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Young campers keep cool with sail shades designed by students
Young campers keep cool with sail shades designed by students

Young campers at Cincinnati Country Day School stayed cool this summer with help from two playground sail shades designed by ninth-grade Honors Geometry students.

Upper School math teacher Jamie Back challenged her classes to design the shades for the new Neil K. Bortz Family Early Childhood Center. Students, including four eighth-graders, were divided into seven groups that each produced a design.

The school asked the students for help to determine the best arrangement of shades for the varying location of the sun during the year. Students were given a budget and a sail shade vendor to use for pricing.

"They determined what they needed to learn to solve the problem and asked questions of school officials," Back said. "Each group created, tested and revised a scale model of sail shade arrangements and presented their proposals to school administrators and teachers."

Lower School Head Jen Jensen, one of the administrators on the selection committee, was impressed by the work of her former students. "An unexpected surprise for me in this project was the overwhelming sense of pride I felt watching the students present their projects because many of them had been in the Lower School. I was thrilled by what the students accomplished.

"This was such a great project for Country Day students because their work was producing a much-needed product," Jensen said. "The students were not learning just to pass a test, they were learning to apply knowledge toward an outcome that would impact younger students for years to come."

One of Back's favorite moments during the project was when a group of students asked her if she had figured out the optimal design ahead of time so that she could check their work.

"I explained that there was no way for me to do that, so there was not one 'right' answer," Back said. "That moment was pivotal – it almost set the students free to do what they thought was best to solve the problem."

Two models were selected for installation. The shade design for the play structure was submitted by Cader Rowe, Katie Briggs, Daniel Belperio and Dylan Hacker. The design for the sandbox shade was submitted by Matthew O'Brien, Joely Virzi, Natalie de Beer and Jaecar Ly.

"These designs were selected because they both optimize shade during peak use hours, and they are both efficient in their pole use," said Kaki Scheer, outdoor programs coordinator. "Additionally, these designs are pleasing in their aesthetic. We were so impressed with all of the students' work."

For the young summer campers, the sail shades have provided shelter from the sun. "The symmetry of the shades correlates with the building, and the shade has been great," said Tara McMullen, Early Childhood teacher. "The children have really acclimated to them. It's made that space look nice and fun."

The sail shades have even stimulated vocabulary, such as sun, shade, shadow, cooler and warmer. "Language is happening, which is good," McMullen said. "Jamie Back and her class can come back anytime. They did an amazing job."

Back will present two engineering projects, including the shades, at the University of Cincinnati's STEM Conference in September. Her session attendees will build their own scale models to get an idea of how the project works.

-Cindy Kranz

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