Learning By Doing

Experiential Learning at Its Best

At Rowland Hall, field studies 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 1–8 enjoy a variety of sports experiences for five weeks every January and February through the Winter Sports program. Overnight trips, beginning in Middle School, take our students on 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, the World Language Department, and the service-learning program also take advantage, when appropriate, of statewide, 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. Distinct from rote learning (where students are passive in the learning process), experiential learning develops new ways of thinking, persistence, and autonomous learning. Best of all, when students understand the relevance of what they're learning, they're more engaged.

School Trips

Middle School

  • Sixth grade: Weeklong Wasatch Adventure filled with paddling, rafting, climbing, and exploring in and around the Wasatch Front
  • Seventh Grade: Weeklong adventure with four nights at the Teton Science School in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
  • Eighth Grade: Nearly a week in Washington, DC, 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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Experiential Learning Stories from Fine Print Magazine

Two Rowland Hall fifth-grade interns welcome visitors to Grandparents Day 2023.

Signs of spring are beginning to show on the McCarthey Campus, which means people are already hard at work preparing for end-of-year festivities. What might be surprising, though, is that not all of these people are grown-ups.

This year, fifth-grade interns have been playing important roles in planning some of Rowland Hall’s most exciting events, including the upcoming Richard R. Steiner Campus groundbreaking and Lower School Spirit Game. But events aren't the only way fifth graders are making a difference. That’s because the 2023–2024 school year is the inaugural year of the 5-I Fifth-Grade Internship Program, a first-of-its-kind optional leadership program that connects fifth graders with McCarthey Campus staff, administrative, and leadership teams for a yearlong authentic learning experience in which students make real impact on campus.

The in-school 5-I Fifth-Grade Internship Program is designed to help fifth-grade leaders:
• Take initiative
• Individualize learning
• Develop interests
• Impact the community
• Be inspired

In this first year alone, the program’s 34 interns are supporting 19 departments and teams, making it difficult to find an area of the beginning and lower schools that students aren’t impacting. They’ve helped to plan, execute, and lead Community Sings, Roar and Soar assemblies, Grandparents Day, and Maker Night. They’ve observed teachers and supported younger students with their math, reading, and writing. They’ve welcomed prospective families on campus tours. They’ve surveyed their peers to learn what they want to see on the new campus. And they’ve provided necessary behind-the-scenes support, from sorting the mail to answering technology support tickets.

“I think it’s cool seeing how the school works,” said fifth grader Anna F., one of three interns who’s helped create Lower School Spirit Nights, new opportunities for lower schoolers to come together to cheer on the Winged Lions. Classmate Bergen S., one of two interns who assisted with Grandparents Day and is now weighing in on the upcoming Steiner Campus groundbreaking festivities, added, “It’s a really good learning experience. It’s nice to know how much people in the offices contribute to our daily lives.”

Beginning School and Lower School Assistant Principal Brittney Hansen ’02, who led the design and rollout of the 5-I program, knows this kind of opportunity is developmentally appropriate for fifth graders, and right in line with the school’s strategic priorities, which emphasize authentic learning that increases student choice and voice. As the oldest students in the division, fifth graders are ready to stretch their leadership skills while also exploring their budding interests. They want to put into practice their talents and knowledge to better their school. And they’re interested in what it’s like to have a job, with many ready to explore the type of right-fit challenges that internships provide—and which can help prepare them for the next stage of their education.

“We’re looking at the trajectory for what they’ll need by middle school,” said Brittney. “What skills do they need to be successful?”

Photos by Charlie P., marketing and communication intern

And because Brittney and the Lower School principals team wanted to emphasize the real-world nature of the program, they kicked it off with an application process that echoes what students may one day see when applying for positions outside of school. Prospective interns were asked to write essays explaining why they wanted to join the program, what they hoped to learn, why they were strong candidates, and any areas of the school in which they’d like to work and why. They also needed a parent or guardian signature, as well as a letter of recommendation from an adult who wasn’t a relative or homeroom teacher because, as Brittney explained, “We wanted to give the kids practice in appropriately asking a grown-up for help in completing an application process.”

Building these kinds of life skills is important to the 5-I experience. “This program builds skills that are hard to learn in a classroom or traditional curriculum, like writing a professional email and responding in a timely way, or writing thank-you notes to express gratitude for someone giving their time to you,” said Brittney. Students also had to take on responsibility for their applications; although plenty of grown-ups were on hand to provide support and guidance, applicants were in charge of ensuring that their essays and other materials were completed and turned in on time. But the fifth graders weren’t deterred.

“I always get my work done and never say no to a little challenge,” read one aspiring intern’s essay. Another shared, “I am a hard worker. I always take my best shot at every challenge that comes my way.”

Thirty-four fifth graders—more than half of the class—submitted applications in which they made clear their excitement for this new opportunity.

And though the idea of the 5-I program had been met with enthusiasm by fifth graders, Brittney didn’t expect a big group for the first year (she originally envisioned a pilot program of 12 participants). However, 34 fifth graders—more than half the class—submitted applications in which they made clear their excitement for this new opportunity. Since October, these interns have been hard at work, connecting with mentors monthly and taking on tasks across campus that both teach them how the school runs and help them learn more about themselves.

For Anna, one of the interns behind Lower School Spirit Nights, a major takeaway from the program (so far) is an understanding of the effort it takes to transform big-picture brainstorming into a real community event. “It’s important because kids see how much work and effort go into major events, from thinking big to making it happen,” said Anna. She also shared how exciting it’s been for students to have a hand in creating school events. “It’s not a little bubble; it’s more real-world scenarios,” she said. “It really improves teamwork, and trying hard, and dedication.”

It also improves connections across grades. Fifth grader Katie P., one of two interns for the Student Support Team, gives mini lessons to kindergartners and third graders every week and is learning that working with kids is one of her passions. “​​It’s fun. We get to have a different experience every time,” she said. And as a longtime Rowland Hall student, Katie can also apply her own experiences to this work. “I remember when I was that young,” she said. “I remember when I was so confused or when I understood things.” By tapping into what helped her, she’s making concepts easier for students and building connections, especially with the third graders. 

Importantly, 5-I also helps interns learn the value of their voices. Bergen, one of the interns who helped plan this year’s Grandparents Day, shared that he helped write the program script in collaboration with intern Zoe Y. and under the guidance of Associate Director of Alumni and Donor Engagement Marc DeCoste, and that being a part of that process was really fun. “They listened to me and asked me to contribute my ideas,” he said. Additionally, using the script to welcome visitors to campus for the event boosted Bergen’s public-speaking confidence. “I never spoke to a group that large before,” he said. “I felt like I knew what I was doing.”

These benefits go both ways. Adult mentors across campus are full of stories about how wonderful it’s been to have the interns’ support. Director of Enrollment Management Shuja Khan, for one, said his intern, Mila P., greatly benefited his team during the admission season, when she helped build the Rowland Hall community by giving time during recess every Tuesday morning for 12 weeks to welcome prospective families to campus. “Every family was surprised and happy to see her,” said Shuja. “Parents have so many interactions with teachers, administrators, and other parents, but it’s harder to have authentic interactions with kids.”

And Mila’s willingness to share her own experiences opened opportunities for Shuja and his team to have deeper discussions with families about curriculum and the school’s strategic vision. The Admission Office is so impressed they're already thinking about how they can expand opportunities for next year’s interns—and they’re not alone. Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey, whose team is supporting three interns, also looks forward to the future of 5-I.

Photos by Charlie P., marketing and communication intern

“This is a fantastic program,” said Patrick. “It’s a way for students to connect outside the classroom with people like me that they wouldn’t ordinarily connect with, and see other sides of the school that they would never see otherwise.” As a result, many members of the staff, especially those who don’t regularly interact with students, feel a deeper commitment to Rowland Hall’s vision. “It’s a more direct path to the why behind the work we do each day,” added Brittney.

This internship program is one example of how we're thinking creatively about learning.—Brittney Hansen ’02, Beginning School and Lower School assistant principal

It’s also a rewarding way for staff to see firsthand how authentic learning successfully builds skills and confidence in students, and helps those students actually see themselves as problem solvers and critical thinkers. For Patrick, who’s watched his team’s interns blossom as they’ve taken on tasks such as basic troubleshooting, running a light board, and beta testing software, this is the ultimate end product for a school.

“I have three students now who can troubleshoot classroom tech for teachers,” he said. “Kids are talking about it all the time when they go home; they’re really jazzed about it. There’s no cost but extremely high reward for students who participate. It’s a huge win for the school in my book.”

And it’s already promising to become a top experience for Rowland Hall’s fifth graders (younger students are even asking when it’ll be their turn to intern). Brittney said she could see it turning into a capstone-like project for this grade, marking the end of their Lower School careers—and serving as just one example of the exceptional outcomes of a Rowland Hall education.

“The Lower School team really does take the work of providing authentic learning experiences seriously and in a way that’s appropriate for our young learners,” said Brittney. “This internship program is one example of how we're thinking creatively about learning, in the broad sense, on this campus.”

Authentic Learning

Banner photo: Interns Zoe Y. and Bergen S. welcome visitors to Grandparents Day.

Three Rowland Hall seventh graders work on an invasive species bug trap.

Utah has seen an influx of new residents in recent years—and not all of them have been welcomed with open arms.

Balsam woolly adelgids, fox squirrels, field bindweed, quagga mussels, and other invasive species have found comfortable homes in the state, and in some cases have made life difficult for native species by competing with them for limited resources. It’s a real problem, and it recently presented a perfect project-based learning opportunity for students in the seventh grade. Science teacher Lindsay Mackintosh challenged her students to use skills from across the curriculum to find a solution and put it into action—and maybe even impress scientists working in the field.

“The students designed and built traps to capture invasive insect species, and help ecosystems be more biodiverse by limiting their impact,” said Lindsay. “This required them to explore engineering concepts to research, build, and revise their traps.”

Engineering helps students become problem solvers and think critically..—Lindsay Mackintosh, seventh-grade science teacher

Engineering may appear to be an advanced topic for seventh graders, but these kids were up to the challenge. It all comes down to problem solving in a methodical way, while at the same time considering numerous possibilities. That’s why increasing engineering opportunities is expressly mentioned in the school’s strategic priorities.

“In making these traps they had to consider some constraints but also had freedom to be creative,” Lindsay said. “Engineering helps students become problem solvers and think critically.”

Research was the first order of business for the students, as all bugs can’t be caught the same way. “We had to do a lot of research so we could engineer the trap around the bug,” said seventh grader Atticus P., whose group chose the elm seed bug as their target. “We had to figure out, What does it eat? Where does it live?, and other things like that so we could catch it.”

The design and build process came next, with students doing multiple concept sketches and revisions before building their first prototype. There were lots of different factors to consider when coming up with designs. Students only had ten dollars total to spend on materials for their traps, and that wasn’t the only practical concern facing them.

A group of Rowland Hall middle schoolers collaborate on their invasive bug trap project.

“We had to think about where we would put it,” said seventh grader Ben D. “We had to think about how it would be sustainable so the wind or rain wouldn’t destroy it. We had to think about so many different things when creating a good and effective trap.”

Once the first prototypes were built most students found themselves going back to the drawing board. While that may have been frustrating for some, it was a valuable lesson that engineering is not a linear process. “Some groups had to make drastic changes when they saw their first prototype,” said Lindsay. “It was interesting to see them walk through this process and decide what changes they want to make.”

We took our mistakes, and we turned it into something better.—Harper J., class of 2029

“Our prototype was trash. It was really bad,” said seventh grader Harper J., who was in a group chasing down Japanese beetles. “We used Saran wrap to keep them from getting out, but it was too sticky, so we switched that out to mesh. We took our mistakes, and we turned it into something better.”

Students started their bug studies at the beginning of the school year, perfecting them by mid-November. Then it was time to present their inventions to scientists from the University of Utah who study invasive species. This is when they learned that you can have a great idea, but that might not matter if you don’t know how to communicate it. Presentation preparation built upon lessons the students had already learned as part of their writing curriculum, and seventh-grade English teacher Jill Gerber helped them apply those skills to the science realm.“We talk a lot about task, audience, and purpose in class,” said Jill. “That’s what they had to do here. Identify their key points and have a clear idea and message going into the presentations so their audience would come away understanding their content.”

This shift from focusing on their content to focusing on how the audience received it meant the students had to change the way they viewed the project. While they had a wealth of information about their bugs, the invasive species problem, and their design and construction process, all of that data could now be a hindrance to clearly and succinctly communicating their message.

“Our goal was to tell everyone how the trap worked, and what the purpose of the trap was, and how we would get the bugs to the trap,” said seventh grader Stella O. “We had to take a lot of information about the bugs out because the main purpose of the presentation was talking about the trap.”

In the end the presentations were successful, and the students not only got to show off their work, but also interact with working scientists. Additionally, they got a deeper understanding of how all learning is connected and, when used together, is greater than the sum of its parts: problem-solving skills learned in the science classroom can be applied to other subjects, and communication skills from English can be used to get messages across in any field. It’s a kind of understanding that’s already gone far beyond this fall project, continuing to benefit students in the second half of the year—and will undoubtedly continue to do so beyond seventh grade.

“Layering skills and concepts is something I know we all try to do,” said Lindsay. “That way we are giving students skills that are transferable and can be used across the curriculum and outside the classroom.”

It all adds up to creating people the world needs, whether they are building bug traps to combat invasive species or shaping solutions to the world’s hardest problems.

Authentic Learning

Rowland Hall fifth graders gather on the banks of the Salt Lake Valley's Jordan River.

Tribulus terrestris is a deceptively lovely plant.

It fans out across surfaces with delicate fern-like leaves and, when in full bloom, displays tiny and charming yellow flowers.

Under the surface, though, this plant is a nightmare. More commonly known by names like goathead, tackweed, devil’s weed, and puncturevine, it has learned to adapt to almost any environment, pushing out native plants in its wake. It also has a myriad of defenses, making it hard to kill. Students in Rowland Hall’s fifth grade can tell you all about it. The first problem? The thorns.

“The thorns can get stuck in tires and shoes and all sorts of things,” said fifth grader August P. “It was sharp enough that it would just go through your gloved hands when you were pulling it. It went through the trash bags too.”

Hannah Blomgren got the fifth graders involved in puncturevine eradication efforts after seeing the vine’s damage on the trails along the river and realizing how perfectly the situation illustrated lessons she was teaching about the problem of invasive plants in Utah.

The roots also pose an issue. They go deep into the soil and spread around the plant in all directions. “You have to get all the roots,” said Katie P. “If you leave any of the puncturevine it’s going to regrow. It’s hard to pull it all out. Some of them were very heavy and bigger than they looked.”

The students battled the prolific and hazardous weed this fall as part of the Jordan River Commission’s puncturevine eradication efforts. Science Specialist Hannah Blomgren got the fifth graders involved after seeing the vine’s damage on the trails along the river and realizing how perfectly the situation illustrated lessons she was teaching about the problem of invasive plants in Utah.

“In fifth grade, we talk about what plants need to survive, and how invasive species use up the nutrients native plants need,” Hannah said. “We also discuss the environmental impacts involved, like erosion, especially in river areas.”

So in late September, the grade headed to Jordan Park on the west side of Salt Lake City to help remove the vines from fields and riverbanks. While working to pull the puncturevine, the students quickly learned that the tools provided to them (basic two-prong weed pullers) were not up to the task. “We noticed seeds were being left behind,” said Freya S. “We needed a machine that would pull out the roots, but then vacuum up the seeds too.”

Rowland Hall fifth graders show puncturevine gathered from trails around the Jordan River.

Fifth graders show off massive puncturevine growths gathered on a soccer field near the Jordan River.

Luckily for the students, TREC (technology, robotics, engineering, coding) teacher Kaelis Sandstrom had joined them for their field trip and was ready to help them design better tools for the job. After returning to campus, the students were given class time to build their own. Using LEGOs and basic building materials, the kids built models of their ideal puncturevine pullers. Groups came up with lots of ideas, like a puncturevine-sensing drone that could destroy the weed on sight, or a robot that looked like a small animal but was designed low to the ground to successfully get under the vines and pull them out. Since coming back from the field trip, the students have continued working on these designs in the TREC Lab on campus, working through design issues and developing new prototypes. 

They’re taking on the engineering process. They are learning you can build something really cool in a short amount of time, but in order for something to be lasting and useful, it takes time and work. And they’re learning that they can take on local problems here in Utah.—Kaelis Sandstrom, TREC teacher

“They’re taking on the engineering process,” Kaelis said. “They are learning you can build something really cool in a short amount of time, but in order for something to be lasting and useful, it takes time and work. And they’re learning that they can take on local problems here in Utah.”

Community engagement was a big reason for getting the students involved in the puncturevine eradication efforts. Part of Rowland Hall’s first strategic priority is about cultivating community partnerships, and the students did just that in a part of the city many had not visited before.

“We wanted to tie this into the idea of all of us being a part of a community or an ecosystem,” said fifth-grade teacher Samantha Hemphill. “One area where they were working was a soccer field, and so pulling out the puncturevine and helping the people who would play there made it feel important.”

In addition to the time spent working, the students also got to spend time exploring the International Peace Gardens, a site on the banks of the Jordan River that features different areas devoted to the diverse populations that call Utah home. Fifth-grade teacher Rachel Slivnick said the visit highlighted lessons the kids were learning in social studies at that time.

“We had talked a lot about the idea of windows and mirrors, learning about how their cultures can be both a window into a different way of life and also a mirror that reflects your own values and the things that are important to you,” said Rachel. “So, at the International Peace Gardens, it was almost like a scavenger hunt or a treasure hunt, identifying what makes cultures unique and how students could relate to them.”

The students aren’t done with their work along the Jordan River. In the spring they plan to return, not to pull out plants but to place new ones. They will be planting trees in the area along with their kindergarten buddies. And their impacts on the community go beyond the banks of the river. You see, puncturevine has a bounty on its leaves, and the students received two dollars a pound for the plants they pulled. A grand total of $204 will be donated to the school on their behalf, and they have lots of ideas on how it could be used.

“Maybe they use some of it for the new Upper School,” said fifth-grader Aster S.

Tribulus terrestris is a terrible plant, but Rowland Hall’s fifth grade may have helped stop its spread. At the same time, the lessons they learned planted seeds that have already grown roots, sprouted, and will continue to grow for years to come.


Rowland Hall ninth graders hike Utah's Uinta Mountains near Camp Roger.

Kicked off in 2013, the annual ninth-grade Camp Roger trip is a special experience for the newest members of the Upper School community.

Camp Roger, which took the place of the annual Southern Utah trip led by the late Peter Hayes, offers ninth graders an unforgettable chance to come together in a natural setting to learn and build community as they establish connections and bonds they’ll carry through their Upper School experiences.

The Camp Roger itinerary was revised to better complement the ninth-grade curriculum, to emphasize points of connection among students and teachers, to strengthen the place-space aspect of the experience, and to add opportunities to break down learning silos, enabling learners to find connections among subjects and apply them to real-world scenarios.

And while Camp Roger has long been a thoughtful opportunity to build on on-campus learning and community, this year a group of Rowland Hall educators—Rob Wilson (biology/climate studies), Ben Smith (computer science), Ryan Hoglund (ethical education), Joel Long (English/creative writing), and Laura Meyer (science)—came together to find ways to further strengthen the experience for students.

Thanks to the generosity of the school’s Bamberger grant program, sponsored by the Ruth Eleanor Bamberger and John Ernest Bamberger Memorial Foundation as a way to support teachers’ professional growth over the summer, the group spent time in summer 2023 rethinking the Camp Roger trip itinerary. They revised it to better complement the ninth-grade curriculum and emphasized points of connection among students and teachers, as well as the place-space aspect of the experience—the idea that what students learn in school is relevant in where they live. They also looked for further opportunities to break down learning silos, enabling learners to better find connections among a variety of subjects and to apply them to real-world scenarios

Among the outcomes of this work was a 38-page field notes document that guided this year’s experience, housing not only the trip’s lessons, schedules, and group duties, but also space in which students could record thoughts and observations as they made their way through seven rotations that built both hard skills and self-understanding—areas they’ll need as they continue to identify and build on their individual strengths, develop their voices, and find their leadership skills.

Below, three ninth graders share their reflections on their Camp Roger experiences. Responses have been lightly edited.

Rowland Hall students learning on the banks of the Provo River.

Ninth graders enjoying a rotation about stream flow on the bank of the Provo River. This year's rotations were cartography, hiking, timber cruising, water flow, team building, EARTH, and watercolor. Enjoy more Camp Roger photos in this year's Beyond the Classroom story.

Much of the Camp Roger experience is about building community with other Upper School students. What moments from camp were especially important to you when it came to building community and how do you think those moments will play a role during your time in the Upper School?

“Moments from camp that helped build the community in Upper School for me were being in a cabin with people that I haven’t spent too much time with and might not have gotten to know without sharing a cabin with them. The talent show as well helped build community because we were all just there to share with people and have a good time. These moments will play a role throughout Upper School by improving relationships and memories between people. We now all have memories that we all share with each other and can remember or discuss.”
– Mina Granger

“Some moments from camp that were especially important to me when it came to building community happened during our recreation time, when we were done with everything we had to do for the day and we could all just have fun with each other. I think these moments will play an important role in my time in the Upper School in the way that my community sees me, because I feel like they taught everyone a lot about me, and me a lot about them.”
– Grey Obermark

“It showed who would stay with you up in the middle of nowhere with only a volleyball, a bed, and bad food. I love that it shows people what you're made of—doesn't matter if you're a frequent camper or a first timer, the mental challenges/stress is hard for everyone. It allows you to be closer. I said things up there to people I had only known in the past few minutes that I wouldn't dare to down here.”
– Jacob Gerhardt

How did your Camp Roger experience teach you to think beyond first impressions? How will you apply this to your learning this year?

“This trip has taught me that you should always consider the bigger picture and impact everything has, rather than focusing on the object or person in one part. This will help me in the future by making me look at many different and close details in classwork and allow me to see the whole picture as well as small parts of that picture.”
– Mina Granger

“It changed how I see water. A lot more water goes down that stream every second than I thought.”
– Jacob Gerhardt

How did you surprise yourself at Camp Roger? What did you learn in that moment and what did it teach you about who you are as a person, learner, and community member?

“During Camp Roger I didn’t feel too well and got pretty sick, but I surprised myself by still going on the hike even though I wasn’t feeling up to it. It showed me perseverance in a harder time for me and I eventually did accomplish it proving that I can accomplish hard things and I shouldn’t give up just because of an inconvenience.”
– Mina Granger

“I surprised myself at Camp Roger because I realized how much nature was in my day to day life. I spent so much of my time at the start of the trip paying attention to myself that I almost forgot to pay attention to the world around me. But when I finally did, it was beautiful. Nature tends to really surprise you like that. It taught me that maybe I needed to look around more, that maybe there were more things to learn about the world than what I’d like to see, and that maybe my community isn’t as different from me as I might have thought.”
– Grey Obermark

“It taught me it doesn't always have to be your friends, or in my case, my brother, that I hang out with. Everyone here is a spectacular person that you could talk to, no matter what age, for hours on end.”
– Jacob Gerhardt


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