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!”

Patterns & Impressions: Language Arts

Looking at the world through a first grader’s eye reminds us of how much we miss in our environment. Students in Patterns and Impressions, Language Arts, found patterns everywhere in nature on Thursday.

“We are at Como Zoo looking at a lot of animals, like gorillas, zebras, giraffes,” Emmy explained. “Zebras take dust baths,” she said, showing me a drawing of the striped pattern she drew when observing the zebras. “We’re making observations about them,” she said. “Seeing spots, stripes…”

“…and dots!” chimed in Harper.

Pattern observations continued in the Pollinator tent, where Harper was on the look out for Fibonacci patterns. “I see one, two, three, four, and five petals on the flower,” she said, pointing to a bright yellow-ish, orange bloom. “Yes, that’s a Fibonacci!”

The Fibonacci Sequence is the series of numbers 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5…. The next number in the sequence is found by adding up the two numbers that come before it. “One plus 1 is 2, so 2 is a Fibonacci,” Harper said. “2 plus 3 equals 5, and 5 is a Fibonacci.”

Oliver peered through the mesh surrounding a garden looking for patterns among the pollinators. “I’m looking at the bees,” he said. “Yellow-black, yellow-black on the bee.”

Ceci sketched in her notebook. She recorded examples of patterns she found at the Zoo. Her sketch of a star flower showed “five Fibonacci”. She found patterns in a turtle’s shell as well. “He kind of had squares on his back.”

One sketch featured a stingray with lines around the outside of his body. “The stingray has little cuts,” Ceci pointed out. “There’s a big one and a little one, a big one and a little one, all the way around.”

Just a little reminder for all of us to open our eyes to the wonder all around, just like a first grader.

Programming the Future: Lego Robotics

“Henry! It’s going to work! Just try it!” Brady shouted at his partner.

Lego robotics engineers today were eager to tackle the cardboard golf “greens” in preparation for playing mini golf at the Mall of America next week. It won’t be the kind of mini golf any of us is used to playing, however.

“The robots are going to do it for us,” Henry said. “It’s challenging because you can’t use remote controls.”

In the Challenge Room, students tested their robots on five cardboard mini golf holes, learning to program around obstacles in order to sink their balls into the holes.

At Hole 3, robots had to climb a steep slope and drop the ball into a tunnel at the top. Junia’s team had tried and failed on Hole 3 several times, but they were back with an adaptation they hoped would solve their issues.

“A ha! I made a tail so it doesn’t fall backwards on the hill,” Junia said.

She placed the ball at the front of the robot and hit start. At first it seemed to climb, but then got stuck. “It’s not falling over, but we might need more grips or to put the tail in a different spot,” Junia decided.

She scooped the robot up and headed from the Challenge Room back into the Engineering Lab. As seen in today’s Facebook video, Junia’s robot successfully conquered the hole just a few minutes later.

Peyton and Evan had similar issues on Hole 3. “We’re trying to get up but one part of the robot gets caught,” Peyton said.

“We’re going to add something that pushes it up,” Evan mentioned.

Jakob did a happy dance when he learned his robot made it into the “Hall of Fame”. Once a team’s robot successfully completed the five practice holes, they could attempt Level 6, “an incredibly difficult one,” said one of the teacher’s assistants who was helping to create it.

Earlier in the week, the robotics engineers completed smaller challenges that helped them learn to build and program their designs.

Suheyla and Sydney used “sensor thingys” to program their robot to react to bumping or touching an object. “We’re trying to get it to touch four walls,” said Suheyla. With a touch sensor on the front of the ‘bot, “we have to touch it and go back, and then touch it again and do it four times,” she said.

But they struggled with the turns. “We’re trying to make it turn more,” Sydney said.

Suheyla analyzed the issue. “It hits the corner of the same wall instead of the next wall.”

Max and Cole had conquered the sensor challenges and moved on. “We made a robot arm so we can pick up something with it. It will be attached to the tank bot,” said Max. “It will be able to go across rough terrain and pick up things it can fit in its arm.”

Their robotic arm will be tested in the Robo Cross challenge. “We have to pick stuff up and move it to another zone on the board,” Cole explained. He pointed to a wooden platform, roughly four feet square and divided into quadrants. Robots must pick up Lego blocks, batteries, ping pong balls, etc., and move them. Each successfully moved item is worth a different point value.

Suhelya and Sydney were not new to the world of programming. “I have done a lot of coding but not EV3 coding (Lego Mindstorms),” Sydney said.

“I have done some programming on robots, but this is the first time we have had to build and program it ourselves with just a little help,” Suheyla said.

And it’s definitely the first time she has had to design a robot to play golf for her.

Training a Photographic Eye: Photo Academy

Sophie stopped suddenly, dropped to the ground and aimed her camera at what looked like a manhole cover in the concrete floor. It was a photo moment only a trained photographer might notice.

“I just wanted to make it look bigger than it actually is and show pattern and texture…” she explained, “…and perspective.”

She moved and put her camera to the edge of a planter, catching the tiny detail around the edge.

Photo Academy students visited Como Zoo today to capture unique images and to practice their new skills.

The industrial silver metal of the manhole cover contrasted sharply with Sophie’s next subject: an exotic blue-tongued skink held by a naturalist nearby. Sophie leaned in close, so close the skink nearly licked her lenses with his darting blue tongue.

“I angled to the side a little bit for the rule of thirds,” she said.

Wyatt hovered his camera over the top of the skink. “I’m doing an overhead shot,” he said. Trying different angles was one of the tasks of the photographers today, in addition to capturing solids, lines, patterns, and perspectives, Wyatt said.

Disregarding the exotic animals around them, Sammie tried to get a shot of what she described as “the squirrel-rat thingy.” It was actually a scavenging chipmunk, the girls all laughed.

Sammie experimented with capturing texture on the horns of the caribou dozing in the sun. “I did a close up to show the texture and how it’s soft,” she said.

Another technique – macrophotography – inspired the students to take super close up shots. “We’re going to do a thing in class tomorrow where you put your camera really close to something and the class will have to figure out what it is,” Sammie explained.

Izzy got a head start on the macro lesson. She attempted a photo of the tiger that she hoped would fill up the entire screen. “It didn’t turn out how I wanted,” she said. “I could have zoomed in more.”

She used her new knowledge at the polar bear exhibit. She shoved her camera near my face to reveal a close up shot of a polar bear paw with long, curled claws. “Guess what this is!” she laughed.

SA Photographer Erinn offered some tips to the girls who were trying to take photos of animals behind double wire fences. “I put (the camera) right against the wire and zoomed in through it,” Hailey said. She moved her camera sideways to shoot through the opening in the second fence and ended up with a nice photo of a mountain goat with no distracting fence lines.

Sam was challenged to shoot not only through a wire fence, but also through a thick window at the polar bear enclosure. She was careful to stand back from the finger-smudged glass. “If you push the camera up against the glass it’ll pick up dirt or glare,” she said.

In the Pollinator tent, Emily and Teagan focused on shooting patterns. “I took pictures of leaves and how they pattern with each other all on the same plant, but going different ways,” Emily said.

Teagan experimented with different perspectives. “It looks better when you’re not always just looking at it standing up,” she said. “You can look at it from above or from the ground.”

Tech Ninjas Battle ‘Bots

Wiggle Bots

It was a highly-anticipated Battle of the ‘Bots – Wiggle ‘Bots, that is, – in Tech Ninjas this afternoon.

Tech Ninjas visited The Works Interactive Children’s Museum today to learn about engineering and to create their very own wiggling robots.

“What do motors do?” asked The Works teacher, Riley.

“They move stuff. They spin and do other things,” said Alistair.

Riley gave each student a small silver motor and asked them to discuss what they discover.

“There’s a magnet inside!” Vincentas noticed right away. “Is there sap in here?” he asked peering into the motor chamber. “It feels sticky.”

Eli demonstrated his knowledge of the motor workings. “The electric coils collect electricity from the magnet when it spins,” said Eli. “If you could spin it fast enough, it would make electricity.”

“But there’s no way a human can make it spin fast enough,” Weston said.

“You would need electricity,” added Maxwell.

At the next table, students shared what they had learned about their tiny motors.

“We found copper wires,” Zoe said.

Alistair found an alternative use: “We found they make good spinning tops,” he laughed, spinning the motor across the table.

Ethan noticed that his was “a three-cylinder motor.”

When The Works teacher misspoke and called copper an insulator, the kids were quick to correct him. “I think copper is a conductor,” corrected Alistair. You can’t get anything by these smarties.

The next challenge, said Elias, “was to make the copper wire spin.” Nolan placed a piece of coiled copper wire onto two prongs set above a magnet and watched as it started to spin. “It’s magnetic force!” he shouted excitedly.

Colin observed that the wire grew warm the more it spun. “We also noticed something – it gets hotter,” he said. “It’s hot because of the energy it’s using.”

Nolan hypothesized that more magnets might create more spin. But his test didn’t pan out. “Guys,” he warned, “don’t add two magnets. It basically stops it.”

Rhett was excited and concerned, but mostly excited. “My copper is cooking! Can you smell it?

Moving into the next step of the engineering process, Siena taped bright yellow electrical tape to a paper clip. “It’s going to attach to a motor and another wire and then to another paper clip and when we connect the paper clips, it’s going to spin an eraser.” We were getting closer to the “wiggle” part of the ‘bot.

Once the mechanics of the ‘bot were completed, it was time for artistic embellishments. Students could use decorative elements such as pipe cleaners, googly eye stickers, markers, and colorful straws to personalize their Wiggle ‘Bots.

Maxwell said the class would have a competition with the wiggle ‘bots back at school. “We’re going to do battle with them,” he said.

Before it even got to wiggle once, Colin’s ‘bot already had a personality and a name. “I’m going to name my ‘bot Sir Wiggler!” he laughed.

Go West, Young Woman

In the class Go West, Young Woman, students sat on the floor as teacher Rhonda Lajko reminded them about basic grammar rules. The impromptu lesson was reminiscent of a one-room schoolhouse of the 1800s, students of different ages gathered around a teacher at the board.

After the grammar reminders, Ryley returned to her saloon. Uh, her cardboard box saloon, the business that would become a part of an Old West town. Each student created a shop or other building that would have been common in a new pioneer settlement.

Ryley folded a tiny piece of paper into a cube. “I’m trying to make a dice,” she said, a die to go with her teeny, tiny deck of cards, game pieces that would feature in Yee Old Saloon.

“It’s a place guys would go to get beer and they played cards and sometimes got into fights,” Ryley said about her saloon. “Women weren’t allowed in because they weren’t allowed to drink whiskey or wine.”

Her Saloon will sit near Tasha’s Hotel, where owner Natasha was getting ready to decorate the interior. She cut a paisley print fabric in rich blues and reds you might see in Victorian decor. “I’m going to carpet the hotel,” she said, opening her box to show the inside. “There will be a bed, a lamp, maybe a warmer stove.”

Natasha also planned to make paper people to populate her hotel. “I have a lot of cousins and they will love to play with it.”

Ania’s calico bonnet hung from her neck and flopped against her back. I was suddenly transported back to elementary school when I read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Laura was always being scolded for not keeping her bonnet on to protect her face from the sun. With modern sunscreens, Ania’s bonnet could be worn purely for fun.

Ania was in charge of the Dry Goods Store that would carry “a lot of sewing stuff. It’s kind of like dry materials, like fabric and needles,” she said. “They would do a lot of sewing. These days we can go in a store and buy clothes, but they would have to make them.”

Ania said she was kind of like the pioneer children because her mom sews many of her clothes.

Annalee’s Old West business was an Ice Cream Shop. “There wasn’t like modern flavors then,” she said. “They cut ice out of frozen ice in lakes in the winter. They put it in an icebox and put the ice cream on top” to keep it frozen.

To learn about the cultures of some immigrant pioneers, the students created small replica Maypoles.

“In Sweden there would be one day in summer where it’s light out all day,” Annalee explained. “They would dance around the Maypoles. They are decorated with streamers, flowers, and floral stuff.”

It’s a practice, she said, that “some Swedish people might still do.”