirrers, 16 wine bottle corks – and as we talked, he created a raft that will “float” on paper water in his naval battle pin ball machine.

Erik peered into a bin filled with thousands of shiny silver CDs, thinking about how he might incorporate them into the ocean-themed pin ball machine he was designing. “It’s going to have fish, sharks, basic things you find in the ocean,” he said about his machine. “I like the beach and it’s by the ocean.”

Nuhamin’s pin ball machine will be emoji-themed so she searched for decorative elements that might translate into emoji faces. Isabella was going with a Star Wars theme and looked for materials to create a bridge to stage an epic Darth Vader battle. “I’m going to base it on some things that happen in the movies,” she said.

Many students made small purchases they plan to take home, rather than use on machines for class. Sam grabbed two 1 1/2-foot black plastic pipes. “Honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to use these for,” he said. “I’m probably going to fill them with water, plug them up, and pour them on my brother.”

Baylee took the class to try something new. “I thought it’d be cool to make stuff from my imagination,” she said. “I wasn’t into engineering but I wanted to try something new. I think it’s good to engineer and to build with stuff you have around your house.”

Erik likes how Summer Academy is different from regular school. “You get to do what you want,” he said. “There’s no extra stuff, no due dates. I definitely like the ‘free roam’.”

El Mercado

To learn about other cultures, it helps to go to the source. For second and third graders today, that source was a market.

Alex wrinkled his nose as he hoisted an enormous thick, black beef tongue from the meat cooler. In a grocery aisle nearby, Adalyn tentatively ran her finger over the small spikes of a chayote.*

Finding the thorny chayote and beef tongue were among the challenges in a scavenger hunt through the aisles of El Burrito Mercado in St. Paul today.

Makayla bobbed her head as she counted the many colorful salsas behind the deli counter glass . “I like the orange one,” she decided. The vivid orange salsa nortena contained fried chile arbol, tomato, onion, and garlic. Even though she doesn’t like spicy foods, Makayla was emboldened by the Mexican cuisine around her. “I’m thinking about buying a jalapeno,” she grinned, “because I’ve never tried one.”

This is the point of the class, El Mercado. Students are encouraged to step out of their comfort zones, to speak new words, and try unfamiliar foods. “I’ve never tried anything on this plate,” admitted Audrey, pointing down at her refried beans, Spanish rice, and beef burrito. She tentatively bit into the burrito. “Hmmm…,” she said thoughtfully, then motioned with her hand to indicate “meh”.

Maria was also being adventurous when she ordered a tamale. “Most of the foods I didn’t know and I thought it sounded interesting,” she said. “I read a story about tamales and I knew there was a husk around it.” Steam escaped as she slowly peeled the cornhusk from the molded cornmeal and pork. She took a big bite and decided, “I like it!”

Frances loved her cheese quesadilla. “It’s really good!” The girls worked out the translation of the word quesadilla. Queso means cheese, they said, and Audrey thought dilla  had something to do with bread. “That makes a lot of sense, because there’s cheese and flat bread on a quesadilla,” she said.

Before lunch at El Burrito Mercado, the students visited the Wellstone Center for Community. “It’s a community building in a place where a lot of Hispanic people were settling and building houses and it’s a place where they can learn English, how to cook, and take computer classes,” Frances explained. “They also have a daycare so if you’re taking a language class, you can have your kids there.”

Samantha talked about the Summer Academy’s connection to the Wellstone Center. “Our teacher’s friend started El Mercado, and her parents built the place,” she said. “It was built for people that came in to the U.S. who spoke a different language.” That friend was U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone’s daughter, Marcia Wellstone Markuson, who died along with her parents in a 2002 airplane crash.

Following lunch, the students shopped in the market, sampling Mexican candies, and buying colorful souvenirs.

*Chayote is a vegetable from the same plant family as gourds, squashes, watermelon, and cucumbers.

Patterns & Impressions: Variety


It’s a word you don’t often associate with school, but one you hear every day at Summer Academy.

“Exciting!” shouted Kate again as she grabbed colored squares of paper at a “Challenge Station.” Her task was to build a sculpture in just eight minutes using only paper.

And not just any sculpture: “We have to build the best sculpture,” emphasized Colin, “and it needs to stand up by itself.”

Colin’s “best” sculpture started to take form. “I’m just making my own creation,” he said. “It’s starting to look like a man walking!”

Kate cut and twisted small bits of pink paper scraps. “I’m building something, but it’s just something I’m not sure of,” she said.

First graders in Patterns & Impressions explored patterns in art and architecture today as they completed 8-minute construction challenges at different stations throughout the classroom.

At another station, building materials were mysteriously disappearing.  “I want to eat one SO BAD!” Erik lamented as he eased a mini marshmallow close to his mouth.

Using only toothpicks and what marshmallows remained, Erik and Easton chose to recreate a famous triangular skyscraper. Erik read from the description: “The Shard skyscraper sits in the heart of London.” But progress on the structure was slow. The pull of the sugary materials was too much for the boys. “I just HAVE to eat one!” said Easton, as he popped a much-handled ‘mallow into his mouth.

Savannagh resisted the temptation and focused on her creation of a famous U.S. building. “I’m building the White House,” she said. “It says here it took eight years to construct!”

Savannagh only had eight minutes to construct hers, but she had a plan. “I’m using triangles and squares,” she said. To strengthen the structure, she decided to double the number of toothpicks supporting each span. “I’m gonna put two more little toothpicks on there to make it sturdier.”

Scarlett took control at the gumdrops and spaghetti noodle station. “Maybe we should start by breaking two noodles in half,” she suggested to her teammates. She grabbed a handful of noodles and broke them into equal pieces. “We can make a base so it stays up. If you start at the bottom and go up it gets higher.”

Scarlett enlisted the help of Ellie. “What I need you to do is this,” she demonstrated, “so it stands up like a cube.”

Across the table, Sean was amazed by Scarlett’s work. “How did you make that cube?” he asked the girls. Sean and his partner Abdul used triangle shapes for their structure, because, he said, “I thought squares aren’t that sturdy.”

But he was inspired. “Wait a second, I have an idea,” he told Abdul. He piled white, orange, and yellow gumdrops onto the top of one spindly noodle triangle. The boys watched their structure collapse, in agonizingly sllloooowww motion.

And that is Summer Academy in a nutshell – challenge, exploration, inspiration, adaptation, and learning resulting from multiple, and not always successful, attempts. And it’s really, really exciting. Just ask Kate.


Common Ground: How Minnesota Eats

Clad in identical red aprons, the chefs gathered around the cooking station, armed with their tools as if preparing for culinary battle.

And the general leading them into battle? Executive Chef Maggie, who guided her team to ensure today’s Arroz con Leche turned out just right. “You’re like the boss,” Maggie said about her role as executive chef. “I tell the materials manager what ingredients to get and the measurements. I use the iPad and tell the sous chef all the ingredients to put in.”

Four students are assigned to a kitchen area and each has a role, which changes daily. Ryann is Health and Safety Manager for Maggie’s kitchen. “I have to make sure everyone is calm and safe,” she said.

In a nearby kitchen, Jasmine said the crews work together pretty well. “It helps to have different jobs so everyone’s not working on the same things,” she said.

Today’s recipe, a Mexican rice pudding, is a common dish brought to Minnesota by Mexican immigrants. “It’s Arroz con Leche,” said Jasmine. “Or, rice with milk. That’s the literal translation.”

“The recipes are based on the dishes that are brought back from Mexico and different countries,” said Ryann. “From the cultures that moved to Minnesota,” added Materials Manager Annika.

Teacher Lindsey Scanlon said she created the course because she loves to cook and loves to travel. As an ESL teacher, she is interested in the food and cultures of others and “all these different people who made Minnesota food so good.”

“Cooking is a really tangible way to learn about a new culture,” she said. “It’s important to focus on what new people bring to a place.”

Scanlon developed a comprehensive website that allows the students to follow videotaped step-by-step recipes, to research cultures associated with the foods, and to reflect on their cooking and learning experiences. Kai likes the fact that each student has access to their own iPad. “It has the recipe on here,” he said, scrolling through the site. “It has a slide show with a video and pictures.”

Students are also encouraged to connect to their own cultural food traditions. Addie wrote about a Norwegian food that is important to her family. “Lefse is a family recipe that we like to make,” she said. “My dad makes it on holidays. I like the taste and I like the cultural meaning behind it.”

The class has inspired students to continue cooking at home. Executive Chef Kirsten cooked a Mexican dish with peppers last night with her family.

Jasmine also contributed to her family’s meal with a delicious cultural import from Southeast Asia. “Last night I made chicken satay,” she said. Lucky families!


Beguiling Bubbles

Coins don’t float on water, except at Summer Academy, where all things are possible.

Students in Bubbleology today watched as a visiting Mad Science scientist filled clear plastic cups to the brim, and beyond, with water. Owen leaned down and peered into his cup from the side. “It looks like a hill,” he observed of the mounded water rising above the edges of the cup.

The bubbleologists were learning about surface tension of water. “It’s about bubbles and chemistry,” Owen said. (According to the USGS, surface tension could be defined as the property of the surface of a liquid that allows it to resist an external force, due to the cohesive nature of the water molecules.)

Owen watched this resistance in action, as his desk partner Derek lowered a paper clip with a silver coin onto the top of the water. “Awesome, Derek!” he cheered. “The coin floats! You didn’t break the surface tension!”

Logan explained why the coin moved immediately from the middle of the cup toward the edge. “It floats to the edge because of gravity,” he said.

The boys then watched as pepper was sprinkled onto their “hill” of water. Like the coin, the pepper spread over the top of the water, instead of sinking.

It wasn’t until a blob of liquid soap hit the water that the surface tension broke. “The soap pushed it away,” noticed Sarah.

Pepper skidded to the edges of the cup as the hydrogen in the soap molecules attached to the water and the carbon molecules reacted against it. “Carbon hates water,” the visiting scientist told the students. “A carbon molecule will try to stand up in the water – stand on its head – and break the surface tension.”

Other activities in today’s Bequiling Bubbles session included racing soap-powered boats, blowing bubbles inside of bubbles, making tetrahedron wands to create pyramid-shaped bubbles, and learning about bubble colors.

Owen was fascinated by the experiments, but was especially looking forward to the next activity. “We get to go in a bubble!” he said.

Mateo stood on a stool in the middle of a small pool of soapy water, hands to his sides, and peered through the lenses of oversized goggles. A soapy ring was pulled up around him, and suddenly he was enveloped in a life-sized bubble. The infectious smile that broke out on his face was, indeed, quite beguiling

I Survived…

I Survived…the first day of Summer Academy!

One of the Academy’s new courses this year – “I Survived…” – is based around the book series of the same name. The historical fiction books recount real-life disaster situations from the viewpoints of fictional young survivors. Some of the students taking the class are big fans.

“My favorite is I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001, the worst American disaster of the 2000s,” said Jack. Jack has read many of the 16 books in the series and he and the other students in the class will have the opportunity to read the latest – I Survived the Children’s Blizzard, 1888.

Jack enjoys learning historical facts from the survival situations. Some of the information has made Jack sad, like what he learned about the fates of certain soldiers at Pearl Harbor in I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941.

“We never would have had Jackie Robinson if he hadn’t left on the ship,” before the attack, said Jack. “If he’d left Pearl Harbor one ship after, we’d never have seen Jackie Robinson in baseball.”

In addition to the survival stories from the books, students will learn about other real and potential survival situations. “We’re going to learn about Mars and how NASA is programming a rocket to get there,” said Jack.

As part of that survival scenario, Jack and his partner Logan were building and programming a robotic satellite using Lego robotics. “We’re building a satellite because you have to be able to communicate in space,” said Logan.

Jack said that communication is important in all disaster situations. “You need to be able to communicate with EMTs, rescue helicopters,” he added.

Ava and Hanna grabbed colorful Lego pieces from a tray and peered at their ipad screen for the satellite building directions. “I like this class so far,” said Ava. “We decorated the cover of our survival notebooks this morning.” Neither she nor Hanna have read the series, but they’re excited to learn about the Children’s Blizzard and to learn from a NASA scientist who is visiting on Friday.

Hands-On Fun with Math, Science, and…Art?










Rhett added a small yellow triangle to a page filled with color-coded triangles of various sizes. “We’re making fractals,” he explained. Each new set of triangles added was incrementally smaller in size than the last. “I’m going to get to really small triangles because I want to use the entire rainbow!” he said.

Abdi explained, “A fractal is an image that if you zoom in on it it’s going to have the same image.” His table partner Era Faith added: “The image stays the same at different distances.”

But how are fractals math? “It’s math because math is supposed to be patterns and shapes,” said Abdi.

Wyatt’s fractals included straight and wavy vertical lines in different colors. “I like to doodle and I wanted it to be different from other people’s,” he said about his decorative choice.

Across the table from Wyatt, Mallory placed orange dots on her page, drawing lines between the dots to create her triangles. She took the class because she likes all three of the subjects. “I like math because it’s easy, I like science because it’s fun, and I like art because it’s relaxing,” she said.

New Summer Academy teacher Jennifer Schuetz developed the course to engage students in creative mathematics. The topics came naturally to Jennifer, who serves as Executive Director of the creative educational organization, Fractal Foundation.

“I love science and math and using art to inspire more interest in math,” she said. “When they’re being creative and having fun, they’re actually doing math.”

Rhett confirmed her claim. “I think it’s really fun!”