Academy Courses | Programs | Institute for Educational Advancement

Academy Courses

A complete list of past Academy courses can be found here.


Fall 2018 Courses

Algebraic Applications (Ages 9-12) on Fridays from 11:00am-12:30pm
This course will answer the age-old question “when will I use algebra in real life?” Students will enrich their current math knowledge and look ahead to future algebra curriculum via hands-on methods with a focus on real-life application. This course will allow students to apply their strengthened understanding of linear relationships to analyze trends, predict results, and answer scientific questions. Mastery will be demonstrated through the use of algebra to answer a relevant question of how two choices compare with one another over time.


And Then What? Improv 101 (Ages 12-14) on Mondays from 4:00-5:30pm
Look no further than your internal toolbox to transform fears of “What should I do?” into “Let’s go with it!” Students in this class will survey the history and grand masters of the art of improv, then dive into experimentation with basic techniques and forms by crafting their own short sketches. Whether inspired by the miraculous or deceptively mundane, students will be challenged to think on their feet and to tune in to their fellow collaborators and the “game” of the scene. Mastery will be demonstrated by student progress toward performing a Herald, the signature improvisational structure used by iO Chicago and the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.


NEW! Aristotle: Chasing the Philosopher (Ages 12-14) on Wednesdays from 4:00-5:30pm
The whole is more than the sum of its parts—Aristotle.
Known by the Aristotelian scholars of the Islamic and later medieval world, Aristotle, or “The Philosopher”, has fundamentally shaped the way in which we think today. Even if you have never read his philosophies, the style of our education systems, government, and formation of a standard argument are derived in part from the assimilation of Aristotle’ logic into the west. Yet, that logic and its uses are far removed from their original form. In this class, students will study a series of texts from Aristotle and his later commentators in order to pin down the mechanisms that have driven the common conception of Aristotelian ideology so far away from its primary structure. Students will be expected to come ready for a discussion that will change the way they think about knowledge itself.


Biology of Me (Ages 6-9) on Fridays from 3:00-4:30pm
The human body can do amazing things! How does it taste and digest food, observe the world, breathe air, and pump blood? In this class, students will interactively learn about the systems of the human body and gain a deep functional knowledge of how different organs work together. Through hands-on projects and lab activities, students will better understand how the various human body systems work both independently and together. In addition, students will investigate how things like poor food choices can damage these vital systems, and moreover, the strength of the body’s healing power when put to the test.

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


NEW! CSI: Forensic Science (Ages 12-14) on Thursdays from 4:00-5:30pm

Forensic scientists use biology, chemistry, logic, and even computer science to crack cases and solve mysteries. In this hands-on course, students will learn and apply techniques such as hair analysis, untampered evidence collection, and DNA fingerprinting. Through the power of observation, logical reasoning, scientific tests, and modern DNA technologies, students will learn how crimes are solved and test their own detective skills. Mastery will be demonstrated through successful solving of a simulated case involving all skill types developed over the course of the session.

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


Dungeons and Dragons (Ages 12-14)on Saturdays from 10:00-11:30am
Are you a fan of fantasy, monsters, and magic? Have you ever dreamed of going on an adventure in which you starred the hero who achieved the impossible? Would you like to discover your inner strengths while journeying alongside a cast of larger-than-life characters? If so, then Dungeons and Dragons awaits! But do not expect D&D to be a mere game, for it is so much more!  Discover what it means to be a true hero, to face one’s fears and to work as a team to achieve a common goal. Mastery will be demonstrated through advancements in game strategy and collaboration with peers.


Electronics and Arduino I (Ages 9-12) on Saturdays from 12:00-1:30pm
This class is an introduction to electronic circuits and the programming of microcontrollers. Students will learn about the basic components of circuit design (resistors, capacitors, etc.) and how they are used to create a variety of devices. Using the popular Arduino platform, students will learn how to build devices with lights, sensors, motors, and more. Emphasis will be placed on how to read and understand standard design schematics, and build circuits to match. Mastery will be demonstrated by the creation of original circuits and functional codes that reflect understanding of components and schematic, and understanding of Arduino programming.  Prerequisites: Basic computer use and typing ability. Math level: pre-Algebra I.

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


NEW! Environmental Defenders (Ages 6-9) on Wednesdays from 4:00-5:30pm
Have you ever wondered where all the trash we throw away goes, how much water a single household consumes each day, or how much packaging it takes to contain a bag of chips? In this class, students will explore environmental issues through hands-on projects such as building a catchment basin and landfill and analysis of urban run-off and alternative energy systems. Through an inquiry-based approach, students will find innovative solutions for sustainability and become defenders of our planet Earth! Mastery will be demonstrated by the application of the scientific method to lab and field experiments, and the construction of creative projects.

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


NEW! Etymology (Ages 6-9) on Wednesdays from 10:00am-11:00am
Where did the word “happy” come from and how is it used? Students in this class will build meaning from context as they trace the history, transmission and usage of words both simple and complex from their original source. Greek and Latin roots, word forms, and colloquial differences based on geography will be explored through fun writing exercises and project-based activities that extend vocabulary, enhance reading comprehension and inspire critical thinking. Mastery will be demonstrated through active participation in group activities and discussion, completion of in-class exercises, and ongoing assessments of independent work.


NEW! From Dust to Dawn: Constructing the History of The Universe (Ages 9-12) on Tuesdays from 4:00-5:30pm
Did you know that the field of Geology is just as rigorous, quantitative, and useful as physics, chemistry, and biology? Perhaps more importantly is its use in understanding the formation of our planet and origins of the Universe. In this class, students will begin their investigations with the formation of the stellar dust that eventually forms the Earth, and end in the modern day, analyzing physical, chemical, and biological systems that underpin the complex history of our blue planet. Mastering will be demonstrated through projects that illustrate mathematics of system modelling, hands-on projects, and analysis of rocks and minerals.


NEW! Ferret It Out! (Ages 9-12) on Fridays from 1:00-2:30pm
The black-footed ferret is the most endangered mammal in the United States. Students in this class will work together as a recovery team whose job it is to assess whether Fort Collins, Colorado, is an appropriate site to reintroduce ferrets that were bred in captivity.  Students must consider the interdependence of the ferrets with the population of prairie dogs and the antagonism of ranchers toward them, then come to a decision about the problem and try to persuade others to their point of view. Through the course of the unit, students will learn about biomes, habitats, and human-animal interaction, as well as the complex issues that are involved and the conflicts of interests posed by trying to save the black-footed ferret from extinction. Ferret it Out! is an NAGC award-winning curriculum designed by nationally recognized expert in gifted education and problem-based learning,  Dr. Shelagh A. Gallagher.


In the Loop: Building With Electrical Circuits (Ages 12-14) on Fridays from 11:00am-12:30pm
This introduction to electrical circuits will cover the basics of electricity and the main components that are used in everyday electronics. Not only will students learn the function of resistances, capacitors and transistors, they will also be introduced to how they work and the physics behind them. By building our own, we will learn how to make practical circuits, ranging from motion detectors, light arrays and whatever the imagination will allow us. Mastery will be demonstrated by the construction of a working radio to be taken home at the end of the session. Electrical safety will also be addressed on the first day. Prerequisites: Basic understanding of multiplication, division, and calculator use.

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


NEW! Inventioneers (Ages 6-9) on Fridays from 11:00am-12:00pm
Calling all inventors and engineers! Where would we be without Thomas Edison’s lightbulb, Marie Curie’s X-rays, or Alan Turing’s machine that led to modern computer algorithms?  Did you know that some of the world’s favorite toys and products were created completely by accident? Students will dive into pioneering inventors throughout history and will use these design processes to make constructions of their own great ideas. Each invention will be tested and modified just like real life prototypes. Mastery will be demonstrated through execution of the engineering design process and ability to produce a novel creation that will somehow fill a need observed by the student.

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


NEW! It’s Electrifying! Fueling the Future (Ages 9-12) on Wednesdays from 4:00-5:30pm
It’s Electrifying! presents the problem of whether Virginia Beach, Virginia, will accept alternative energy supplies and which source of energy would be most beneficial with the least environmental impact: wave energy, tidal energy, or offshore wind farms. The students in this class will work together as engineers to select new, innovative options for energy production. Ultimately they must make a recommendation as to which form of energy would be best for the area, and they must make a convincing proposal for it. This class offers students an opportunity to explore clean energy technologies and to understand that the issues involved in implementing them are complex and multifaceted. It’s Electriying! Fueling the Future is an NAGC award-winning curriculum designed by nationally recognized expert in gifted education and problem-based learning, Dr. Shelagh A. Gallagher.


King George: What Was His Problem (Ages 9-12) on Wednesdays from 2:00-3:30pm
Inspired by Steve Sheinkin’s book of the same name, this course will engage the burgeoning history buff with its investigation into the causes and effects of the American Revolution. Students will examine the chain of events that led to the Patriots’ fight for freedom from British tyranny, rooting out fact from fiction through hands-on activities, class discussion, and guided analysis of media, including sample texts and video clips. Mastery will be demonstrated through individual and group projects, including the creation of a timeline charting the cultural and socio-political changes that resulted in America’s revolution.


Marine Biodiversity (Ages 12-14)on Fridays from 1:00-2:30pm
Oceans cover 70% of our planet and are inhabited by a wild and wonderful menagerie of animals, each species with its own unique evolutionary history. Students will dive into the anatomical, behavioral, ecological and evolutionary depths of marine animals extinct and extant, including sharks, rays, bony fish, sea birds, invertebrates and marine mammals and reptiles. Hands-on encounters with animal artifacts and fossils, as well as in-depth discussion of natural history footage will challenge students’ critical understanding and appreciation for how humans have impacted marine environments. Mastery will be demonstrated through active class participation and group discussion, including detailed morphological comparisons between species, observations of animal behavior, as well as written and project-based assessments of acquired zoological knowledge.


Microbiology (Ages 6-9) on Saturdays from 12:00-1:30pm
Have you ever wondered about the invisible friends and foes that make up the microscopic world around us? This course is designed for young students who want to investigate and gain in-depth knowledge of the biology of bacteria, viruses, and more. Students will explore both beneficial microbes and disease-causing pathogens while learning how they grow, multiply, and impact our lives both positively and negatively. Classes will include hands-on experiments, creative projects, and inquiry-based exploration into the microscopic world and its large-scale effects. Mastery will be demonstrated by direct feedback, question and answer sessions, and a creative project on a microbe of the student’s choice. 

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


NEW! Mock Trial: Order in the Court! (Ages 9-12) on Fridays from 3:00-4:30pm
What’s the verdict: are you ready to fill the roles of prosecution, defense, judge, and jury all in one course? Students will have the opportunity to simulate trials in order to experience the United States’ justice system, organize facts to draw conclusions, learn about trial strategies, and develop the persuasive argumentation skills of a good lawyer. Mastery will be shown through strong questioning and deliberation skills as well as a comprehensive understanding of the court system structure. 


Mythology of Many Lands (Ages 6-9) on Wednesdays from 2:00-3:30pm
Are you enthralled with exciting stories, fantastical creatures, and other cultures? You are not alone! Humans have been telling stories for 3,000 years. Prepare to journey around the world, through time, and in and out of reality as you explore the mythology, folklore and fairytales that have shaped cultures and imparted words of wisdom! Students will listen to, read, write and tell stories from near and far while practicing grammar, vocabulary, and presentation skills. Mastery will be demonstrated by the production of a written or visual work of art, inspired by the Mythology of Many Lands!


Myths & Monsters (Ages 9-12) on Mondays from 2:15-3:45pm
Cultures all around the globe feature fantastical creatures, including fire-breathing dragons, bizarre chimerical hybrids, quasi-humans, and multi-headed monstrosities. Behind the myth, however, there lies a kernel of truth based in biological fact. In Myth & Monsters, we will separate fact from fantasy as we uncover the real-world origins and scientific explanations behind some of the world’s best-known mythical beasts, including dragons, unicorns, Bigfoot, the Chupacabra, werewolves, Pokemon, and more. Mastery will be demonstrated through hands-on observation of fossils and animal artifacts, in-depth group discussion on cultural beliefs, and tests of acquired knowledge.


NEW! Newton: Forces in Motion (Ages 6-9) on Mondays from 4:00-5:30pm
Over 300 years after Isaac Newton first presented his laws of motion, these three statements are still fundamental to how we understand the world around us. Students will dive into each of Newton’s laws then observe and apply them through hands-on, experiment-based activities. Whether they’re designing a roller coaster, building a car, or launching a bottle rocket, students will learn to quantitatively test their creations and use physics terminology to analyze their results. Mastery is shown through the design of an experiment and an accurate use of the scientific method to draw conclusions and connect them to Newton’s laws.

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


NEW! Neuroplasticity (Ages 12-14) on Saturdays from 12:00-1:30pm
We may know how to live a healthy lifestyle for our bodies, but how do we know we’re taking good care of keeping our brains at their best? Building off the idea that we have the ability to change our brains throughout our lives, this course combines neuroscience with techniques such as growth mindset, adaptability, and memory techniques to optimize brain function and positive thinking. Additionally, students will explore brain development and injuries to get to know their own brains on a deeper level and apply this knowledge to a variety of fields.

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


Page One: Creative Writing (Ages 6-9) on Saturdays from 10:00-11:30am
Welcome to page one, where writing springs from imagination! This course will draw inspiration straight from the stories, poems, lyrics and even comic books that students love most. Through short reading and writing exercises, students will learn how word choice, syntax, rhythm and rhyme bring setting, characters and plot to life. Interactive games and creative projects will build skills and confidence through exploration, experimentation and play. Mastery will be demonstrated by the creation of a short written work in the student’s genre of choice, which illustrates independent thinking and progress in reading, writing, and verbal expression. 

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


NEW! Primary Math II (Ages 6-9) on Thursdays from 4:00-5:00pm
Math is found everywhere from art to zoology! This interdisciplinary class will sharpen existing math skills and develop complex problem-solving abilities while showing how each skill can be used outside of a traditional classroom. Students will learn to use math in making ecological predictions, scaling recipes, performing scientific experiments, solving riddles, and creating art. Mastery will be demonstrated through a creative project that uses skills acquired over the course of the session. Prerequisites: Students should be comfortable with the concept of fractions and multiplying single-digit numbers.


Programming with Python (Ages 9-12) on Saturdays from 10:00-11:30am
Learning to code is learning how to solve problems. In this course, we will explore the basic concepts of computer programming – algorithms, loops, conditional statements, etc. – using the popular Python language. Emphasis will be placed not just on the code, but the why behind the code, setting a strong foundation for future growth.  Students will learn how to manipulate numbers and text, draw images on the screen, and create a variety of fun projects, such as games and animations. Mastery will be demonstrated through understanding of fundamental programming concepts and familiarity with Python language syntax. Pre-requisites: Basic computer use and typing ability. Math level: pre-Algebra I.


Rocket to Calculus (Ages 12-14) on Wednesdays from 10:00am-11:30am
This class makes use of actual rockets and simulations to teach students the basics of algebra, geometry, and pre-calculus. Students will learn conceptual physics at the same time as they learn the intuition behind the math. . Calculations will be brought to life with a real rocket launch! Mastery will be demonstrated by solving math problems, building a model rocket, and witnessing a successful launch. Prerequisites: Students in the class should be comfortable with the fundamentals of algebra.

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


NEW! Rheology: It’s a Matter of Flow (Ages 6-9) on Fridays from 1:00-2:30pm
Ever wonder why people hit ketchup to help it come out of the bottle? It is because the viscosity of ketchup decreases when it experiences something call shear stress, something easily added by the firm thwack of the hand. Yet this is only one example of the wonderful world of Rheology, defined as the study of deformation and flow. In this class we will have labs that expose students to the many types of deformation in flow, including hitting ketchup, brittle shattering silly putty, and more. If you like strange materials and even stranger properties, then this lab based class was made for you!

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


Rube Goldberg: Machines and Mazes (Ages 6-9) on Saturdays from 2:00-3:30pm
Over the course of this class, students will become modern day Rube Goldbergs as they design and build a machine named after the American cartoonist and inventor. Students will first learn the history and mechanics behind popular Rube Goldberg machines and then set off to build their own contraption that relies on a chain reaction to do simple tasks. As part of an interdisciplinary class which combines engineering, math, and science concepts, students will propel themselves through new information as they work to create a final project: an original Rube Goldberg machine! Mastery will be demonstrated by designing and constructing an original Rube Goldberg machine that successfully demonstrates an understanding of the different forces while optimizing potential and kinetic energies. 

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


NEW! STEAM Building: Creative Constructs (3rd-5th Grade) on Tuesdays from 2:30-3:30pm at Sierra Madre Elementary
Ready, set, build! In this course, students will hone their creative engineering skills by building, testing, and improving upon their original designs for marble runs, bridges, catapults, and more. We will use the engineering design process, integrated with both artistic elements and advanced physics topics to create products that meet specific guidelines. Each product will be evaluated through quantitative testing and qualitative evaluation to ensure every student is continually challenged and improving upon their designs. By the end of the course, students will have developed their creativity and engineering intuition and be equipped with ideas to keep building at home! Mastery will be demonstrated by completion of a final independent STEAM challenge where students will invent a structure to accomplish a specific task, then show they can test and improve upon this product.

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


NEW! Science in Action II (Ages 6-9) on Tuesdays from 4:00-5:30pm
In this class, students will conduct hands-on experiments that span across divisions of science including chemistry, physics, geology, environmental science, life science and more. From static electricity to the origin of tornados and tsunamis to what is hiding inside a dead log, this class will continue the quest to discover through questioning, gathering and evaluating evidence, and communicating to others their scientific findings. Mastery will be demonstrated by the application of the scientific method to lab and field experiments, and the construction of creative projects. Prerequisites: Completion of Science in Action 1 is recommended, but not required. Please report any allergies/medical conditions or sensitivity to food and plant material.


Star Wars: The Hero’s Journey (Ages 6-9) on Wednesdays from 12:00-1:30pm
“Everyone is the hero in his or her own myth,” wrote Joseph Campbell. Come and join us in this unique class as we explore the concept of the hero’s journey by following in the steps of Luke Skywalker, through text and film. Students will learn about the narrative structure of the hero’s journey, discuss themes, explore underlying ethics and morals, analyze characters and their actions and, throughout the course, appreciate that we all go through the journey of life, learning from mentors, facing obstacles and celebrating triumphs. Mastery will be demonstrated through creative projects as well as through the opportunity to write about being a Jedi Knight.


NEW! Statistics: False or Factual? (Ages 12-14) on Wednesdays from 12:00-1:30pm
Statistics such as “9 out of 10 dentists recommend this toothpaste” and “40% of food in the U.S. is thrown away” have the power to persuade us to make different choices than we otherwise would. But where do these stats come from, and are they always accurate? Although statistics are helpful tools for creating predictions and conclusions, they can often be misleading. Students will become experts at spotting misrepresented data and will even design their own data collection techniques. Mastery will be demonstrated through a mini statistical research project that collects and presents data in a persuasive way.


NEW! Take Shape: 3D Design and Printing (Ages 12-14) on Tuesdays from 4:00-5:30pm
It’s been said of 3D printing that “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand pictures.” In this course, students will enable their ideas to take shape by learning to design and print using advanced modern technology. Our Original Prusa i3 MK2S printer was voted 3D Printer of the Year in 2017 and 2018 by MAKE: Magazine and supports a wide range of materials for endless creativity! Mastery will be demonstrated through the independent design and printing of an original and useful product that can be used in students’ daily lives. 

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


NEW! Tesla: Coils, Conductors, and Communication (Ages 9-12) on Thursdays from 4:00-5:30pm
If anyone cannot be described by one job description, it’s Nikola Tesla, who worked in the 19th and 20th century as an engineer, physicist, inventor, futurist, and more! This course will dive deep into Nikola Tesla’s prolific scientific discoveries, inventions, and process. Not only will students learn about Tesla from a historical perspective, but they will also gain experience with his scientific contributions by building circuits, studying Tesla coils, and using his creative process to produce inventions and predictions of their own.

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


NEW! That’s History! Historiographical Perspectives (Ages 12-14) on Wednesdays from 2:00-3:30pm
History is not the memorization of dates, periods, places, and people. It is a practice, an endeavor, a construction. It requires deep analysis and human interpretation, and as a result, it is never perfect. History is eternally shaped by the hand that molds the narrative, no matter the quality of care for objectivity. In this class, students will dissect the meaning of history, judge its authors, and attempt to create our very own history by reading classical history of the east and west, medieval works, and modern histories. Mastery will be demonstrated by participation in group discussions related to the motives of the author and the biases inherent in the works.


Thinking Toolbox: Pre-Logic and Reasoning for Young Learners (Ages 6-9)on Mondays from 2:45-3:45pm

Education is not the learning of the facts, but the training of the mind to think —Albert Einstein

This class is designed to introduce the young learner to pre-logic and reasoning through fun and accessible games and activities. Topics throughout the course will encourage students to observe, recognize, and describe characteristics; to distinguish similarities and differences; and to identify and complete sequences and classifications. Students will solve puzzles for missing information; decode patterns in numbers, images, and language; and finally use their reasoning skills to solve a mystery! Skills developed and practiced in class will serve students across academic disciplines as they learn to analyze, make connections, and reason inferentially, all key building blocks of critical thinking.


NEW! The Iliad: An Epic Journey (Ages 9-12) on Wednesdays from 10:00-11:30am
The Iliad mixes history and myth telling about the Trojan War, a story so captivating that it still fascinates people more than three thousand years later. In this class, we’ll learn about the ancient world where this war was fought, the reasons for the war, and the myths that became part of how this war was related to the descendants of those who fought it.


NEW! Urban Design: Cities of the Future (Ages 9-12) on Saturdays from 2:00-3:30pm
Flying cars? Novel types of renewable energy? Never-before-seen architectural styles? There are endless options for how cities might look in the future. With their future citizens in mind, students will have the opportunity to discuss their ideas and act as aeronautical, electrical, mechanical, and civil engineers to imagine and create their own cities. Mastery will be shown through completion of a scale model of city that could be viable in the future. 

This class requires a $25 materials fee.


Video Game Development and Design (Ages 12-14) on Saturdays from 2:00-3:30pm
Video Game development is a fun and engaging form of computer programming. In this fast-moving class, you will become immersed in the fundamental programming skills of logical thinking and problem solving. While the focus will be on building fluency in Python coding, we’ll also delve into the art, sound and technicalities of game design. Join us as we investigate and understand the creation of basic and classic games, through physics simulations, procedurally generated content, beginning AI, and other useful algorithms. You will be pleasantly surprised to learn how math-intensive game development is and how creative you can be! Mastery will be demonstrated by the completion of an independent project. Pre-requisites: Basic computer use and typing ability.


NEW! We the People: The American Constitution (Ages 9-12) on Wednesdays from 12:00-1:30pm
We the People explores how intelligent people with very different beliefs worked together to design a government that was more just than any in existence at that time. In this class we will learn about what each branch of government can and cannot do, and why we chose to design it this way. We built in the ability to change our Constitution, and we began to add to it before it was the law of the land. We will look at these changes and discover the reasons why they are important.


NEW! Web Design II: Form and Function (Ages 9-12) on Mondays from 4:00-5:30pm
This course is designed for students seeking to build on skills gained in the Intro to Web Design course.Topics will include: using the new HTML5 and CSS3 features, learning the importance of web page and browser validation, selective styling with CSS, using CSS to implement page enhancements and visual effects, responsive web pages, advanced techniques for page layout, and introducing client-side scripting using JavaScript. Application of design principles – the form of the website – will be emphasized, including how to successfully use typography/font choice, color, white space, layout, graphics, and images. Extending students may begin to plan mobile-friendly or mobile versions of sites. Mastery will be demonstrated by successful production of a responsive, multi-page website, which demonstrates successful application of design principles and the skills and techniques practiced in class. Prerequisites: Intro to Web Design or previous web design experience using both basic HTML and CSS. Students must have demonstrable knowledge of the internet, be familiar with how to use a computer, manage files and basic typing skills. Students must be able to independently navigate to and within a website and perform internet searches using a web browser such as Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari.

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