Clutch power

On an unusually cool August morning at Northeast Middle School, Room B114 was buzzing with excitement as Snapology campers prepared for another day of LEGO stop-motion filming.

Fourteen-year-old Anya and 9-year-old Presley pulled out a large jungle-scene backdrop filled with vibrant trees and fluffy, white clouds for Darn Apples, a short film in their Indiana John series.

“They built all these sets and they have a backdrop, so it’s like an actual movie set,” said instructor Rob Dorsey.

In the film, a brave adventurer named Indiana John searches for buried treasure, only to get continually hit in the head with apples. Once he reaches the treasure, he finds out — much to his chagrin — the chest is completely filled with apples.

After Indiana John defeats the main villain, who has a pineapple for a head, The Flash dashes through the scene with a wheelbarrow to help save the day.

“We have a Flash wheelbarrow thing at the end of every single thing that we do,” Anya said with a laugh.

After the brief premiere of Darn Apples, Anya and Presley quickly returned to work on their next stop-motion installment.

This is the life at Snapology’s Animation Studio, a half-day summer camp offered for ages 7–14.

Building blocks

Snapology — a science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) education organization — was founded in 2010 by sisters Lisa and Laura Coe who wanted to create classes and camps to share their children’s love of educational materials that snap together.

Snapology, built on the Coes’ backgrounds in math and science, boasts more than 40 locations across the country, including Snapology of Minneapolis. 

Aaron Hagebak opened his Snapology of Minneapolis franchise after leaving the music industry as a way to give back to the community — and make a lasting impact in the lives of children.

“I knew that I wanted to work with kids,” he said. “I wanted to give back to the community a little bit and try to make as much of a living doing that as I could.”

Snapology of Minneapolis — in addition to its year-round programming — offers half- and full-day STEAM camps, including basic LEGO building camps for ages 4 and up as well as robotics and video-game design camps for kids up to 14 years old.

At Snapology camps, children come with a wide range of skills and often end up working together.

“We definitely try to have them learn teamwork,” Hagebak said. “A lot of our stuff is really team-focused — in a big group setting or just a partnership.”

Inner-city LEGOs

Snapology of Minneapolis, which started out hosting classes and camps at schools and other destinations around the Twin Cities, today offers most of its classes at its new Snapology Discovery Center in Uptown Minneapolis.

“I want the community to have options like this,” Hagebak said. “A lot of play spaces are in the suburbs and if you’ve got kids and you’re looking for a place to go for two hours on a Saturday morning, they’re in Eagan or they’re in Eden Prairie. I wanted to be in the city.”

Snapology’s instructors, including Dorsey, come from different STEAM and education-based backgrounds. Some are licensed teachers or paraprofessionals while others are experts in engineering and science fields.

They each have different ways of engaging with kids.

“Rob’s style is a little more like a fun uncle,” Hagebak said of Dorsey. “One of my other teachers, Kevin, is like classic teacher. He’s always writing on the board and very structured. [Susan] has been in the nonprofit world for most of her life and she just really wanted to work with kids. She brings this totally different, positive, happy vibe to everything that she does. She loves working with the preschoolers and gets all silly with them.”

Dorsey said the traditional science and math curriculum — with an added focus on the arts — helps develop well-rounded kids.

“The right brain is doing programming,” Dorsey said of his animation campers, “while the left brain is coming up with the story ideas.”

Busy builders

Sessions are meant to be fun and playful as well as educational.

A few of the summer camp options for 2018 include Amusement Park, Epic MinecraftRobot Rescue Mission, Space Wars and even LEGO Friends — a more feminine-oriented part of the LEGO empire that’s decidedly not rooted in sci-fi themes.

Full-day camps typically involve one type of camp in the morning, followed by another in the afternoon to keep kids interested and engaged.

Superhero Robotics and Lego City Camp, for example, allows ages 5–8 to design programmable robotic superhero vehicles in the morning, followed by lunch and recess, and an afternoon of exploring the world of transportation and city structures.

Campers, maybe without realizing it, learn about energy, wheels and axles as well as how to make stable and strong buildings and bridges.

Kids in the aforementioned Animation Studio half-day camp got a break from using computers all morning by attending Ninja Camp in the afternoon.

“They build a dojo [out of LEGOS],” Hagebak said. “And they make throwing stars out of origami and do skills challenges with chopsticks.”

Campers at Snapology even get to work on their speaking skills: At the end of the week, friends and family are invited to a film festival in which campers present their stop-motion films.

“They’ll stand up there and talk about it — why they did it, how they did it, what they wanted to convey,” Hagebak said.

Community outreach

Hagebak, as part of his mission to help disadvantaged children, is also using Snapology to reach out to low-income families in the Twin Cities by working at Community Emergency Assistance Programs (CEAP) events.

CEAP provides food, housing and employment resources for community members in Hennepin and Anoka counties, including events at local food shelves.

Hagebak recalled one event in which he set up a table with art activities and LEGO building stations.

“There were like 250 families there, and most of them had kids,” he said. “All of a sudden, these kids came running over to me. It was awesome.”

Though the Snapology Discovery Center will be the main location for Snapology of Minneapolis’ camps and classes, Hagebak said he will continue to bring the same learning experiences into schools, including metro-area communities that might not off er so many activities for kids.

“I definitely want to keep focusing on the schools that don’t have as many resources — and just being out there and doing as much as I can,” he said.

Olivia Volkman-Johnson is a local freelance writer and a recent graduate of Winona State University.