From Story to Stage

Although she’s written books, Serene has never written a play before. “It takes more steps than you think to make a play,” she learned.

The play she wrote for the class From Story to Stage is a sort of Sword in the Stone meets horror story. “It’s about four kids that are evil who come to a good place. They need to steal the wand to take over the world.” Serene points to a drawing on her “stage” of the magical wand embedded in a large object. “At the last minute, one (of the kids) decides to be good and stops them.”

Serene glued black paper strips to accordion-folded cardboard as she nonchalantly recited the plot of her scary play, which she titled The Evil Proclamation. The cardboard will represent audience seating at the edges of her three-dimensional stage.

Tami stood in a growing line of students, waiting for the teacher to hot glue an element onto her diorama. Gauzy blue and turquoise fabric flowed from the top of her stage area, and cascaded down the walls. “It’s waterfalls from Niagara Falls,” she explained.

Her play, she said, “is, basically, there’s five sisters and two are going to Canada to be with their friend for winter break. They go to Niagara Falls and lose their friend.” The plot develops to include various kidnapping suspects and, eventually, the discovery of their friend “stuck in a cabin. They trapped him so he couldn’t become a team captain for the hockey game,” she continued. But, the story has a happy ending. Justin, the friend, escapes and leads his team to victory.

Tami’s inspiration was a trip to Niagara Falls. “I liked watching the waterfalls and doing the cruise by the falls,” she said.

Piper’s play – Today is the Day When I Sleep – involved “a boy who sleeps the whole day. No one could wake him up!” Her stage setup included a miniature double bed with an iridescent violet bedspread and plump pillows. Other details of the bedroom scene included a picture of a dog on the wall and a deep green velvet rug.

Writing a play and creating a stage set are not the only projects students created as they moved from story to stage. They also created appropriate costumes for their actors.

“We drew pictures of the outfits and we put the fabric we picked on (the picture),” she said. A visit to the giant costume and theatrical supply store Norcostco gave students inspiration. “We got to try on costumes,” Piper said.

Her main character will be clad, of course, in green and red pajamas. And don’t bother to wake him up. This is the day he sleeps.


Photo Academy

Photo Academy students created a unique view of Columbia Heights High School this week as they engaged in “Macro Mysteries”.

Hanna squinted at the small camera monitor and moved the lens closer, and closer, and closer to a radiator until only the abstract lines of the vent were visible in the view finder. “Click!”

“We’re doing macro,” she explained. “We take something that’s small and make it look bigger.”

“We have to find something and take an up close picture of it, then take another farther away.” Students will show their macro images to each other and try to guess what the object is, she said. She stood on tiptoes thrusting her camera toward a screen holding a thermostat to the wall.

Abigail took macro photographs of a pencil sharpener, a camera lens, and floor tiles that she hoped would stump her classmates. “I used a little bit of zoom and moved the lens closer,” she said of her technique.

Abigail wants to be a photographer and particularly likes taking pictures of landscapes. “I do sunsets a lot,” she said. “I get good sunsets because we have trees and a pond behind our house.”

She is enjoying the class, because, “I like learning all the different elements and getting your pictures to look better.”

In the computer lab, Maxwell organized his photos in preparation to create a slideshow. “I’m trying to rename all these photos. It’s so I can look at them and so Ms. B. can look at them and know which ones to put on the slideshow,” he said. “Each person is doing a slideshow of their own.”

Maxwell showed an example of one of his macro shots. “Macro means photos that are really close up.” He clicked on a file and brought up an image of slanted metal ridges with interesting shadows. “First, I did a picture of a locker lock. The whole class is supposed to guess what it is.”

Ingrid had a similar-looking close up – vertical metal stripes alternating with black empty spaces. “It’s a metal vent on the wall,” she revealed. She also had fun taking macro pictures of a juniper bush with tiny berries.

Ingrid’s favorite new learning from the class is understanding the importance of changing up the perspective of shots. “Perspective is if you want to go above something, or below something, or from the side,” she said.



Pay to the Order Of

The large metal door clanked open, revealing a line of eager faces and hungry tummies. Kids crowded to the front of the counter, reviewing the selection laid before them: Fruit by the Foot, mini muffins, apple sauce, pop tarts, Capri sun drinks, and other luscious treats.

“Honeybuns are back in stock!” an excited Davis declared. Honeybuns are always Davis’ first choice for snack. “Just because I like them,” he admitted. Today, he ordered two, plus a Sunny D to wash them down.

Ellie was excited to work her second shift at the SA concession stand today. Students from the class Pay to the Order Of have opportunities to run the concession stand under the supervision of their classroom Teacher’s Assistants.

“We get some snacks and we sell them all for 50 cents. This is my second time!” the veteran Ellie said.

“People come and buy stuff and we’re using the money for profit…for…” she looked to the TA for help. Profits from the sales go toward Summer Academy tuition scholarships.

For Jevenson, it was a new experience. He jumped right in to the fast-paced, demanding environment, taking orders, serving customers, and making change. His favorite part, he said, “was giving them what they want.”

“I learned how to serve customers,” he said. The hardest thing about working the snack counter “was remembering what the customer ordered.”

Ellie agreed. “I learned to try to remember what they wanted,” she said. “I just keep saying it, repeating it, over and over.”

Poppy is a regular customer at the concession stand, even though today she happened to bring her own snack. “Why I like it, is they have options and good service,” she said. Usually she gets chips or honeybuns. “People seem to be going crazy about the honeybuns!” she said.

And she’s right. Honeybuns are the first to sell out each day, followed by other sweet treats, like Oreos and mini donuts.

At the end of their shift, Ellie and Jevenson returned to the classroom with their cash box full of snack money. “We’re going to count all the money we made,” Jevenson said.

Adventures in Art

Students in Adventures in Art molded Native American Storyteller figurines today. There was great excitement about the last step in the sculpting process – opening the mouths.

Jada, making a rabbit storyteller, explained: “When you open the mouth, it starts talking!” she said, excitedly. “It’s alive! It starts telling a story!”

The figures are an important artistic representation of Hopi oral traditions. Throughout history, Native American Elders recited stories to teach young people cultural values, morality, and belief systems. The traditional human or animal storytellers always have their mouths open and are surrounded by children listening to the stories.

In the arms of Morgan’s storyteller sculpture sit three clay babies. “My mom and uncle are part Indians and that reminds me of them,” she said.

Before sculpting their storytellers, students wrote an original story. “It can be any story you want,” explained Morgan. “I’m telling the story of how I got named if I was an Indian.”

In her story Blue Swan, Morgan’s terracotta Grandma Storyteller tells the tale of a baby who was born following a storm. A pond reflecting blue onto a swimming swan inspired the baby’s mother to name her Blue Swan.

Every year when the day comes when the baby was born, the swan comes back and everyone bows to show how much they care about the swan and the child. (excerpt from Morgan’s story.)

“Grandma tells the story of how she got her name,” Morgan said. “If I was a different culture, if I was an Indian, it would be really cool to me to know how I got my name.”

Claire used a smooth blade-like tool to outline the eye of her grandmother figurine. “The grandmas or animals are telling the story of how they were born.” She gently tugged at an arm to pull it into a curve. “The kids are going to be here, in the arms.” She pointed to the hollow formed by the curving arms.

Alasdair worked pointed triangular shapes onto the top of his figure. “I’m doing a cat,” he said. “I have a cat and I was thinking I would know how to do it pretty well.” Alasdair said the reddish terracotta clay they used would dry on its own and then the students would paint their figures.

Students who completed their Storytellers worked on abstract self portraits.

Art Cycle

“Have you ever heard of Frida Kahlo?” Anna asked. “She did self portraits out of flowers and animals that she painted.”

Anna was following in the footsteps of her idol today, making a likeness of her own face, out of cardboard.

“A self portrait means making a realistic drawing of yourself,” Anna explained. The first step to making a “realistic” portrait is “to have everything in order.”

“Once you know where everything goes, you can make a really good portrait of people and a really good self-portrait,” she said.

Maura’s cardboard portrait featured a bun hairstyle and one winking eye. “Before we started gluing, we drew lines where the eyes, nose, and mouth go,” she explained. “I learned that you’re supposed to put eyes in the middle of the face, the nose between the eyes and mouth, and the mouth between the nose and the chin.”

Students drew self portraits last week to get familiar with their features in preparation for the cardboard project. Leah said she learned about her own features and body in the process. “My shoulders go farther out than I knew,” she said. “I always drew them aligned with my neck.”

Once they drew their own faces, they were better able to design the shapes to represent each feature. “The pieces go together like a puzzle. Like, the hair has to have a certain curve,” Leah said.

Leah and Teegan found very different ways to represent their hair. Leah used large curving shapes that she fit together on top of her cardboard head just like she described – like pieces of a puzzle.

Teegan cut out tiny squarish shapes to create an abstract representation of the hair on her head.  “I didn’t have enough big pieces so I had to take little pieces and cut them up,” Teegan said.

Teegan felt the most difficult feature to represent was the nose. “It was a complicated shape and hard to cut out,” she said. “At first it looked too long so I cut it down.”Leah struggled with her eyebrows because the pieces kept sticking to her fingers, rather than to the cardboard face. “The eyebrows are super hard to glue on,” she said. She shook her hand to dislodge an eyebrow from her gluey finger.

The struggles of the artist. 

Mathematical Investigations

y = n cubed + 8 + 12(n-2) + 6(n-2) squared + (n-2) cubed

This may not mean much to many of us, but to Elizabeth and Ayanna in Mathematical Investigations, this formula is the result of multiple geometric manipulations with tiny, sticky, sugar cubes.

“We had to construct – out of sugar cubes – a larger cube with specific dimensions and imagine it was dipped in paint,” Elizabeth explained. “Then we had to find out how many of the little cubes had two faces painted, three faces painted,” etc.

Across the table from Kamar, Waffle held up a small sugar cube with one side marked in yellow highlighter. “We had one big cube and we (pretended to) dip it in yellow paint,” he said.

His partner, Kai, continued: “We figure out the number of cubes with sides that have paint on them and fill out a chart. We try to find patterns to help find formulas,” and vice versa.

Kamar picked up the explanation: “Then we have to figure out how many would have paint on one side, two sides,” etc.

Kamar’s challenge partner, Cecilia, showed that instead of yellow highlighter, they had marked black x’s on the sides of their cubes. “We were too lazy to color them,” she laughed.

The last step, said Kai, “is to come up with formulas.” The formulas helped him determine, for example, the total number of small cubes in a 3×3 construction (27), the number of cubes with three sides painted (8), and the number of cubes that would only have two sides painted (12).




Kamar explained the overall objective. “We’re trying to figure out the surface area of a cube.”  She learned how to solve such problems in math classes before, but never in this way. “It’s a unique way of thinking about it,” she said. “They never showed it visually like that.”

Ayanna was excited that Summer Academy offered a math class. “I’m really good at math at school and I wanted to advance my math abilities,” she said. “I want to be a mathematician for NASA and I like to practice working on math.”

Science in the Kitchen

Heat transfer, immersion, and insulation. These are not the usual terms bandied about in a busy kitchen. But for the cooks in Science in the Kitchen, these concepts helped to explain the science behind their baking projects.

Today’s challenge? The notoriously tricky Baked Alaska.

Chefs Lilah, Addy, and Bergen, also known as “The Lucky Ducks” kitchen, explained the process.

“We made a cake first, a box cake,” Lilah said.

“Then we put it in the freezer overnight, actually, for two nights,” added Addy. “We put ice cream on it today, and put it back in the freezer while we made meringue.”

Lilah said the meringue was made from egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar. They used an immersion blender to “immersify the sugar,” Addy said. “It almost turned into powdered sugar.”

“The blade spins around really fast and crushes what’s under it,” Lilah added.

Improv-athon actors from the classroom next door were invited to sample and critique the fancy dessert.

As the actors sat patiently waiting for their baked treat, the cooks worked frantically to serve their creations before they melted.

“We need to cut it! Right away! Right away!” Bergen squealed. “Where’s a knife!”

Bergen asked the Improv students at the table nearest her kitchen if they’d like a piece. “We have chocolate and strawberry ice cream, both,” she said. That must have sounded good to the tasters, because they swarmed around the oven holding forth empty plates.

“It doesn’t matter, as long as it has sugar,” laughed Grant.

Danica said one of the important scientific lessons she learned was how meringue helps keep the ice cream from melting in the oven. “I learned how the meringue absorbs the heat and protects the ice cream,” she said.

In a nearby kitchen, Will, Albi, and Jameson realized their ice cream hadn’t been adequately protected. “We didn’t have enough meringue so the ice cream melted,” Will speculated.

“Meringue is like an insulator,” said Albi. “There wasn’t enough insulation.”

“We left a border so the meringue could go down the sides and protect the sides of the cake,” Jameson explained. “The heat doesn’t transfer through the meringue. But you have to serve it immediately, otherwise the meringue will cook the ice cream down.”

Improv student, and guest “taster” Chase said he now understands why the dessert he sampled is called Baked Alaska. “I think it’s because of the top – the egg white that is baked – and because it has ice cream inside that’s cold like Alaska,” he said.

Improv-athon and Science in the Kitchen teachers have made their classroom proximity mutually beneficial. Today, the actors gave the chefs feedback on their creations. On Tuesday, the scientist-cooks will head next door to critique an Improv performance!


After sampling Baked Alaska in the Science in the Kitchen room today, Improv-athon actors worked off their delicious treat by participating in a Slideshow activity.

Narrator Charles barked out, “Lights up!” Four students in the performance space froze in position while Charles interpreted the scene and added action to his story in progress.

“Lights down!” The lights clicked off and the actors scrambled into a new configuration to propel the story along.

Even though the actors have to think and move quickly between lights down and lights up, Keira said, “Sometimes ideas just pop into your head!”

Madelynn added that it’s advantageous to work in partnership with others in your scene. “It’s better if you grab someone. It gives the narrator something to say.”

Emma echoed Madelyn’s assessment. “You have to grab somebody else’s body, and it helps because then we are interacting,” she agreed. “The narrator can then say something awkward.”

Emma’s crazy facial expressions were a highlight of the exercise. “All we do is get into a silly pose,” she said. “One of our roles it to make ourselves and our partners look good.”

Sara sat on the narrator’s bench and set the scene. “This is a senior trip to Bora Bora,” she told the audience. The lights clicked off and the actors bumbled about to set up a tableau appropriate for the setting.

“Don’t think! Just do,” teacher Scott Larson reminded students.

Once the actors were frozen in place, Sara began her story of the students’ adventures in Bora Bora. “They went into a monkey exhibit,” she started. “Next slide!”

The story progressed to a rousing climax in which there was an attack on animals, a responding army, and other wild action. In the end, all were friends, who lived happily ever after.

End Scene.

Inventions & Engineering

Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, never saw the energy, enthusiasm, and random squirrel-like movements of the young students in Inventions & Engineering. Nevertheless, she managed to capture their chaotic essence in a famous quote:

“Invention…does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos….”

The Bakken Museum in Minneapolis features a performance exhibit about Shelley’s Frankenstein monster in keeping with the museum’s focus on electricity. Inventions students visited The Bakken Thursday to generate ideas for inventions and engineering projects.

Hands-on exhibits and real-life experiments are what keep the kids engaged. Brian headed for the Tower Power exhibit and began wildly spinning a wheel. “You turn this, then it turns on the lights.” He pointed at a model of the Minneapolis Foshay Tower, whose windows lit up as the wheel was spun. “You’re using your energy to transfer electricity,” he said.

“It goes down when the wheel slows down,” observed Jules. “When it’s spinning fast, it makes more electricity.”

At the “Mindball” experiment, a clear tube with a small ball traversed a low table. Peyton and Alyssa sat across from each other with wide, black bands strapped to their foreheads.  “You’re supposed to try to relax and the more you relax, it (the ball) goes to the other side,” Peyton said. He wasn’t exactly sure how relaxing the brain made the ball move, so he looked for more information. He located a plaque on the Mindball machine and read: It reads our electric activity, or “brain waves”, in the front part of the brain through the metal disks in the headband.

The students sat perfectly still, willing themselves to relax so the little ball would move toward their opponent. Alyssa held her giggles in, until she just couldn’t anymore, and Peyton’s ball rolled onto her side of the table.

“It’s very intense,” Alyssa said. “It’s hard because you don’t know how your brain actually relaxes. I just kind of let my brain do it, just sat back.”

“At the end, it was  kind of funny because it’s hard to concentrate and not laugh,” she giggled.

The Frankenstein experience is a highlight at the Bakken. While waiting to see the immersive object theater performance, students played in Frankenstein’s laboratory, learning about Mary Shelley and early medical experiments using electricity. Students made a “dead” frog’s legs twitch and blew up water.

Jaxon chose not to see the presentation, and, instead, re-enacted the story through puppets. Using a magnified wand under a small stage, Jaxon manipulated cut out wooden puppet figures. “Yay! I can be Frankenstein,” he said, moving his character around the stage. Suddenly he lowered his voice to an other-wordly growl. “I AM THE MONSTER.”

When it was time for the theater performance, students tentatively crept into the dimmed room. Titters and nervous giggles erupted when the lights suddenly went out. “What’s going on?” someone whispered. “Something’s going to happen!”

That’s all it took to lose one young man. “I’m leaving,” he decided.

In the tiny laboratory space on the stage lay a body-shaped figure covered in a sheet. The disembodied voice of Dr. Victor Frankenstein began to tell his tale. “How is lifeless matter miraculously transformed into life?” the voice wailed at one point.

Brecken left his chair and crouched down on the floor. “I’m scared!” he said through a smile.

As the narrator described his first attempt at regenerating life, a deep thumping heartbeat boomed ominously through the room. Brecken covered his ears to further block out the spooky stimulus.

When it’s the monster’s turn to tell his story, he declared: “Misery made me a fiend!”

Will explained that the monster only turned bad because no one was nice to him. “He wanted a wife like him, but the creator destroyed her and then Frankenstein got really mad.”

Afterwards, Matias summed up the story performance: “It was freaky!” he laughed. “I hugged my friend, but it didn’t help.”

His friend, Evan, didn’t seem to mind being hugged if it helped Matias, because, he said, “I wasn’t scared.”

Brecken explained why he crouched down and covered his ears. “I thought the monster was going to pop up from his bed and go, ‘RAWRRRRR!!!’ ”

The lump on the lab table never moved, but the beast did make a sudden, startling appearance at the end. A hidden cabinet door flew open and his ghoulish black outline peered out, yellow eyes blazing.

I wasn’t scared….

Well, not really.

Written & Illustrated By You

How do you turn the alphabet into a challenging and creative learning tool for young gifted learners?

The Minnesota Center for Book Arts has one idea: let students design new fonts! Students in Written & Illustrated By You today were challenged to think beyond the usual letter shapes they see in print and create a brand-new font for a randomly assigned letter.

Payton (PJ) shared what she knew about a “font”. “When typing, you can use, like, cursive or bold. There’s over 20 different kinds,” she said. “Mono is one of my favorites because it’s like big, bubbly letters.”

When she received the letter “P”, she decided to make a little dinosaur-themed font. “I think the spikes are going to be a good addition,” she said.

Not everyone was happy with their randomly assigned letter. Scout was initially disappointed with the “L” he received. “I was hoping I could get “S” for snake,” he said. But the letdown didn’t last long. “Oh! I got a good idea!” he said, reaching for his pencil. “It’s a kind of a bubble font, but I’m making a foot!” The “L” shape turned into a leg and foot, complete with pudgy  toes.

Akium was happy with his “I” and had an idea right away. “There’s a stick person inside the I with some decoration around it,” he showed me.

Elsa’s “U” sported two umbrellas at the top with round raindrops running down the sides and pooling in the bottom. If she had been able to choose a letter, “I would choose “E” because it’s the letter of my name,” she said.

Nicholas put hills on his “Z” because he likes going on picnics in the hills. “And I put some scales on it for iguanas,” he explained.

“Printing books is part of making books,” Nicholas said. “I really like illustrating and writing books and I think it’s fun to use your imagination in books and picture a movie in your head. I like picturing a movie in my head and making my own book.”

Students drafted their designs on paper, redrew them onto cardstock, then cut them out. Each child’s letter was put in alphabetical order onto a piece of 11″ x  17″ paper, which became the template for the poster.

One-by-one, students joined the Book Arts teacher at the printing press and printed their very own poster – an original alphabet in royal purple.

Lucy stepped up to the 1958 print-making machine and grabbed hold of a large metal handle. She cranked it, rolling the template onto the ink plate, where it printed the poster onto a blank piece of paper. “We had to crank the handle,” Lucy said. “It was easy on the way forward and harder on the way back.”

Akium’s original stick figure in the “I” image had to be revised once he realized the drawing would not come out when printed. His “I” evolved into a figure that would be recognizable when cut out. “It turned into a monster because the stick person wouldn’t show up,” he said.

Malayah thought the poster, and particularly her contribution, “turned out good.” Her letter “R” became a unicorn. “I just added a horn to it because the R has the shape to have a horn. Then I added the hair, the mane,” she explained. “I’m going to hang my poster in my room.”

To further authenticate the process, Teacher Tiffany numbered and dated each limited edition print. You might want to check your child’s print. I hear that # 1/22 could someday be worth something….