Naomi Frishman was learning to build bridges.
These weren't abstract lessons about figurative connections. Frishman, who will kick off the sixth grade at Liberty Middle School in the fall, was spending a summer afternoon in a classroom at Laredo Middle School, testing trusses and weight loads as she designed a bridge made out of raw, uncooked noodles.
"We're building span bridges, not suspension bridges," Frishman explained. "The main part of that process is building trusses, which are triangles that don't break as easily as squares do."
Frishman was one of dozens of CCSD students enrolled in this year's Inside/Out program, a series of summer classes designed for kids looking to expand their learning beyond the standard school year. The weeklong classes hosted at Laredo offered a wide array of subjects and specialties, from Fishman's "Noodle Bridge Engineers, Inc." course to classes focused on theatrical performance, astronomy, kitchen chemistry, chess, sportsmanship and teamwork, economic concepts, video game design, coding, 3-D printing and a host of other subjects.
The summer series of Inside/Out, which also runs during fall break and spring break, is open to elementary and middle school students.
"Inside/Out is a program for gifted learners to give them opportunities to extend their learning and to think outside the box," said Kyle Cahill, a seventh-grade math teacher at Campus Middle School and administrator of the Inside/Out program. "We have a class focused on building Lego storyboards, a Hogwart's class where kids are using scientific concepts to create experiments through the lens of the 'Harry Potter' books, classes around sports and music.
"There's something for everyone's interest," he added.
The curricula, designed primarily by CCSD teachers, seeks to engage students in a variety of ways to encourage learning beyond the classroom. Teachers choose to use their own time over summer break to lead these classes; they carefully design lesson plans and content that goes through approval at the Inside/Out office at the district's Instructional Support Facility.
The paid program is open to Gifted and Talented students, and to students who are identified and recommended by teachers. It's all designed to encourage students to take the lessons home after the weeklong Inside/Out classes have run their course, Cahill said.
"These classes give students an opportunity to engage academically outside of their typical class day. They're asked to think in a different way when they're doing classes here," Cahill added. "They're engaging in that off time; they always have something that they take home or some presentation that they give to parents at the end of the week."
A few days into the bridge engineering class, Frishman had already learned practical, hands-on lessons about building durable, effective span bridges. Her group's first effort at a bridge built entirely out of noodles had held 1.04 pounds before snapping. Using illustrations and simulations built in a computer program, Frishman showed how her team was working to engineer a bridge plan that held even more weight.
"For the second bridge, we're going to test it on Friday in front of our parents," said Frishman, who's also designing plans for a tutoring business as part of another Inside/Out class modeled on the popular TV show "Shark Tank." "We learned important lessons from our first bridge. When you're building a bridge out of noodles, you don't want to do a curve, because it will break really easily. You want to have as many trusses as you can and make sure you don't have any squares in the design."
These lessons aren't merely abstract for Frishman, who sees engineering as essential to her future academic path.
"I like building things, and programming robots," Frishman said. "I really like coming in to study these things during the summer."