Friday, June 29, 2012

Casa Bonita

I met my friend Carol through a parenting group called "Moms and Kids."  Although it's been years since either of us attended a meeting, we still enjoy an occasional get together with other former MAK members.  Yesterday we met Cathy and her daughter Kacey at Casa Bonita in Lakewood.
While we were waiting for Carol and Cathy to arrive, the kids and I checked out the Live Entertainment offerings. 
 We were most intrigued by the promise of Dancing Monkeys.
Here's the Moms and Kids alumni photo.  From left to right that's Kacey, Cathy, Carol, Kristin, James, Jennifer and Ryan.  Carol's nephew Sam was also in attendance, as well as one of Kacey's friends. 
The inside of Casa Bonita is a maze of hallways... 
and bridges.
The restaurant is over fifty two thousand square feet in size and can seat over one thousand guests.
Some of the dining rooms look like plazas, others like mines. 
There's even a cave or two. 
Watch out, James!
Two scary cave dwellers. 
Carol smiles in the face of danger.
Our table was located near the thirty foot waterfall which serves as Casa Bonita's main stage. 
This is Cathy watching one of the cliff divers... 
and this is Kristin quizzing Ryan about his love life! 
 Ryan was the first to find the area behind the waterfall.
It was a good place to watch the divers... 
 and to have your picture taken.
Unfortunately, both the food and the entertainment were decidedly mediocre.  The "dancing monkeys" turned out to be one guy in a gorilla suit, and every skit ended the same way--with someone falling in the water.
Still, no one goes to Casa Bonita for the food.  It's all about the experience, and both kids came home happy and tired.  That's the way it usually goes after a Moms and Kids alumni meeting!
June 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Not so lazy

James isn't the only one who went to summer school this year.  Ryan took a three week Robot class that was offered through his middle school.  Last week a staff writer from the Aurora Sentinel visited the robot lab and wrote this article. 


Coursework at Institute of Science and Technology aims to push students further ahead in studies

by ADAM GOLDSTEIN Staff Writer

Aurora The students in this Algebra 2 course don't have to worry about impressing upperclassmen or dealing with the pressure of high school cliques.

In this classroom at the Institute of Science and Technology, eighth graders work at tables with eleventh graders.  About 25 students ranging in age from 13 years old to 17 years old share a common degree of concentration as they copy the detailed charts and graphs written on the whiteboard.  Here, the social pecking order of a typical high school is absent and the students seem focused on the task at hand: stuffing the workload of a full semester into a shortened time frame of six weeks.
“Just to do it in six weeks is pretty impressive. We’re pushing ourselves to be better students,” said Elliot Park, a 13-year-old Prairie Middle School student who signed up to spend a good chunk of his summer vacation in a math class. Park stood with five other students from the Algebra 2 class at the IST, peers he’ll likely see again in a high-school level pre-calculus class in the fall. “A lot of kids are making new friends, and we’ve got each other’s phone numbers … Nothing’s wrong, we always have fun with each other. With the math, it’s not really hard.

“Pre-calculus is going to be fun. It’s going to be easy,” he added.

These students are among nearly 300 attending the Summer Institute of Science and Technology, a summer school program for sixth graders to high school students that’s now in its second year at the IST campus. The program, centered at the IST campus between Overland High School and Prairie Middle School, offers math courses as well as science-based electives. Students can pay $250 to take courses like Math 6, pre-algebra, Algebra 1, geometry and algebra. If they pass the final test at the end of the six-week class, the students will move up to the next class level when they start school in the fall. The three-hour elective courses, which last three weeks, carry a cost of $75 and include courses with titles like “Money Management,” “CSI Prairie,” “Computer Gaming” and “Hands-On Algebra.”

At its core, the initiative goes deeper than offering students an alternative for the summer months, administrators say. It’s all about tackling the achievement gap between black students and their white and Asian peers, a phenomenon that’s pointed in school districts across Colorado.

“This program is designed to help kids break out of the track they’re in, especially if they’re in a low track,” said Kandy Cassaday, principal of Prairie Middle School. “It’s all about acceleration rather than remediation. A lot of times, summer schools are just a place to promote remedial programming. Our kids can take six weeks of sixth grade math in the summer — all day, 172 hours — they’re going to get out of sixth grade math and be able to start in pre-algebra.”

According to Cassaday, that push paid off in the first year of the summer school program. Approximately 87 percent of the students who participated in the program last year passed their final exams and moved forward to the next class. Of those, about 85 percent earned Bs or higher at the end of their first semester.

Shaina Wilson, an Overland math teacher who’s heading the summer’s Algebra 2 class, said the difference in her students’ attitude is clear in the high test scores from the first two weeks of class.

“These kids are so motivated and they have brilliant questions,” Wilson said. “An 8 out of 10 is not enough. They’re overachievers.”
 The program may still be relatively young, but it’s already affected Overland High School’s offerings for its math students. With younger students entering courses at a higher level, the rolls of AP students has increased, administrators say.

“We’ve seen an increase in kids who take geometry in ninth grade and Algebra 2 in tenth grade,” said Overland High School Principal Leon Lundie, adding that the track often ends with high school math students earning college-level credits. “This has really let us redo our schedule. Having that amount of kids come in with geometry has had an impact.”

Lundie and Cassaday spoke in one of the IST’s robotics classrooms, as a group of middle and high school students controlled wheeled machines through their cell phones. Upstairs, another class reconstructed a fictional crime scene using forensic evidence and high-tech cues. There’s a buzz of activity across the building’s 58,000 square feet, an energy that’s eased the burden of heading to school in the first weeks of summer vacation for these students.

“We’ve taken two tests in the first two weeks,” said Janelle Hagen, a 12-year-old who’s on track to take Algebra 2 as an eighth grader. “Most of the summer, I do nothing. I’ve been able to meet new people.”
Aman Tewolde (left), 13, Ryan Buxton (center), 13, and Aleks Nagy (right), 11, play with robots the three students designed and built Monday morning, June 18 at the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) building on East Jewell Avenue in Aurora.  (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)
June 2012

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Building bridges

Another one of the "Build a Bridge to a Safer Egg" challenges was to construct a sturdy bridge using Popsicle sticks and white glue. 
On Friday, each bridge was tested to see how much weight it could support.
This particular bridge was the champion.
It successfully held all the weights and was inducted into the Inside Out Hall of Fame.
Not surprisingly, none of the other bridges performed as well.
Here's James' bridge.
Before it was tested, James and his team did an oral presentation...
and then it was time for weight testing!   
As more...
and more weight was piled on...
the bridge began to creak and crack.
It collapsed at seventy five pounds.
No Hall of Fame, but James was happy that he got to keep one of the pieces!
June 2012

The safer egg

Last week James participated in a kid-style applied engineering class offered by the Cherry Creek School District's gifted and talented program.  It was called "Build a Bridge to a Safer Egg."
Over the course of the week, the students tackled several basic engineering challenges, both individually and in groups.  One of these projects was to build a container that would protect an egg when dropped from a ten foot height.  James raided my shipping supplies to create this double box with foam and bubble wrap masterpiece.
The egg drop was held Thursday. 
One by one, the instructor dropped each child's device from the top of a ladder.
Some of the eggs survived the trip. 
Others did not. 
No two devices were alike.  Building material included tissue boxes and socks, 
severed stuffed animal heads...
and Lego. 
 FYI--Lego is not a good choice for protecting an egg.
James' device was the last to be tested.  He had sixty seconds to insert the egg...
before handing it to the instructor. 
 "Please don't break, please don't break, please don't break..."
The moment of truth. 
It survived!!!! 
Who knew summer school could be this fun? 
June 2012