Sparking Wonderment: A Summer of Hands-On Workshops

Sparking Wonderment: A Summer of Hands-On Workshops

The following blog post was written by Sydney Burrell, Amal Ismail, Cole Frazier, and Dhairya Gupta - the 2019 Summer Internship Library Workshops Team.

We are the Spark-Y Library Workshop Internship Team. Our task over the seven weeks of our summer internship was to prepare materials and presentations for workshops that we would then teach at various library locations around the Twin Cities. The workshops were designed to educate youth about science and sustainability through hands on experiences.


“Hello, I’m Rose, I’m the team lead for the Library Workshop Team. I’m a Junior at the University of Minnesota with a Food Systems major with minors in Horticulture and Sustainability. I’m also blind. I have a lot of experience working with blind youth and other youth. My studies in college are what brought me to Spark-Y because of its leadership in the community for education in sustainability. As team lead, I create short- and long-term objectives for the team, keep all team members focused and productive, make sure deadlines are met, and ensure that we are all prepared for presenting our workshops.”

“Hey! I’m Dhairya, I’m the operations manager for the Library Workshop Team. I’m currently on my way to become a freshman at Wayzata High School. I applied as an intern for Spark-Y because my school at the time, Wayzata Central Middle School, had an Aquaponics club that got me interested in sustainability. When the club had a field trip to Spark-Y, I was astounded by the impact they had on communities and the environment. So, I wanted to be a part of their continued effort in making our communities more sustainable and less non-renewable resource dependent. As operations manager, my job is to organize materials, help with creating and editing our curriculum, and assist with creating and following our budget.”

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“Hi, I’m Cole, I’m the head of communications for the Library Workshop team. I’m on my way to becoming a freshman at Wayzata High School. I applied to become an intern at Spark-Y after I learned about Spark-Y while I was on a field trip with my school aquaponics club. This coupled with my interest in science, technology, math, and trying to grow a sustainable future drew me to Spark-Y. I enjoyed the hands-on experience that Spark-Y introduced me to and the positive impact that Spark-Y has on the community around it. Being head of communications, I have various tasks. These tasks include outreach to local libraries and other teams here at Spark-Y.”

“I’m Cece, the staff who gets to hang out with this awesome team! I’m really excited that we’ve got interns leading these hands-on workshops in our community’s libraries, reaching a much broader audience than we’re able to access through our school year programs.”


Our first workshop was held at Franklin Library in Minneapolis on July 10th. We presented the “Hydraulic Tentacle” workshop. Using cardboard, a tube, two plastic syringes, and the power of pressurized water, we taught around 25 youth how to create their very own hydraulic machines. Some of the kids crafted awesome replicas of our models such as the basic tentacle, the wagging tail, and the claw. Others, however, crafted their own wonderful creations. There were bobbing dino heads, flapping wings, and snapping shark jaws. Each tube was filled with colored water that lent their creations the power of movement. There was so much creativity and excitement vibrating around the room during the whole hour of the workshop, and everyone got to bring home their living sculptures.

“As soon as the presentation was over and everyone began building, the room became a whirlwind of activity. There was never a lull in the action,” Rose remarked.

“I’m a man of few words,” said Cole, “Energizing is all I have to say about that workshop.”

“Beautiful madness,” Cece described dreamily.

Dhairya was at a loss of words, “I don’t know… Chaotic maybe? But also, enjoyable.”

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Our second workshop was at Columbia Heights Public Library on July 18th. Our workshop that day was all about aquaponics. The participants were older this time, high school age students, and it was a little difficult to get them excited and involved at first. However, after we set them up with the PVC to construct their own aquaponic structures, they all started opening up. In groups of five, the teens crafted their frames, placed their grow beds and tanks inside it, and attached the pumps. After some critical thinking and problem solving, both teams got everything put together with their pumps cycling water. To finish it off, we had everyone taste some Spark-Y grown pea microgreens. By the end, everyone was talking, laughing, and asking questions.

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“They were some really bright kids. They were finishing faster than we had expected,” Rose said in wonderment.

Dhairya knew exactly how he felt this time, “It was really fun working with teens. It was so exciting watching them succeed.”

Cole had many more words to say this time too, “At first, I was nervous, but got more comfortable as the teenagers attending became more comfortable. I feel like they really enjoyed it.”

“The kids were shy at first,” Cece explained, “but became excited once they were faced with a challenge.”

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The final workshop project was actually 6 workshops performed over a 3-day STEAM camp at the Columbia Heights Public Library. The kids that attended were from grades 3 to 6. We used the hydraulic tentacle and aquaponic workshops again since they were such big hits before. These kids ended up building their aquaponics system faster than the teenagers from the last workshop did! The other workshops were a strawberry DNA extraction workshop, a Mycology workshop learning about growing mushrooms, a spectrometer workshop focused on light, and an LED origami workshop making some beautiful origami flowers. Every workshop had something for the kids to take home. With 2 workshops a day, each kid had at least 2 mementos to take with them from the camp. Some kids came more than one day, some came all three, but we always had new faces too.

Dhairya said that, “It was great to see so many kids return every day, excited to learn… They really seemed to enjoy themselves, and I’m proud of that.”

“It was a really different experience working with some of the same kids every day. We played a game each day to learn everyone’s names and get everyone comfortable with one another,” Rose explained.

“I learned more from the kids than I did from Cece!” Cole remarked, chuckling, “Just kidding, though the kids did have some crazy ideas.” Luckily, crazy ideas are exactly what we need to create a more sustainable future.”

Bee Green: The Live Action Bee Movie

Bee Green: The Live Action Bee Movie

The following blog post was written by: Joyce Wong
Additional Team Members: Emi Haus, Simon Graves, Kyla Brown
Spark-Y 2019 Summer Internship City Hall Team

Have you ever been so loyal to someone, you’d be willing to die for them? Do you think when you’re born, you have a destiny or purpose? Have you ever flown for what felt like forever in order to fulfill a job to the best of your ability?

If you said yes to any of these, you and bees may have more in common than you think. Bees are incredibly complex creatures, and are very intricate. For the past few weeks, our team at Spark Y has been working with these creatures across Minneapolis and at City Hall. In addition to receiving beekeeping training for maintaining hives, we’ve also learned so much about green roofs, the fear of bees, and how our actions impact ecosystems.


City Hall

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Located at the heart of Minneapolis is a leading example of sustainability: the green roof. Not only does the green roof last longer than traditional roofs, they also provide insulation and absorption of heat; This, in return, lowers energy costs and greenhouse emissions. Our intern team has been lucky enough to visit this roof and the bees that live on it for several weeks. Originally, I had been surprised to find bees in such a central part of the city. However, as the environmental worker at City Hall explained, having bees closer to the cities shows that we can live in harmony with pollinators. They’re not something to be feared.


As for our beekeeping training, that was a very unique experience. We learned about the thousands of incredible things to look out for when examining a hive. For example, we learned about how baby bees can be seen breaking out of their cocoons when being born. Also, how bees will cap off their “section” when it’s filled to the brim with sweet honey. Lastly, we learned about how the worker bees will clean the queen with undying patience as their queen lays 1000-2000 eggs per day!

After understanding all of this, I started becoming fascinated with the way bee colonies function. Although I hadn't previously been remotely interested in bees (expect for when one flew near and my friends started shrieking), receiving training for beekeeping for several weeks has shifted my perspective.

All In the Head: Kyla’s Fear of Bees

Before this internship, Kyla, one of our team members, has always thought bees were incredibly scary. She said the reason for this was that lots of TV shows portray bees as terrifying animals that try to sting people. As a result, even though she hasn’t been stung before, she always believed they were “just a pain in the butt.”

To clarify, the fear of bees and bee stings is actually very common. To be fair, it’s normal to be worried about your health, especially when society constantly paints a negative picture of a specific animal. In some instances, people may even develop apiphobia, where the fear of bees affects their daily lives.

Now, when we first got onto the green roof, Kyla said she was very anxious. Being the honest person that she is, she said the bees were “worse than I’d expected.” Just seeing the bees themselves made her want to stay far away.


That day, although she didn’t end up suiting up, she had taken a crucial step towards overcoming her fear of bees. It’s important to remember changes never happen overnight, whether it’s in sustainability, entrepreneurship, or even overcoming fears. Therefore, persevering through your struggles is one of the most valuable skills a person can obtain.

The following week, Kyla took not a step, but a giant leap. Not only did she put on the bee suit, she stepped onto the green roof and was close enough to hear the bees sing! When asked about how she felt, she said, “to be completely honest... not good. Watching them swarming, buzzing around, and crawling on top of each was so scary.”

Despite this, she tried to reassure herself by thinking “I got this. I’ll be fine.” That really helped her. Whereas the first time, she was trying to get as far away as possible, she was able to get close to the bee boxes the second time. Of course, making progress is a gradual process, and although she had to get out of the suit after ten minutes, she’s now more willing to learn about bees.

When asked about what she would tell others who are scared of bees too, she said, “You need to have more faith in yourself. Now that I know much more info, and that bees don't like to sting people because they actually die...I’m not as scared.” She continued, “The hype isn't real. You’re not gonna get stung unless you’re putting bees in danger. It’s all in the head.”

All in all, Kyla’s fear of bees is one of the most common fears in the US. Many people grow up with the stereotype of bees being ruthless killers. However, on closer examination, it is clear that bees have been misinterpreted. Not only do they contribute to our food sources, they also help with entire ecosystems! In order to break down this irrational fear, slow exposure to bees can help people develop a positive correlation to these amazing pollinators.

Pesticide Usage

Recently, the increased amount of pesticides in urban areas has been detrimental to many of our pollinator friends. Initially, our team hadn’t been aware of this problem. Through this internship however, we’ve realized how immediate the consequences of ignorance can be.

For instance, when we collaborated with Erin Rupp, the founder and executive director of Pollinate Minnesota, she explained to us, “Last year, 40% of honeybees died in the winter, the second highest rate ever recorded.”

Unfortunately, honeybees are not the only ones.

Another species of bees, the Rusty Patched Bumblebees, has been dying at an exponential rate. Though once abundant, they, in addition to many other solitary bees, have been placed on the endangered species list. Clearly, pesticides have harmed many creatures.

Now, many people say that losing bees over the winter is expected. They may say farmers have adopted a practice which allows them to replenish the supply of dead bees every year.

Despite this stance, it is clear that replacing honeybees is a costly process that doesn’t address the real obstacle. It focuses on repairing a problem (pesticides) that shouldn’t occur in the first place. In addition, this stance fails to acknowledge that solitary bees are in danger.

Understanding this is crucial because when these bees pollinate wildflowers, they produce food sources for many insects and birds. This in turn, contributes to the entire ecosystem. With the declining populations of pollinators due to pesticides, not only would we lose our food sources, we would also destroy complete ecosystems. It holds the domino effect. Do you want to be a contributor to this problem? Or do you want to help solve this epidemic?


How Can You Help?

For one exhausted bee traveling miles across the bustling city, planting native flowers can make all the difference. Some beautiful flowers you could plant include: the Black Eyed Susan (as shown below), the Stout Blue-Eyed Grass, and the Sky Blue Aster.


As our team members prepare to spread information to others through an interactive workshop, we are incredibly grateful for this opportunity to develop professional skills of communication. In addition, Kyla’s experience made us realize how, initial discomfort can lead to growth. Finally, learning about the various types of pollinators has helped us realize how impactful knowledge is, and how it can empower youth to take action and create change.

Vermicomposting at Columbia Heights

The following blog post was written by Columbia Heights 2019 Summer Internship Team: Mary Clare O'Shea, Anteneh Zelalem, George Bonete Quintero, and Robbie Creadick.


This summer, the Columbia Heights internship team has been working with the students at the Columbia Heights summer recreation program. Every week we strive to facilitate an engaging experience for students that will inspire them to live more sustainably. We do this by focusing each of our lessons on one of the “5 Es of Sustainability” (economics, education, equity, environment, empowerment). Then, we include a hands on activity such as building mini aquaponics systems or engineering from recycled materials. 

Last Friday, our E of the day was education. We began by teaching students the important role education plays in empowering people to better care for the planet. Many have no idea where their trash goes after throwing it away. Others believe that throwing away organic matter is environmentally friendly because it will decompose. Education is the key to curbing these misconceptions. Breaking down and re-purposing trash so it does not wind up in a landfill is integral to a healthy planet.

What better way to demonstrate this to students than vermicomposting?


Our two black bins of vermicompost sitting mysteriously on the tables prompted nonstop questions about what was inside. Once we finally cracked them open no one was disappointed by the boxes of dirt, worms and garbage. Students happily picked up shovels and began exploring the contents of the bins. At first, many were grossed out by the small wiggly red worms but they eventually warmed up to them. After discussing how the worms turn the musty smelling mixture of microgreens, wood shavings, and paper scraps into organic fertilizer, students were each given a plastic baggie to create their own vermicompost environment. Each student picked out two or three worms and were sure to name them before they placed them in their vermicompost home. Many started to ask in bewilderment how it was possible for tiny creatures like John and Spiderman to convert heaping piles of garbage into pounds of organic fertilizer. In the end, building their own mini vermicompost compelled students to appreciate the composting power of the worms and their potential as a solution for a greener future. 

Robbie: “As someone who wants to be a teacher when they grow up, this has been an extremely helpful and memorable experience. It’s amazing to see the kids build friendships with each other while also learning important things that can make the world a more sustainable place like vermicomposting.”

George: “The kids had fun writing facts about their worms and naming them in the vermicomposting activity we were doing, It was funny how three kids named all their worms ‘John’, it's nice seeing how happy and interested they are on the lessons we plan and the different activities they do to help them better understand the lesson of the day.”

Anteneh: “I think that the kids really enjoyed the vermicomposting and the video we showed them. Overall i think the kids had a fun and enjoyable time in the classroom.”

Emma: “This internship has given me my first experience teaching in a classroom. I've learned a lot from being in a situation where I'm not completely comfortable, and also from the other team members. Also, it's really fun teaching in a hands-on way!”

Cultivating Sustainable Mindsets at MPS Culinary

Cultivating Sustainable Mindsets at MPS Culinary

The following blog post was authored : Maria Montero & Quinlan Genrich on the Minneapolis Culinary internship project. Additional Team Member: Amelia Bowser

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Accessibility. This word was emphasized to us by Caitlin, our team lead and Urban Farm Manager, as well as our contacts at Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) to whom we ultimately report. Through our summer internship with Spark-Y, we are working to create an accessible learning space for MPS students and community members. One that educates students on sustainable growing, eating, and living in an engaging manner outside of the typical classroom. Our internship focuses on two main strategies to encourage accessible sustainability. First, we care for the diversity of plants in the community garden space. Second, we have planned and designed an outdoor education space, which we will create by the garden and adjacent to the entrance of the MPS Culinary & Wellness Services building. Our main goal is to bring the youth and classrooms of MPS outdoors to the natural world and make learning accessible and enjoyable!

Community Garden

The Minneapolis Public Schools Culinary & Wellness Services contains a beautiful garden encompassing the front sides of the building. One of our responsibilities as part of our summer internship project is to maintain the communal garden space by weeding, planting, and harvesting the many varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. As a group we stay very productive with hands-on work and assistance to our wonderful Urban Farm Manager and team lead, Caitlin. We have learned a lot from her urban farming expertise and how to best care for the growing space. There have also been many generous volunteers of all ages helping out and we could not be more grateful for their dedication and hard work! With the little time we have left of this internship experience, we cannot wait to continue our journey of enriching sustainable living, getting our hands dirty and digging into more garden exploration!

Outdoor Education Space

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Within the dominant education model, experiential learning is often forsaken in favor of sitting inside at a desk seven hours a day, nine months a year. In high school, I remember asking my teachers each spring to take class outside to which the answer was usually “no, we have too much to do.” I remember savoring each 20-minute lunch when, on nice days, my friends and I would sit on the grass and try to avoid being hit by a stray frisbee. Through providing an outdoor educational experience, our internship challenges the idea that learning can only be accomplished by reading and lecturing in an indoor classroom. In addition to the hands-on garden space, we are working with MPS staff to design and create an outdoor classroom and produce preparation space. A table equipped with a sink will allow for easy produce cleaning and preparation. Stools will allow for flexibility of arrangement and use. Picnic tables will provide additional seating and table work space. A chalkboard will provide ample space for written instruction and information. Finally, a sign will welcome people to the garden and learning space, intentionally engaging the youth, the community, and the MPS Culinary employees. These components will work together to foster an exciting educational experience and support a tactile learning environment. We hope this space, as a departure from the traditional classroom, will engage visiting MPS students in a different way and inspire them to further explore the origin of their food, its preparation, and the meaning of sustainable living. Having spent the first half of the internship budgeting, proposing, and planning the outdoor classroom and produce preparation space, we look forward to seeing our plans come to fruition throughout the remainder of the internship!

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Our participation in this Spark-Y summer internship will add value in our futures by fostering more sustainable living habits, knowing how the connection of people and nature can build community, and enhancing our interests in the environment. This internship has developed our problem solving skills and provided space for us to think about how a garden and education space can be engaging and accessible for everyone. We have explored what sustainability means to us and thought in a mindset that encompasses a world greater than the individual, inclusive of the natural world and the systems on which we rely. We will bring this sustainable mindset with us in our future careers and our expanded understanding of what constitutes education will continue to shape how we learn and interact with others.