The difference of my location from last week to this week was interesting. Last week I took this photo from the Walker Art Center.


Yesterday and today I was at a conference on the 50th floor of the IDS tower and I took this photo:


The IDS is the building with the black top in the first picture. At one point it was the tallest building in Minneapolis. But I’m not sure if that’s still the case. While I was up there I figured I’d take a few more shots. Below is of Target Field.


This last one is looking north toward the Mississippi River and the Hennepin Avenue bridge.



The Capitol


120,000 people visit the Capitol each year. Of those, 60,000 are students. This building wasn’t the original capitol, but it opened in 1905 and was a gift from Civil War Veterans. Cass Gilbert was the architect and did an amazing job. The details that showcase this as a Minnesota building are quite interesting. Because of the Civil War connection, there are Civil War display cases that house various flags. The building itself is part of the MN Historical Society. And the MHS runs a variety of programs at the Capitol as well as programs at their other sites.

We started with a visit from our Secretary of State, Mark Richie. He has actually had a more “exciting” tenure in office than one might expect. We have had three major recounts for elections during Mr Richie’s time in office. Our latest gubernatorial election needed a re-count as well as the race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. In all of the cases, there was no fraud. When there is less than a quarter of a percent difference, there is an automatic hand recount done. He explained that when there is a recount, you have an opportunity to look at your system for elections and make any changes if necessary.


The last time I had a tour of this building was when I was in elementary school. The shiny gold horses had graffiti on them. And that was the main thing I remembered. We saw both the senate (above) and the house (below).


And we got to see those horses I remembered from before. They were restored around 1995. There are now railings up so no one can get to the area. It’s called a quadriga. There are four horses yoked together, drawing a two-wheeled chariot. The horses represent the four elements, earth, fire, wind and water. The two women symbolize agriculture and industry. A man in the chariot, symbolizes prosperity, if I’m remembering correctly.


There are about 11 different tours or programs that have already been prepared by the MN Historical Society. The general tour is what we did. We also got a demonstration of a “Rally ‘Round the Flag Civil War Tour” activity. One of my classmates was able to dress up in a civil war uniform. And at the end we participated in an exercise “Taking Issue – Making a Stand: An Experience in Government.” We were able to have teams defend a real legislative issue. The one we used was about a ban of cell phones in cars. One team argued in favor, one against and one group was the committee. It says it’s geared toward 7th and 8th graders, but I think you could use it for older kids too. Most of the activities seemed to fit very easily into a social studies curriculum. But the importance of being a well-informed citizen is also a good lesson to learn.

I knew that the Capitol was a place where one could learn a lot about our state government and history. But it’s also a place to see art, architecture and learn about some very important processes in government. If my social studies counterparts don’t already know the possibilities at the Capitol, I will certainly share them.

Visiting MN/DOT


Now that’s a truck! I actually climbed into that giant snowplow! I’ll admit it was pretty cool.

Fully loaded, this truck is about 40,000 pounds. There are about 500 of these trucks statewide and 150 in the metro area. There are 18 truck stations, so they’re housed in various locations, closer to the areas that they plow. They hold about 5 yards of salt each. The salt mixture is about 90% salt. It might be KCL, MgCl, NaCl or some other salt that is determined by the temperature. It takes four times more energy to break a bond of ice to the pavement, so they try to pre-treat roads whenever possible. Even with the long blade and wing, the plow width is about 12 feet. When they’re lined up and plowing in tandem, it’s called gang plowing. It’s a pretty cool site to see the gang plowing. (But kind of freaky if you see them in your rearview mirror.)


This is a FIRST – Freeway Incident Response Safety Team truck. The team covers 220 miles of freeway in the metro area. They’re working from about 3:30am until 9pm. There job is to clear a vehicle from the lane and keep traffic moving. If there is an incident, they have a sign on the top of the cab that tilts up so people can see if they need to move over or slow down. The signs are more visible so they often work in conjunction with the highway patrol. Most of the workers have first responder or EMT training. The trucks are equipped with an AED, first aid kit, antifreeze in winter, water in summer, gasoline, orange cones, flairs and various other supplies to help in an emergency.


We were at the Regional Transportation Center for the Department of Transportation today. This is one of the top three traffic management centers in the country. We started outside with the trucks, then went inside to see the call center and get information about what all they do.

They have 550 – 580 cameras that they use to cover the metro area. You had an odd sense of “big brother” watching while learning about this. If there is an incident, they use a nearby camera to locate it. They are about to zoom in and change the direction of the camera. This allows them to “size up” the situation and decide whether to dispatch a FIRST truck or law enforcement.

“For every 1 minute of incident, it takes 4 minutes to recover.”

I think that’s a pretty interesting statistic to keep in mind while on the road. The people at the traffic control center are also the ones that can control the meters onto or between freeways. There are loop detectors in the pavement that detect volume and speed data for traffic. With this they calculate the timing of meters as well as the CMS (Changeable Message Sign) that approximates the time to the river, another major highway, etc.

One of the most helpful things to learn today was that all states need to have 511 traffic information. So to get info for your state, just replace the state initials with your own state initials. For mine it’s 511mn.org. Select full feature, and check it out. If you are driving in another area of your state or another state, type in the appropriate state site and get the latest information on construction and road conditions. There will be an app coming out for phones, hopefully later in the year.

While we were there we also got to see the DOT version of stupid driver videos. There’s all sorts of crazy things that these cameras capture. They’ve amassed quite a highlight reel. Some of them are kind of scary since they involve crashes. But they only showed us the ones with good outcomes.

I liked this visit. There was a lot of information that I can use personally. Plus, I can pass on a lot of this information to my students and friends. I’ve already booked-marked the 511mn.org page on my computer. Learning that one thing was worth the visit alone!

Revisiting the Walker


Two years ago, it was raining so we didn’t do our tour of the sculpture garden. Today was a lovely day. I thoroughly enjoyed the walk around the garden and learning about a few of the pieces in it.


The Walker Art Center is known for contemporary art. Even the building itself looks modern. We started with a walk around the building to see how the architects (Herzog & de Meuron) handled the 2005 addition to the existing building. They were able to incorporate the existing external brick to the internal part of the building and add on a contemporary part that housed a few more venues for art appreciation. If you would like to read about specifics of the building and design, click here.

We walked around the building and our docent was talking about this artist, James Turrell, whose work is now being “discovered” by the masses. Apparently there was an article in the New York Times just this past Sunday. The Walker has one of his pieces and apparently we were going to see it. She leads us around back and we check out the rear of the building and then walk into this “tunnel” in the hillside. When we get through the tunnel, we sit down in this room.


I didn’t get it. What were we there to see? Where is this artwork? Then I looked up.


When you look up, the white walls and ceiling literally frame the sky. It was very cool and I had no idea it was there. I would have been afraid to go into the thing, thinking that I was trespassing or breaking some rule… Now that I know about it, I’d make sure to take visitors there.  Apparently James Turrell is known for pieces like this one. I haven’t read the article linked above yet, but I think it will be interesting to explain the artist’s perspective.


Standing Glass Fish is in the conservatory and is done by Frank Gehry. He designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. And a little closer to home, he designed the Weisman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota campus. If you click on his name, I linked you to the wikipedia page about him.


Arikidea is by Mark di Suvero. The title comes from the word, arachnid, inferring it’s a spider. It’s a statue that actually moves and children often play on it.


In another area of the garden, there were wind chimes hung in the trees. There were many day camp groups today, so the chimes weren’t so easy to hear. But it would be nice to come back at a quieter time.


Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen was made for this location. Normally there is a spray of water coming out of the cherry stem. But I noticed from today’s newspaper that the spoon was painted yesterday.

I think another visit to the sculpture garden this summer is in order. They have a mini golf course set up and the holes are designed by artists. I think it would be a fun activity to do with my nieces and nephew when they’re in town. Plus, the sculpture garden is a fantastic photo opportunity!


Writing through Art at the Walker



random items

combing, curving, hanging

Fourteen objects hanging on white


This was our Cinquain Poem about the above piece.

During my last visit to the Walker, I learned about writing these cinquain poems to help understand the art. I think it helps immensely. I probably wouldn’t have picked this piece to use as my example. But our group came up with something that seems to work.

The indoor portion of our Walker visit dealt with writing through art. The docent gave us lots of ideas about having students write about art in different ways. I think that when looking at contemporary art, activities like these are a must. As an adult, I have a hard time focussing and “figuring out” the art. But the writing seems to help a lot.


The Bell

A few years ago I went to the Bell Museum for another class. If you want to read about the basics during that visit, click here. They are known for their dioramas and educational programs, including a Touch and See room. I detailed most of that in my previous post.

For this visit we were able to learn about the Bell’s Exlporadome. The Exploradome is basically a portable planetarium. The camera happened to be out at a school today, but we still got to experience the software capabilities, just not on the dome. They have a dome set up on their lower level and they also have a portable dome that they can take to your school. It can help integrate earth and space content in the classroom. The software has been developed by NASA. If you’re curious, it was suggested that we check out “Eyes on the Solar System” from NASA. I haven’t delved into this site yet, but it looks like you can download some software to trace particular missions. Since my school is now a magnet for Aerospace and Engineering, I think it might be helpful to have the Bell people over for an inservice or something like it for our staff. It would be good to know about the available resources while we’re in the process of developing this program.

The Bell also has exhibits that rotate from time to time. Right now, the rotating exhibit is about Soil. They had soil samples from most states and informational stations.


This station was interesting because you could see the difference of water movement through sand, silt and clay. The water moved through fastest from left to right. The clay was the slowest.


A new thing that I learned this time is that the Bell offers Professional Development for teachers. If I ever need to learn about invertebrates, dissecting a grasshopper, insect pinning and plant pollination, the Bell looks like a great resource. I wasn’t very excited to return to the Bell, but I’m glad I did and learned about their Exploradome. I think that is something that my school needs to use as a great resource!


The Strib

Today was media day. The morning was television and radio. The afternoon was newspaper. I remember when the Minneapolis Star and the Minneapolis Tribune merged. Now it’s the Star Tribune, affectionately called the Strib in these parts.


We started at a location downtown where we talked to a panel of reporters and learned about their Newspapers in Education program. Since I live and work across the river, I get the other paper in town, so I wasn’t familiar with these reporters. It was helpful to talk with them and find out how they research for their stories and to learn about the circulation of the paper. Currently they don’t have a very “deep bench” covering the schools. Many of the reporters had not been at the paper very long. They had experience elsewhere, but this was a new market for them. I liked that they asked us what kind of stories we would like to see and what kind of stories we hate to see.

The second part of the Strib visit was in another location. We hopped into our cars and headed over to the Heritage plant – where they print the newspaper. The gentleman that took us around had lots of statistics, and as a math person, I really liked that. We started off in the area with the paper.


They keep about a 2 week supply of paper on hand. One large roll costs about $620. They can fit 6 rail cars inside the warehouse with the paper. Each of those large rolls is about 11.1 miles in length. I think he said you can print 32,000  – 8 page variety sections with one roll. They also store the pre-printed ads. Those ads need to be sorted by zip code and there are 2 billion inserts per year. Yikes! They go through 16,000 pounds of ink per week. Color ink is about $1.70 per pound, whereas black is $.70.

Many of the systems are automated. Lots of people have been replaced by machines. For instance, when moving the huge rolls of paper, there are 4 rack delivery robots and 14 press delivery robots. The one below is a rack delivery robot.


They use 4 color presses – CYMK. If a page has color on it there are four plates that deliver the right amount of Cyan, Yellow, Magenta and BlacK. The one below is Cyan and Magenta.


Today they were running the Wednesday advance. This section was a variety section that didn’t have time sensitive material that could be printed early and have the pre-printed ads inserted.


The pre-printed inserts have already been sorted by zip code and get put into rolls ahead of time. When they are ready for insertion, they run them through a series of machines that gets them ready for distribution.


One challenging thing about this tour was the noise level. During several parts we were all using these…


All in all, it was very informative. There’s a lot of math that could be talked about with a tour of the printing facility. But as with all field trips, finding the time and money to give kids these hands-on, real-life experiences is a real trick.