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.

Utah Experiential Learning (EXL) - From preschool through high school at Rowland Hall

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

Students and teachers gather on Zoom to hear from Pulitzer-Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez.

“An editorial cartoon isn’t just a funny picture,” Pulitzer-Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez told Rowland Hall eighth graders at a special virtual presentation on January 25. “A good editorial cartoon is a fine instrument of journalism: It defines an issue. It challenges hypocrisy. It reveals the best and the worst of humanity. It calls the reader to arms against the complacent, the lethargic, the evil-doers, the indolent body politic, the champions of the status quo, the sordid predators of society.”

Editorial, or political, cartooning isn’t often a subject that middle school students examine closely. So when Rowland Hall had the chance to invite Michael—uncle of eighth grader Elli Ramirez and senior Ke’ea Ramirez—to speak to eighth graders, teacher Sarah Yoon jumped at the chance. She knew that the discussion on editorial cartooning, free speech, journalism, and citizen responsibility would tie to current studies as well as give students a unique opportunity to interact with an esteemed artist: in addition to two Pulitzer Prizes (1994 and 2008), Michael’s awards include a 2015 Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year (the highest honor the profession bestows) and three Sigma Delta Chi awards for excellence in professional journalism (1995, 1997, and 2007). 

Michael urged students to seek out balanced information on complex issues, noting that this practice will provide them with a more comprehensive view of those issues, help them better understand and solidify their own beliefs, and prepare them to have constructive conversations.

At the January 25 event, Michael talked about how he views his role to help protect and inform the public, and gave students the chance to ask questions about his work, his career path, and even his love of surfing. He also used the time to inspire students to become active citizens and, one day, voters. The job of members of a democratic republic, he told them, is to be informed.

“Information is a necessary component to guide you in a political system based on self-governance and individual liberties,” Michael explained. He urged students to seek out balanced information on complex issues, noting that this practice will provide them with a more comprehensive view of those issues, help them better understand and solidify their own beliefs, and prepare them to have constructive conversations.

“You cannot make a substantive opinion on anything if you don’t know the depth of what you’re talking about,” he explained. “You can’t build a car if you don’t know the mechanics of an automobile; in the same way, you cannot construct an argument unless you know the mechanics of the debate.”

Michael’s presentation encouraged students—some noted that it aided them in understanding the power of their voices, while others reflected on how learning about Michael’s career helped them realize that they can express themselves in creative ways. They tapped into this inspiration as they embarked on their post-event assignment: to create their own editorial cartoons. In the weeks following the presentation, they became junior editorial cartoonists, researching, editing, and drawing (by hand or computer) their opinions on topics such as the January 6 attack on the US Capitol and the impact of COVID-19. For Monica Fernandez, the assignment gave her a chance to share her views on a subject she cares deeply about: climate change.

An editorial cartoon created by Monica Fernandez.

Eighth grader Monica Fernandez's editorial cartoon on climate change.

“I decided on the subject of my cartoon because I think climate change is a very important and real thing in our lives, and we should all try and become more aware of it so we can make smarter decisions in our day-to-day lives,” she explained. Like Michael and his fellow editorial cartoonists do, Monica took time to research her topic and consider the best approach to make her viewers think.

Monica's perspective is a reflection of what she and fellow students took away from Michael’s presentation—that good editorial cartoons inform and challenge readers as well as draw them into debate and action, and that engaged citizens have a say in the destiny of their country.

“I decided to include an hourglass, because I think this was a good way to visually show how fast time is running out,” she reflected. “My original plan was to show different natural elements (animals, trees, glaciers, people, oceans), but after creating a rough draft I realized that it looked sloppy and didn’t get my point across. I decided to just use the visual of the globe, and I was more happy with that design. My end result was three hourglasses—as the time goes by, each hourglass has more sand at the bottom and less world left.”

Monica hopes that, in addition to making viewers think, this image may also inspire them to change behaviors. “Even the little things in life that we do on a day-to-day basis can affect how much longer we can all make this world last before it all runs out,” she explained.

Her perspective is a reflection of what she and fellow students took away from Michael’s presentation—that good editorial cartoons inform and challenge readers as well as draw them into debate and action, and that engaged citizens have a say in the destiny of their country. The powerful images the students created prove that it’s never too early to help them think about their role as American citizens and sharpen the skills that will support them in that role. After all, as Michael pointed out, “Developing future citizens and participants in our democratic republic is so important.”

An editorial cartoon created by Annie Lutton.

An editorial cartoon created by eighth grader Annie Lutton.

Experiential Learning

Crustacean Legislation: Fourth Graders Petition Utah to Make Brine Shrimp a State Symbol

Introduction by Marianne Love, Fourth-Grade Teacher

Fourth grade at Rowland Hall is all about Utah. As we studied both brine shrimp and the legislative process this year, we thought, What better time than distance learning to combine the two?!

After learning how bills become laws, students took it upon themselves to petition our state government to make the brine shrimp the official crustacean of Utah. Who would ever think a landlocked state could possibly have a state crustacean? Students used their persuasive-writing skills to craft letters to our governor and state legislators. Below, Dean Filippone’s letter is one shining example of what a dedicated Rowland Hall fourth grader can create.

May 6, 2020

Dear Governor Herbert, State Representatives, and State Senators:

I am a student at Rowland Hall in fourth grade and I am writing to you because I love the state of Utah. I only have one suggestion to make Utah even better: we can become the only landlocked state in the United States of America that has a state crustacean. The crustacean l nominate is the brine shrimp.

Brine shrimp are like people of Utah in that we are both persistent and don’t give up.

Dean with his letter to state lawmakers.

   Dean with his letter to state lawmakers.

There are many cool facts about brine shrimp that remind me about Utah and the great people in it. For example, did you know that a brine shrimp is barely the size of a pencil eraser, yet because there are so many in the Great Salt Lake, their combined weight is more than 13,000 elephants? It reminds me of Utah because we are all very small in the face of the world, but when we work together we can do even the hardest things.

Another reason that brine shrimp should be the Utah state crustacean is because they’ve been around for over 600,000 years! Brine shrimp are part of this great state’s history, and should be acknowledged as a state crustacean!

Brine shrimp are like people of Utah in that we are both persistent and don’t give up. In fact, brine shrimp can survive at 221 Fahrenheit for two hours and still live. The cysts can even survive for 25 years without food! Utahns have survived a lot of persecution; not to mention challenges with the weather and having to form communities in the high mountains and mountain deserts. Brine shrimp and the people of Utah are tough!

Brine shrimp are very rare. Do you know that only Utah and California have brine shrimp in the United States?

It would be an honor to be the first landlocked state to have a state crustacean! Currently, there are only six states that have a state crustacean. They are: Oregon, Maryland, Texas, Maine, Alabama, and Louisiana. All of these six states are on the water. Unlike these states, Utah is landlocked so we would be unique as the first landlocked state to ever have a state crustacean. 

The final reason l hope you will consider is that brine shrimp are very rare. Do you know that only Utah and California have brine shrimp in the United States? It would be special to have them as our crustacean. These are dark days with COVID-19 so we should celebrate all nature and other things to make us feel better.

Thank you for your consideration, and l hope to hear from you soon.


Top image: Teacher Marianne Love wades in the Great Salt Lake during a fourth-grade field trip to Antelope Island in May 2018.

student voices

A Rowland Hall kindergartener performing a checkup on a stuffed animal

When kindergarten lead teacher Margaret Chapman learned she would be taking a two-month leave of absence in early 2020 for heart surgery, she knew that she—along with assistant kindergarten teacher Bethany Stephensen—would have many tasks to complete to keep their classroom running smoothly. At the top of the list? Making sure students had a safe place to think about this major change to their school days.

“This is a big event the children will be processing in the coming weeks,” said Bethany.

Dramatic play: A type of play where students assign, take on, and act out different roles.

To support students, Bethany and Margaret set up a special dramatic play area known as the kinder-cardiology unit. There, the children can try on the role of cardiologists who fix hearts—just like the doctors who will be fixing Margaret’s. Complete with white coats, medical masks and hats, exam and x-ray rooms, a file for records and prescription orders, and instruments like stethoscopes and thermometers, the area is the perfect place for kindergarteners to try out procedures on one another, as well as on the classroom’s many stuffed animals.

Margaret intentionally sits near kinder-cardiology as the children play so they can ask her questions about her surgery and what school will be like while she is away. This is important, Bethany explained, because dramatic play provides more than simple amusement for children—it also helps them sort out the big, and sometimes scary, things happening around them that they don’t fully understand and can’t control.

Kindergarteners pretending to be doctors in kinder-cardiology unit

The doctors are in! Margaret Chapman, center, with Rowland Hall's team of mini-physicians in kinder-cardiology.

Dramatic play is a fundamental component of learning and development, helping children to work through their lived experiences and cope with emotions.—Bethany Stephensen, kindergarten assistant teacher

“Dramatic play is a fundamental component of learning and development, helping children to work through their lived experiences and cope with emotions,” said Bethany. “It is an opportunity for children—whose lives are largely controlled by adults—to feel powerful and capable.”

Gail Rose, 3PreK lead teacher, and Mary Swaminathan, 3PreK assistant teacher, agreed. “Dramatic play allows children to act out their stories and gives them the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective,” they explained.

Knowing the importance of this type of play during early childhood, “we are always on the lookout for themes that are naturally coming up in children’s play or experiences in their lives that are impacting their experiences at school,” Bethany said. “We then develop emergent curriculum to scaffold children’s learning through play opportunities based on our observations.”

And while adult involvement can be beneficial in certain types of dramatic play, Rowland Hall’s Beginning School teachers are also clear that children need access to unstructured, or open-ended, play.

“We strive to find a balance between structured and unstructured play experiences,” said Bethany. “It's important to us to be mindful of when children should be left to their play and when adult involvement and encouragement of specific types of play or skill practice is beneficial.”

Unstructured play among children helps them develop important social skills they’ll need for life, like teamwork, confidence, problem-solving, language development, self-control, and emotional regulation. Best of all, children don’t need much to make it happen: dramatic play requires minimal props and only a bit of space, whether it’s in a classroom or in an open area like a playground.

Two kindergarteners dramatic playing a checkup at the doctor.

Unstructured dramatic play helps children develop important social skills such as teamwork and problem-solving.

Dramatic play can also be encouraged in home spaces, further benefiting children. For parents and caregivers wishing to continue this kind of play outside of school hours, Gail and Mary gave the following tips:

  • Be a good listener to find out what interests your child.

  • Be open to joining dramatic play in a supportive role, but don’t direct it.

  • Remember that dramatic play only requires some space and minimal props—use what is available.

  • Read quality children’s literature to help give kids ideas.

Above all, they said, remember that children are natural storytellers—you can support them by simply being a good listener, and, most of all, by having fun.

Experiential Learning

First-grade teacher Susanna Mellor leading morning meeting.

On a Thursday in November, Susanna Mellor’s first-grade class was seated in a circle, ready to begin their morning meeting. That day, they started with a pinky greeting: everyone hooked fingers, forming a chain, and then Susanna turned to one of the students next to her. “Good morning, Thomas,” she began. The salutation passed around the circle, ending with a hearty, full-group welcome: “Good morning!”

Morning meeting is one of several practices recommended by Responsive Classroom, a student-centered approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) and effective classroom management. Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus explained that the division started utilizing Responsive Classroom in 2016 as a way to support Rowland Hall’s long-standing commitment to SEL, which is associated with higher academic achievement, improved teacher-student interactions, and higher-quality instruction.

Responsive Classroom gives teachers the tools to create truly joyful, safe, and inclusive classrooms. More importantly, it gives students more responsibility and ownership in the process of building a community of kindness, respect, and learning.—Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus

“Responsive Classroom gives teachers the tools to create truly joyful, safe, and inclusive classrooms that help our students thrive,” he said. “More importantly, it gives students more responsibility and ownership in the process of building a community of kindness, respect, and learning with their classmates.”

Morning meeting achieves this by engaging young learners in a welcoming atmosphere at the start of each school day. In addition to an inclusive greeting, the meeting includes a moment of sharing, a group activity, and a daily message. Whatever the day’s focus, teachers use the meeting to make sure each child is recognized and participating in the class.

“Responsive Classroom practices help build confidence and ease anxiety by fostering a sense of belonging and significance,” Susanna said. And, she added, as the school year progresses, its rewards multiply. “When they listen to each other, students feel that they matter. I see new friendships begin to bud, classmates work comfortably and easily together, and students take risks as they share ideas in class discussions.”

The Responsive Classroom Approach

Responsive Classroom, first developed by the Center for Responsive Schools in 1981, creates safe, nurturing learning environments through four key domains: engaging academics, positive community, effective management, and developmentally responsive teaching. Because Rowland Hall is focused on integrating SEL into our academic and co-curricular programs (we formally added it to goal 1 of our Strategic Plan in November 2018), incorporating Responsive Classroom into the Lower School curriculum was a logical choice. And it has made a difference.

“It's given our teachers more clarity and alignment when they consider how best to support students, structure learning activities, and promote positive behavior expectations,” Jij said. “Students, in turn, experience more consistency and are clear on why their actions matter for their own learning and for the learning of others.”

Rowland Hall is focused on integrating social and emotional learning into our academic and co-curricular programs; we even formally added it to goal 1 of our Strategic Plan in November 2018.

To drive student success, Responsive Classroom also emphasizes interactive modeling to teach the skills, strategies, and procedures that help kids thrive at school.

“Interactive modeling has made my classroom a more calm, efficient, and productive learning environment,” Susanna said. “When students watch and comment on what I do as I role-play a procedure, they actively deduce the steps by verbalizing them and listening to peers do the same. As a result, they have a firm and clear understanding when it comes time for them to begin the task at hand.”

Integrating Responsive Classroom into Established Practices

Responsive Classroom has helped Rowland Hall refocus many classroom practices toward the school’s overarching SEL goals. One example occurs at the beginning of each school year: developing classroom agreements. Unlike traditional lists of rules, classroom agreements are created in partnership, giving teachers and students buy-in on how their classrooms will run. While the agreements have been a part of the Lower School for many years, Responsive Classroom added another layer to the process.

“Using the Responsive Classroom approach has allowed my students to delve deeper into the process of exploring their own hopes and dreams, and how we can work as a group to help each other achieve our goals,” Susanna said. She explained that students become engaged, thoughtful, and passionate as they determine what will help them do things like learn how to read, try harder math problems, or even score soccer goals. “I notice students putting much more thought and reflection into this process, making it more meaningful and effective,” she said.

Collaborating on classroom agreements also makes it more likely that children will follow, and reference, those agreements during the school year.

“Students refer back to these agreements when obstacles arise and really demonstrate ownership of them,” said Susanna. “For example, when having a class discussion about erasers being damaged intentionally, several children commented, ‘That’s not following our agreement. We said we’d take care of our materials this year so that we could become better writers.’”

Susanna Mellor's class reads the morning message.

Morning meeting gives students an opportunity to revisit class agreements and reflect on how they can work together in support of classroom goals.

Classroom agreements are referenced regularly by instructors too. In Susanna’s morning meeting, for instance, students are asked which agreements they want to focus on and what actions they can take to make sure those agreements are honored. One student reminded classmates that they can meet their goal to keep calm in the classroom by walking; another observed that they can fulfill the agreement to try harder math problems by listening respectfully during instruction.

Using Responsive Classroom in New Ways

Responsive Classroom also inspires new methods to empower students. This fall, the Lower School used the foundation of classroom agreements in a new way: to create school-wide Winged Lion Agreements.

On September 6, 17 student delegates from grades one through five—one from each class—gathered in the McCarthey Campus parlor for the first-ever student constitutional convention. Delegates shared their classes’ newly developed classroom agreements with the group before beginning a discussion on agreements that could be applied to the whole school.

Student delegates created Winged Lion Agreements

Responsive Classroom helps educators look for ways to engage students in their school community. Above, the student delegates who helped craft the Lower School's first Winged Lion Agreements in September.

When students help make decisions about how the school runs, they understand their voices are valued and that they play a role in making school enjoyable for everyone.—Lower School Specialty Principal Linda Tatomer

Lower School Specialty Principal Linda Tatomer—who has completed all Responsive Classroom courses, including the Responsive Classroom for Leadership conference—led the discussion and was impressed by how the process unfolded. “When students help make decisions about how the school runs, they understand their voices are valued and that they play a role in making school enjoyable for everyone,” she said. “And because each student was a stakeholder in the convention’s outcome, they were serious about identifying meaningful goals.” She was also thrilled by the inclusion she saw in the room, especially by the way fifth graders mentored the first graders. “They really made connections and made them feel valued,” Linda said.

After thoughtful discussion, the group decided on five agreements for the year: 
    •    Be kind

    •    Respect

    •    Work hard and never give up

    •    Be safe

    •    Have fun

Each item was purposefully selected, down to exact words—for instance, the delegates chose the word “respect” because of its ability to encompass a wide range of areas, from personal behavior to how students should treat their surroundings.

Designing Better School Days with Responsive Classroom

Responsive Classroom further helps the Lower School team continuously reevaluate how to best meet students’ needs. One recent change to the school day occurred as a result of a February 2019 meeting with a Responsive Classroom consultant, who was sent to observe a full day at the school after Linda completed her training in the approach.

“One thing the consultant noticed was that our dining hall is very noisy,” Linda remembered. The consultant recommended a proven solution she thought would benefit the division: moving recess before lunch, an idea that the Lower School student support team had been considering for two years prior to the visit.

Lower School students on the playground.

In 2019, the Lower School moved recess from after to before lunch, resulting in school-wide behavior improvements.

“The change would have numerous benefits,” said Linda. “Children could focus on eating, noise would go down, and no one would be racing to get outside.” After presenting the idea to an enthusiastic Lower School faculty in the spring, Jij and Linda began working on making the change for the fall. When it was time to introduce the schedule adjustment to students during the second chapel of the year, Jij, Linda, and Chuck White, the McCarthey Campus emotional support counselor, were thoughtful in their approach, using a similar style students had already experienced in the classroom.

“We asked, ‘What should lunch feel and sound like?’” Linda said. The team also emphasized the why behind the discussion so students would understand both the reason for change and its related benefits. “We talked about how we can all follow agreements to make school more enjoyable for everyone,” Linda said.

Using a dining table that had been brought into the chapel, Jij, Linda, and Chuck then modeled for students proper lunch behavior: entering the dining hall respectfully, staying seated facing the table, and talking at an appropriate volume. Each child was also given the chance to practice at the table.

Children have adjusted well to the change, Linda said. It was, she explained, an extension of the discussions students have become accustomed to—and, importantly, it reminded them that they each play a part in creating a respectful, safe, and joyful school for all.

“I’m really proud of them,” she said.

Responsive Classroom Resources for Parents and Caregivers

Responsive Classroom has been an influential tool in helping Rowland Hall meet SEL goals in the Lower School. Because we are committed to partnering with parents and caregivers in their children’s education, we have made many Responsive Classroom materials available in the parent section of the McCarthey Campus’ Steiner Library for those who are interested in more information about the approach.


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