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Learning By Doing

Experiential Learning at its Best

Studies in the field begin as early as 3PreK and continue through high school with trips to theaters, science and art museums, governmental landmarks and offices, and—perhaps most notably—the natural wonders of Utah and the Intermountain West. Students from grades one through eight enjoy a variety of sports experiences for five weeks every winter through the Winter Sports program. Overnight trips, beginning in Middle School, take our students on fall excursions that include curricular themes, welcome new friends into each grade level, and strengthen the bonds between teachers and students.

Rowmark Ski Academy, athletic teams, debate, chess club, the World Language Department, and the service-learning program also take advantage, when appropriate, of state-wide, regional, national, and global opportunities for competition, service, or connection to academic studies.

Experiential Learning defined

Experiential learning is the process of learning by doing—when students see the relevance of what they learn, they're more engaged. It develops new ways of thinking, persistence, and autonomous learning. It’s distinct from rote learning where students are passive in the learning process.

School Trips

Middle School

  • Sixth Grade: Weeklong Wasatch adventure filled with paddling, rafting, climbing, and exploring in and around the Wasatch Front with local organizations.
  • Seventh Grade: Weeklong adventure with four nights at the Teton Science School in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
  • Eighth Grade: Nearly a week in Washington, D.C., exploring the rich experiences of our nation’s capital.

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Upper School

To kick off their high school career, ninth graders spend four days at YMCA Camp Roger in the Uinta Mountains for class bonding and interdisciplinary studies, from botany and geology to history and art.

Ninth through eleventh graders enjoy Interim, a weeklong exploratory program unique among Utah schools. Students have the option of participating in a variety of in-town and out-of-town experiences such as film studies and videography, hiking in Moab, and world-language immersion.

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Winged Lions in the Field—Stories from Fine Print Magazine

Inaugural Camping Trip Rounds Out Fourth Graders' Year of Field Studies

Fourth grade is the year of the field trip at Rowland Hall. Each year students head out of the classroom and into some of Utah's most remarkable places. They learn about geology, the water cycle, conservation, and state history. For the first time this year they capped their experiences with an overnight in Mapleton Canyon, where they put their newfound knowledge to the test.

"The concept of an overnight field study just made sense as a culminating experience for students to truly immerse themselves in their home state," said Jij de Jesus, Lower School principal. "It also helped them gain a sense of responsibility and independence as the transition to fifth grade approaches."

Thanks to a generous donation by a Rowland Hall supporter, the school partnered with Find Your Path Utah, a company specializing in experiential education. Founder Tyler Fonarow, a former Rowland Hall administrator and current parent, instantly saw all the marvelous possibilities. And he knew one thing: he didn't want these kids to think of this as just another camping trip.

"We kept it as much like school as possible, as far as the schedule," Tyler said. "We wanted to give them a chance to use the outdoor skills they've built up over the course of the year to understand that learning can happen in any place."

This was about getting our students outside with their classmates to help them see the interconnectedness of the natural and human world around them. —Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus

Our intrepid students faced fun challenges the moment they stepped off the bus in Mapleton: they found out they'd have to hike to their campsite a mile up the canyon while the bus carried their supplies. And it wasn't just a nice stroll up a paved trail—a creek crossing, for one, required creative problem-solving if they wanted to keep their feet dry.

"It was a neat opportunity to have the kids get out of their comfort zone a little bit," Tyler said. "Some kids chose to be carried, some kids chose to put the water shoes on, some kids chose to walk with garbage bags. It's called challenge by choice. It's about pushing the kids to the level where they are comfortable and still challenged."

After the hike in, fourth graders enjoyed activities centered on discovering a sense of place in their environment, studying water science and macroinvertebrates, leaving no trace, and being present.

“This was about getting our students outside with their classmates to help them see the interconnectedness of the natural and human world around them,” Jij said. "The state legislature's recent Utah's Every Kid Outdoors Initiative supports the idea that kids benefit from getting outside, especially with the incredible experiences locally accessible to us."

The lessons stuck with the students. Fourth grader Meg Hoglund said that from now on, whenever she goes fishing with her dad she'll check fishes' mouths for macroinvertebrates. "I also learned that your little piece of trash can contribute to a big problem for the environment later on," she said. "That's why leave no trace means NO trace at all."

At the end of the overnight, the kids wrote poems about the trip. Verses covered an array of memories—from the importance of protecting the watershed, to getting long hair stuck in a zipper. Fourth-grade teacher Matthew Collins said the poems helped students encapsulate their experiences: "With every line, we saw how much they learned and grew and just how much the experiential-education trips of the last year impacted them."

Experiential Learning

students interviewing man sitting on bench

Earlier this school year, sophomores hit iconic Salt Lake City spots to ask friendly strangers how migration has shaped their families’ stories. English teacher Dr. Kate Taylor masterminded the activity for sophomores' annual Beyond the Classroom day, in connection with their reading of Exit West

Before they took to the streets, students received a crash course from an expert folklorist, Thomas Richardson, on how to be an ethnographer and conduct interviews. Then during interviews, sophomores asked these questions:

Immigration heavily affected our way of life because we were the first peoples here.—Darren Parry, Chairman of the Shoshone Nation. See his interview in the top-left square.

  1. What story about your own or your family’s migration or travel can you share?
  2. Tell me about how migration or travel has shaped your story or your family’s story.
  3. Our class is reading a book called Exit West by Mohsin Hamid who said, “We are all migrants. All of us. We move through time and space.” How does that quote relate or not relate to your experience?

Students had a simple goal, Dr. Taylor said: listen and bear witness to the many different experiences of people in our city. 

View an exhibit of subjects’ photos and quotes just outside the Upper School library. A selection of students’ work is below.

Directions: On a desktop, hover over the audio icons to see pull quotes and hear interview audio. On a mobile device, press the audio icons.   

Student Reactions to the Assignment

Lightly edited for style and context.

It was interesting to hear about what people sacrificed and went through to get to the U.S. It makes you better appreciate your country. —Sophomore Cole McCartney

Beyond the Classroom made me realize how diverse Salt Lake City is. I was able to hear about many people’s experiences with migration or travel. I met people from Mexico, El Salvador, and other countries, and they all had very compelling stories. It was interesting to hear about what people sacrificed and went through to get to the U.S. It makes you better appreciate your country. I also found it interesting to hear different opinions on migration; there were some who were strongly for it while others didn't seem to care...I would never have talked to random people about this if it weren't for this project.
—Cole McCartney

It definitely showed me that people are always on the move, and how some don’t have to travel far to experience different things. It gave me more respect for people who do migrate often, or migrate to different countries or places that are vastly different from where they started. I feel more empathetic towards people who are migrating from oppressive countries and are struggling to find a place in this world. Even making the move from Jackson Hole to Salt Lake was difficult and took time, so these people are fighters and deserve happiness in their lives.
—Mary Clancy

At the beginning of the day, I thought it would be really scary because I would be talking with random people I didn't know, something I’ve rarely been comfortable with...I met a woman named Rosa María and asked if I could interview her. She replied, "I don't speak English, only Spanish; I'm on a trip," and I knew it would be a good opportunity to see how immigration had affected people who weren't living in the United States. I conducted the whole interview in Spanish and we laughed and had a good time...Being an immigrant myself, I thought everyone was affected in some way by immigration, but as I interviewed her I knew immigration wasn't all there was. She primarily talked about cross-cultural integration. I knew this was true but it didn't hit me until then: immigration is a big topic all around the world, but you don’t often hear in the media about how it opens people’s minds up to new ideas.
—Mena Zendejas-Portugal

Beyond the Classroom

Data Dash: My Tech-Driven Orthopedic Internship Helping Injured Patients

By Steven Doctorman, Class of 2020

I begin by applying a double-sided adhesive sticker to a motion-reflective marker—a small, silvery sphere. There are about 30 markers on the floor, each one in need of a sticker. These markers are then applied to certain parts of the patient's body, each one in a specific location in relation to a joint or muscle mass.

Patients crack the occasional joke: about the tight shorts they have to wear, about how tearing off the markers will feel like removing a Band-Aid, about how their midriff is on display when markers are used to track hip joints.

I sit on a stool, scoot behind the computer, and watch as one of the personal trainers gives the same instructions: the cameras in the ceiling track every movement, and we first have to calibrate those cameras by having the patient make certain movements, such as marching with one leg or kicking out to the side. The markers appear on the computer and we record movements, from walking and running to jumping and squatting. Patients are here because of certain injuries, and by monitoring movements the computer algorithm can calculate the data necessary to diagnose treatment options. I, both literally and figuratively, take a backseat to the computer work, but I'm captivated by the procedure and by doctors' discussions of the asymmetry of certain joints.

I intern at The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital (TOSH) in a lab that works with physical trainers to help individuals in post-surgical recovery. My responsibilities range from data tracking and analysis to marker prep and observation. On days when we don't have a patient, I use a computer program to identify flaws in previously recorded data and replace those flaws with accurate estimates. On days when we have a patient, I help apply adhesive stickers to markers and then observe data collection and doctors' analyses. This kind of lab work fascinates me, and witnessing the real-world implications of technical and biomedical innovation is inspirational.

I first learned about Rowland Hall's internship program from a flyer on a hallway bulletin board. It described how students worked in a blood-synthesis lab over the summer, and what they learned. As I became more interested in lab work my sophomore year, I reached out to Dr. Laura Johnson, an Upper School English teacher who also manages student internships. She's the archetypal Rowland Hall teacher, dedicated to helping her students succeed. Her efforts were heartwarming: she worked tirelessly to identify an opportunity that matched my schedule and interests. She contacted an array of labs and eventually found the TOSH internship in September, the beginning of my junior year.

My work at TOSH has directly intersected with my classes, and vice versa. In Advanced Topics Biology, learning about data collection with standard error bars allowed me to identify whether someone's hip flexion was within the healthy range. In physics, learning about motion and gravity have helped me understand the results from force plates. Even calculus has helped me with data synthesis, as I'm able to track a graph on the x-, y-, and z-axes and apply the correct computer algorithm to replace faulty data. My schoolwork applies to real-world concepts, which, in my opinion, is priceless.

As recording wraps up, I help one of the physical trainers remove the markers. I take off the adhesive stickers and throw them away. I then watch as the doctors write a report about what treatment and exercises are needed. They compare the patient's data with a database that shows the abilities of healthy individuals. When I'm not actively helping, I either watch the doctors write their report, or return to old data and correct errors. The latter improves their database. And each recording helps make a difference in people's lives, which is an added bonus to an already meaningful internship.

Current upper schoolers interested in internships should contact teacher Laura Johnson. Prospective families who want to learn more are invited to our January 30 Upper School Open Door—RSVP here.    STEM

Student Steven Doctorman at his TOSH internship.

Gallery: Students Learn Snow Science, Safety, and More in Avalanche Course

Some upper schoolers have been taking an Avalanche Level I Course this winter, coordinated through our physical education program and led by Utah Mountain Adventures. The students have practiced safe travel in avalanche terrain, dug snow pits and performed field tests to recognize weak and strong layers in snow pack, trained with avalanche beacons, and more. According to Utah Mountain Adventures, "The graduate of this course will understand the basics of snow science, stability evaluation, safe travel, and rescue, and be ready to make informed decisions in avalanche terrain."

Photos by Upper School math teacher Emina Alibegović

Experiential Learning

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