Cave Projects

Here are some options for cave-related projects you might find interesting after our visit to Smallin Cave on Monday. You may choose to do any number of these projects (including zero) or design a project of your own.

  1. Cave model – using clay or other materials, design a model of a cave that includes labeled cave features such as stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, flowstone, popcorn, etc.
  2. Mapping caves – create a map of the state of Missouri that shows the location and number of caves around the state.
  3. Cave current event – choose a news article such as this one that features new cave discoveries. Read it, and write a response. Or read it with a partner or small group and discuss the article.
  4. Field trip – visit another cave in the area, and create a photo essay about the cave. Display at art walk.
  5. Lab – Go to this website to learn about cave formations and complete the lab that is outlined on the website. Share the process and results via a presentation or report.
  6. Around the world – choose a cave from anywhere around the world that you would like to visit, and research the location and unique features of the cave.
  7. Wildlife – choose one or more cave animals to research, and share your findings. You could focus on species in Missouri, endangered species, adaptations for cave life, etc.

Cave Ecology


Smallin Cave – Ozark, MO

Visit Smallin Cave with us on Monday, April 16th. We will leave school at 9:30am and return around lunchtime. While at the cave, we will explore the history and ecology of the cave. There are many animals, fossils, and historical topics to research and/or develop into larger projects. This would be a good science study opportunity before the school year ends. 🙂

Shark Orders

Image result for shark profile mouth openLet’s meet Thursday (3/22) morning at 10:00am to discuss the different orders of sharks and wrap up our workshop.

How To Be a Self-Directed Learner

Here is list of ways to begin thinking about what to learn in a self-directed way. Imagine it as a set of cards. To have a full deck you will need to know the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of learning. But you can begin at any of these points as a starter and then gradually fill in the details as you think deeper.


Be a Self-Directed Learning (start anywhere)

    1. Pick a domain of knowledge: Perhaps you want to start with a specific domain of knowledge or subject like American History or Environmental Science or maybe start with a job and then match with some of the other things below (WHAT)
      1. Academic Domains (Science, engineering, design, art, music, health, construction, architecture, computers, business, law, finance, anthropology, philosophy, history, psychology, film, television, foreign languages, foreign cultures.)
      2. Interdisciplinary (mix two or more academic domains to see if something interesting comes out). Eg. is there an overlap between health and anthropology?
      3. Pick a career path (doctor, carpenter, baker, social media manager, blogger, entertainment lawyer, too numerous to mention).
    2. Identify a problem: Is there a small or large problem that you have noticed and you want to help solve? Answering it could involve science or engineering, or maybe communications and marketing, perhaps fundraising or awareness raising, or maybe the solution is political ( WHAT or WHY)
      1. Personal problem
      2. Community problem
      3. National/Global problem
      4. Health and Wellness
      5. Solve a Social Ill
      6. Public Policy
      7. Entrepreneurship
    3. Curiosity questions: Is there a question you just want to know the answer to? Research the answer and then pick an end product (#5) to share your research. Or maybe the answer isn’t out there yet, design an experiment (#7) or identify the underlying problem (#2) to answer the question yourself.
      1. What, When, and Who questions tend to be more fact-based. Still worthy of answering but they might not lead to deep research.
      2. Why and How questions are a bit more open ended and require deeper thinking to answer
        1. Why questions (eg. Why do song birds sing? Why doesn’t Springfield have an Ikea?)
        2. How questions (eg. How do plants know where the sun is? How do you make root beer?)
    4. Develop a Skill: Is there a skill you want to learn? (WHY or HOW or WHAT)
      1. Play an instrument
      2. Draw or paint
      3. Learn a language
      4. Code
      5. Juggle
      6. Play chess
    5. Make an End Product: These things tend to leave behind Evidence of Learning. (WHAT)
      1. Physical product
      2. Digital product
      3. Piece of writing
      4. Produce a video
      5. Produce an audio product (podcast, music, sound design)
      6. Perform publicly (acting, presenting, music, sports)
      7. Manage an event
      8. Deliver a presentation
      9. Produce art
      10. Teach
      11. Assess themselves or others (self-reflection, review, editing)
    6. Learn experientially: Do you want to get out of the classroom and learn in a more hands-on way in a non-school setting? (HOW)
      1. Internship
      2. Job
      3. Service Project
      4. Travel or Field Trip
      5. Job Shadow
      6. Informational Interview
      7. Museum, Gallery, Science Center


  • Design and Conduct an experiment: Come up with your own answers. This can be science, social science, or even marketing. Use the basic rules of the scientific method of identifying variables, testing a hypothesis, and publishing results. Combines nicely with #5.


    1. Lab sciences
    2. Field sciences
    3. Psychology, sociology, economics
    4. Surveys, questionnaires, interviews
    5. Data and statistical analysis
    6. Invention and engineering
  1. Pick a Learning Method:  (HOW)
    1. Structured Class
      1. In person
      2. Online
      3. College
      4. Summer Camp
    2. Project-Based (#5 or #2 or #6 or #7)
      1. Product-Based (#5)
      2. Solve a problem (#2)
      3. Conduct an experiment (#7)
    3. Experiential (#6)
  2. Pick Collaborators: Who do you want to learn with and learn from? Who do you want to assess your learning and give feedback? (WHO)
    1. Alone
    2. With co-learners
    3. Teacher led
    4. Outside Expertise or Assessor
    5. One on one coaching
  3. Pick a Schedule and Deadline: How do you want to fit this learning in with your life? Does this require daily practice? Intensive study? When are you going to complete this? Is it open-ended or very definable? (WHEN)
    1. Daily
    2. Ad hoc or open-ended
    3. Intensive
  4. Pick a Location: Is this something that can happen at school or home? Does it require transportation? (WHERE)
    1. At school
    2. At home
    3. On the job
    4. Online
    5. Travel
  5. Self-Analysis: This is the ‘self’ in self-directed. Learning should be driven by your interests, goals, curiosities. (WHY)
    1. Passion or interest. Is there something that you just ‘have’ to do or that you love to do or that is your life’s ambition?
    2. Help reach a broader goal. Do you have a goal to meet and there are steps to accomplish along the way. E.g. I want to be a doctor. To get to medical school I need to get through calculus and organic chem or I want to start my own business and I need some experience with budgets and planning and business laws.
    3. Participate with a co-learner. Is there a friend that you want to work with? Is there an expert that you want to learn from?
    4. Personal Challenge. Do you want to just take on something because it will be a challenge?
    5. Curiosity. Are there things that you just want to know more about?

Shark dissection Thursday

If you are participating in the shark dissection, this video may be helpful for you to watch. It shows some external and internal anatomy that we will observe and identify. Plus it prepares you for what the shark will look like. Also, if you take a video or photos as you dissect, you could use it as your blog post for this activity.

Current Offerings

American Citizenship Test/American History: This workshop started out as a study group to pass the US citizenship test (100 questions). That was the first two weeks. It has now shifted to be an overview of American History. We have divided the American timeline up into 20 segments and we are going over major events. This is largely lecture and discussion. No major reading or writing is required. It is meant to give a general overview of major events and trends in American History. This class is aimed primarily at 6th-9th grades, but anyone is welcome to join and could benefit from it.
Poetry Workshop: This is a weekly workshop that includes reading, discussion, and writing of free verse poetry. It is meant to allow students of all grades to understand and enjoy contemporary poetry. It involves some reading of selected poetry, finding and identifying poetry that the students connect with, and writing some verses. The workshop is a mix of ages and genders with everyone from middle school boys to high school seniors participating. It is meant to see the vitality and passion of modern poetry rather than some staid, dry, sucking the life out of poetry. It takes place Monday mornings for approximately 10 weeks.
Sharks and Rays (including shark dissection): This starts next week. It is an exploration of the anatomy, habitat, etc of sharks and rays and will include a shark dissection.  All ages are encouraged to participate.
Botony Experiment:  A group of students are conducting an ongoing science experiment to see if plants grow better when plant or human probiotics (or none) are added to the soil.
DWNTWN magazine: We are getting ready to send the March issue of DWNTWN magazine to the printer. Deadline is today.  We are starting to develop stories for the May issue. Students of all ages are encouraged to join in the production of the magazine. Some of the jobs are photography, page layout, ad sales, and writing. This publication looks great on a portfolio of work because it has an authentic audience (as all most all of our work does).
Math Hour 1-2 p.m.:  We subscribe to an online math course called Videotext. Classes range from pre-algebra to pre-calculus. Students may move at a pace that suits them and they can work with others or by themselves. Terri our math specialist is available to help and explain concepts during that time. Everyone works on math during this dedicated hour.
Book Club: We offer an individual book club where students pick their own book and meet as a group every Friday to keep each other accountable for reading and to tell about their books. We also have a group book club where everyone participating reads the same book and discusses it weekly.   The book club finished reading Bel Canto today.  The next book club book is Station Eleven (it is also the Library’s Big Read book). A description of Station Eleven is on the blog.
u.talks:  Every student is highly encouraged to give at least one on a topic of their choice.  This is a 5-10 minute presentation (in TED Talk style) to’s student body.  Two dates are left to give a talk this year: March 22 and April 26.
The Intelligence of the Cosmos by Ervin Laszlo A discussion group based on the book exploring questions such as “Why are we here?” and “How are we and the universe interconnected?”  This book discussion will wrap up in the next 2-3 weeks and we will probably pick another non-fiction to read and discuss.  All ages are welcome.
Mindfulness: This is a weekly workshop on mindfulness techniques taught by a professor from MSU. All students are invited to join.
First Friday Art Walk: Our Art Walk theme for March is Luck. Students are welcome to work on a display of any kind of art or participate in the administration of the event. Art Walk is Friday, March 2 from 6-9pm.
Student-led Workshops:  Students are welcome to teach classes on subjects that they enjoy and know about.  Today was the first day of a workshop on 3D printing and jewelry making taught by a middle school and high school student (Will and Dawson).
Ice Skating: We have been walking down to the Ice Park every Thursday afternoon for the past month or so. We will be switching PE units soon. The students will vote on what they want to do next possibly bowling or open gym at the YMCA depending on the availability and cost.
Self-directed Independent projects and research:  Students are highly encouraged to pursue independent projects and studies. Teachers are available and excited to brainstorm ideas and help with these projects.
Communitas:  Weekly democratic meeting usually on Thursdays at 11.
Wiffle Ball Field Development:  We have an opportunity to work with the City of Springfield to develop plans and put in place a wiffle ball field for use by the downtown wiffle ball leagues.  We have a piece of downtown land to use, we just need a team of students to start work on this.
Meta hour: the first 30 minutes to 60 minutes of the day are spent in Meta hour. This is a time to plan, review, discuss group goals and personal goals and activities. We also do some creativity exercises, writing prompts, group activities, etc. Every one usually attends this daily session.