Exhibit Columbus’ Conversation Plinth became a circular bubble launcher as first-graders explored the freedom of sending frothy bubbles over the Bartholomew County Library plaza.

About 80 first-graders from three classes at Smith Elementary spent Friday morning learning about what an architect does and why so much beautiful architecture exists along Fifth Street as part of a collaboration with the library. It also was a chance to explore two Exhibit Columbus installations, the “Plinth” on the library plaza and “Wiikiaami” across the street.

In another collaborative effort, 26 Smith Elementary sixth-graders came along for the visit to help the first-graders navigate the field trip. Friday’s event renewed a coaching relationship already formed when the sixth-graders explained earlier in the school year how Chromebooks work when the first-graders received their school-issued computers.

The “Plinth,” one of five Miller Prize winners on exhibit through November, is designed to encourage people to circle inside the wood structure to the top, where visitors may sit and converse or take pictures.

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But instead of asking the first graders to converse as they visited the Exhibit Columbus prize winner, library staff members placed bins of soapy water in corners of the structure and on its top rung. The first-graders were invited to take bubble wands and send their bubbles off into the air above the library plaza.

When asked what the best part of playing with bubbles is, 6-year-old Katelyn Martinez said it was sending them out into the air.

“I think I’ve done 10,” said her friend Layla Vazquez, 7.

Smith teacher Todd Wetherald, who was supervising the sixth-graders, was having almost as much fun as the students as he energetically kept bubbles flying into the air, all the while encouraging the kids to get as many bubbles airborne as possible.

The kids then started a game to see how many bubbles they could catch on the wands before they popped.

The sixth-graders took in the mayhem of the younger students and the bubbles with enthusiasm, each in charge of two or three of their younger counterparts.

Makenna Martin, 11, said she and her classmates have learned a great deal from helping the first-graders.

“They’re learning from us. They’re pretty cute — just not quite getting stuff yet. But they’re growing up,” she said.

Friday’s event was part of a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math) curriculum for the first-graders, said Smith first-grade teacher Nora Mitchell.

The first-graders already have used boxes, water bottles, sticks and duct tape to create their own design of the Smith Elementary building.

They will then be asked to design their own version of a building and then go onto Google and put their design into a map of Columbus. The student will choose where an individual design would best be showcased, similar to the Exhibit Columbus idea of taking temporary architectural exhibits and placing them near Columbus’ architectural treasures for local residents and visitors to explore.

Before the bubble fun, the first- and sixth-graders sat quietly to listen to the story “Young Frank, Architect,” by Frank Viva, a children’s book that explores whether architecture is just about buildings or perhaps is about something more.

In the book, Young Frank, who lives with his grandfather Old Frank, explores building things with macaroni, pillows and shoes, including buildings that twist, funny-looking chairs and entire cities of odd shapes.

The first-graders couldn’t help but laugh when they got to the part in the book about building a tower with chocolate chip cookies.

“We are so proud of our town,” Mitchell said of the idea to incorporate Exhibit Columbus and architecture into the first-graders curriculum. “It’s fascinating to watch the children learn how all of this developed.”

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.