Developing Strengths

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STEM in the Middle School

Middle School STEM subjects help our active learners take their problem-solving skills to the next level.

Sixth graders study life science and physical science, including air quality and other relevant local topics. Seventh grade covers earth science and physical science, and students travel to the Teton Science School in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to learn about the ecosystem and outdoor exploration. Eighth grade presents a survey of physical sciences and scientific processes with an emphasis on hands-on experimentation, analytical thinking and problem solving, and development of technical communication skills.

Middle School math topics range from pre-algebra to geometry. Students hone problem-solving strategies through mathematical investigations. They analyze real-life situations and study how those situations can be modeled by linear, inverse, exponential, or quadratic relationships. Recognizing patterns, defining and manipulating variables, collecting and graphing data, and predicting outcomes are all central to the curriculum.

Sixth graders take Foundations of Computer Science, which culminates in the design of a game or an interactive story. STEM electives available for seventh and eighth graders include Computer Science, Robotics, and Make Club.

Middle School STEM Activities

Aviation simlulator

High-fives complete the circuit using MaKeyMaKey controllers and the Scratch programming language.

High-fives complete the circuit using MaKeyMaKey controllers and the Scratch programming language.

Experimenting with physics concepts including friction, velocity, and Newton's Laws of Motion. 

Testing the strength of structures.

Testing structural hypothesis

Maker class

Maker class

STEM Education Across All Grade Levels

Personalized Attention

Middle School student and teacher chatting.

Our Middle School has an average class size of 16 students. Every child is well-known and supported in the ways that best meet their needs.

Middle School STEM Stories in Fine Print Magazine

Sophie Zheng with her Maryam Mirzakhani AMC 10 Award

On March 5, Rowland Hall eighth grader Sophie Zheng learned that she had earned an inaugural Maryam Mirzakhani AMC 10 Award for her January 30 performance on the American Mathematics Competition (AMC) 10 exam, an optional test designed to promote the development and enhancement of problem-solving skills for students in tenth grade and below.

The inaugural Maryam Mirzakhani AMC 10 Award was awarded to only 149 young women out of 36,000 AMC 10 competitors across the United States.

Named after the late Maryam Mirzakhani—an International Mathematical Olympiad gold medalist and the first woman honored with the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics—this prize was given to only 149 young women out of 36,000 AMC 10 competitors across the United States. Sophie was one of six top-scoring female students in the Mathematical Association of America’s (MAA) Intermountain Section, which covers Utah and part of Idaho.

Earning the Mirzakhani award feels extra special to Sophie, who grew up around the campus of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, when Mirzakhani was a faculty member at neighboring Princeton University.

“Winning the award makes me feel like I’ve truly met her now,” said Sophie.

In addition to earning her the Mirzakhani award, Sophie’s score on this year’s AMC 10 also qualified her for the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME), the next level of AMC competition. Sophie was one of four Rowland Hall students, and the youngest, who took the AIME this year. Upper School math teacher Adella Croft, who proctors AMC exams at the school, wasn’t surprised to learn of Sophie’s accomplishments. She believes that anyone who watches her work can see her passion.

“One of the things that I think characterizes Sophie is just the sheer joy she takes in doing mathematics,” Adella said. “She has so much fun with it; she makes it look effortless.”

I enjoy the exhilarating moment when an equation starts fitting together into a sudden revelation.—Sophie Zheng

This may, in part, be tied to how mathematics knits together Sophie’s love for both the creative and the analytical.

“I have always seen myself as an artist, taking on piano, drawing, and origami, but now math is a new aspect incorporated into my life,” she explained. “I enjoy the exhilarating moment when an equation starts fitting together into a sudden revelation. I find math hidden in nature’s beauty: recursion in the trees, the curve of bird wings. These intricate mathematical patterns can also bring a whole new inspiration and style when creating art and origami.”

Her passion for mathematics at such a young age both underscores Sophie’s promise in the field and serves as an inspirational example of girls’ strength in STEM. The MAA hopes that publicizing such examples will encourage more girls to get involved with opportunities like competitive exams. Here at Rowland Hall, Sophie is already doing her part to encourage others in math—she’s a charismatic leader who happily mentors peers in class and at Math Club meetings, Adella said. Sophie added that this support works both ways: Rowland Hall offers a welcome and hardworking family that has supported her journey—one that she hopes will echo Maryam Mirzakhani’s.

“I hope in the future to not only be recognized among females, but in the whole community of competition math, as she was,” Sophie said.

We can’t wait to see what else you achieve, Sophie. Congratulations on this exciting and impressive accomplishment!

STEM

Rowland Hall's 2020 American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME) qualifiers

For three hours on March 11, four exceptional Rowland Hall mathematicians—juniors Zach Benton and Yuchen Yang, freshman Zach Klein, and eighth grader Sophie Zheng—were in the Eccles Library, focused on the 15 problems that made up this year’s American Invitational Mathematics Examination.

The AMC 10 and AMC 12 are optional mathematical exams designed to promote the development and enhancement of students’ problem-solving skills. Each test is 75 minutes long and consists of 25 multiple-choice questions. The AMC 10 is offered to students in 10th grade and below, while the AMC 12 is offered to students in 12th grade and below. AMC 10/12 qualifiers are invited to take the AIME, a three-hour exam that consists of 15 questions, with each answer an integer number between 0 to 999.

Known to test takers as simply the AIME, this exam is offered to students who excel at the American Mathematics Competition (AMC) 10 or AMC 12 exams (see sidebar). According to the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), which creates the AMC exams, approximately the top 2.5% of scorers on the AMC 10 and the top 5% of scorers on the AMC 12 qualify to take the AIME.

“The fact that we had four students from Rowland Hall take the AIME is extraordinary,” said Upper School math teacher Adella Croft. In fact, this is the largest number of AIME qualifiers in Rowland Hall history. (It’s also worth noting that Nathan Zhou, who took the AIME at Rowland Hall on March 11, attended the school last year and was coached with the other qualifiers.)

“The AIME is about mathematics beyond the classroom, about kids’ ability to be creative,” Adella explained. “And it’s typically non-traditional problem-solving—it’s very clever, sometimes even humorous. It’s cool.”

The MAA points out a variety of exam benefits, from helping students develop positive attitudes toward analytical thinking and mathematics that can assist in future careers, to challenging them with interesting questions that align with what they’re learning in school. But to be prepared for this level of competition, students must be willing to devote hours outside of class to studying topics like number theory, set theory, geometry, and probability. Rowland Hall students also meet weekly for Math Club and with coach Hiram Golze, one of Adella’s former students and a one-time USA Mathematical Olympiad qualifier (the Mathematical Olympiad is the next level of competition for top AIME scorers). Adella likened these preparatory measures to violin soloists who devote hours each day to mastering their instrument. “This is like taking math to the level of an artist,” she said.

And it’s that devotion to mathematical proficiency that truly motivates these students. While earning as high a score as they can on the AIME is always a goal, it’s clear there’s much more to the experience than that. These exams, taken by some of the brightest young mathematicians in the world, are extremely difficult—in 2006, for example, 22,764 students sat for the AIME and earned an average score of 2.741 out of 15 points (and only four students had a perfect score that year). In 2019, the average score was 5.87. But rather than discouraging them, the difficulty drives the Rowland Hall students toward their individual bests, helping them sharpen problem-solving skills, embrace hard work, and enjoy pursuing knowledge for its own sake—skills that will serve them for life.

It is a persistence exercise. They do it in absolute silence and isolation, pitting their mental faculties against each problem.—Upper School math teacher Adella Croft

“It is a persistence exercise,” said Adella. “It’s too bad it’s not a spectator sport because these are as competitive performers as any. They do it without an audience. They do it in absolute silence and isolation, pitting their mental faculties against each problem. They’re resilient, they’re passionate, they’re driven, they’re fearless.”

And they’re also not letting social distancing stop them. Each week, the students are meeting virtually for tutoring and for Math Club—amazingly, as a bigger group.

“It’s growing!” Adella said, noting that after she sent an email to students about ways to participate in Math Club during distance learning, she received several replies from kids who were interested in joining for the first time.

“Beyond finding a way, it’s spreading. It’s infectious in a good way,” she laughed.

STEM

Due to COVID-19, the MAA has put an indefinite hold on all aspects of the AMC program, including postponing until further notice competitions and the scheduled grading session. We will update this story with news as it becomes available.

In the meantime, if you’re curious about what the AIME looks like, visit Art of Problem Solving. They create test prep resources for math exams and offer a collection of past AIME questions and answers.


Top photo, from left, standing: Yuchen Yang, Nathan Zhou, Sophie Zheng, Zach Klein, and Hiram Golze. From left, seated: Adella Croft and Zach Benton.

Four students sitting around their teacher, learning about computers and circuits.

After years of watching CSforAll Summit videos online, Rowland Hall alumnus and computer science teacher Ben Smith ’89 is elated to attend the national conference in person: the third-annual event is happening October 21–23 here in Salt Lake City, at the University of Utah.

In conjunction with the summit, CSforAll asks participants to make a specific commitment to support the ultimate goal of “making high-quality computer science an integral part of the educational experience of all K–12 students and teachers.” Accordingly, Rowland Hall is committing to increase girls’ participation in computer science to more closely mirror the school's demographics. 

Read on for a Q&A with Ben about that commitment, the summit, and why this matters to Rowland Hall.

Graphic: Rowland Hall commits to increasing the participation of girls in computer science.

Who from Rowland Hall is attending the CSforAll Summit?  

I’m going with Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey and Director of Technology Integration Christian Waters. It’s Rowland Hall’s first time sending anyone. The summit was originally held in the Obama White House for the first few years, and now it travels to a new city each year. This is a great opportunity to have this event in our hometown, very close to the school.

The summit is the one place each year that focuses on equity, inclusion, and access to CS for all students, a goal that Rowland Hall and the computer science program have been dedicated to for quite some time.—Computer Science teacher Ben Smith ’89

Why are you excited to attend the summit?

I’m a member of the CSforAll teacher community, and I watch the announcements and videos coming out of the summit each year. The summit is the one place each year that focuses on equity, inclusion, and access to CS for all students, a goal that Rowland Hall and the computer science program have been dedicated to for quite some time.

Why did we set a broad commitment, as opposed to a narrow one (for instance, “launch a coding camp”)?

We wanted a commitment that each division and each teacher could adopt, even if the method by which they accomplish it varies based on circumstances. Perhaps one division could pursue integrating CS into all science and math classrooms, thereby reaching all students, while another one might make a concerted effort at recruitment strategies, and another might reconfigure the course offerings or schedule to accommodate CS for all students.

What do you hope to get out of the conference that will help us reach our goal?

I hope to hear from people about structures, innovative strategies, and methods for making our commitment possible. There are some important topics at the conference, such as "Teaching Ethics and Social Impacts of Computing in K–12 CS," "Building a Supportive Pathway for Girls in CS, Engineering, and Beyond," and "Inspiring Engagement through Popular Culture and Media."

What has our male/female CS participation looked like in the past several years?

We’ve tracked participation in tech and CS classes in the Middle School and Upper School for six years. In both divisions, we’ve moved the needle for girls participating in CS classes closer to our school demographics (which are roughly 50/50), with the Middle School reaching a high in 2017 of 40% participation by girls. This year, the Advanced Placement CS courses in the Upper School have 60% girls—a majority for the first time at Rowland Hall. We still have challenges with the competing interests of sports, theater, dance, and music on students’ schedules, as CS is not a required course. What’s impressive is that we’ve been able to consciously and successfully close the gap for girls, though we still need to look at students of color and other demographic factors.

Add anything else you think is important.

Rowland Hall's CS, engineering, and STEM program has grown immensely in the last six years, and we’re on the precipice of changes and adoption at all divisions.

STEM

Student in science lab

Last fall, Rowland Hall first graders tackled a mystery in the science lab: how could two islands on either side of the world have the same tree growing on them?

As part of a unit on seeds and trees, students suggested an explanation for this phenomenon, and then followed clues to determine whether their explanation was plausible. Carly Biedul—who served as the long-term science substitute teacher during Kirsten Walker's maternity leave and continues to teach the first- and second-grade science labs—was impressed with the students' engagement. "It was awesome to see how the first graders kept changing their answer the more and more they learned about seeds," she said. She explained that this lesson taught students about more than seed dispersal: it showed them that it's okay if your first answer to a problem is wrong because scientific study entails gathering evidence and then refining your answer based on what you learn.

Kids are the scientists now, and teachers are the facilitators. —Molly Lewis, sixth-grade science teacher

Over the past four years, Rowland Hall has been examining and refining the ways we teach science, largely in service of the Strategic Plan's second goal: provide the Intermountain West's most outstanding math and science program. While division-specific and developmentally appropriate, these curricular changes all have one thing in common: students are spending more time in class—and hopefully outside class too—engaging in the behaviors of science. They are conducting more lab experiments, which involve asking questions, making observations, collecting data, and forming and revising arguments. Teachers are often using the universal framework of claim-evidence-reasoning to guide their lessons, which fosters the kind of critical thinking that students can apply in any field.

In kindergarten through eighth grade, Rowland Hall's science curriculum now aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which emphasize inquiry-based learning and making connections across scientific domains. The vision outlined in the NGSS is one where students are empowered to lead their own scientific discoveries, and sixth-grade science teacher Molly Lewis wholeheartedly supports it.

"Kids are the scientists now," she said, "and teachers are the facilitators." Whether directing a lab experiment about human vision—having students identify the limitations of their eyesight in certain circumstances, such as a dark room—or exploring the relationship between the form and function of red blood cells, Molly is happy to let the students take risks and posit theories that might initially be ill-founded. "We're giving them meaningful context instead of just abstract ideas, and then teaching them the skills necessary to discover what's true or what they can prove."

In the Middle School and the Lower School, phenomena—like the trees and their traveling seeds, or fossils found in sedimentary rocks—are being used to draw students into the practice of inquiry. The Lower School also has several new units that integrate science and literacy, laying the groundwork for more in-depth experiments in the science lab. The Beginning School, meanwhile, builds foundational skills with activities such as daffodil painting and dissection.

For Upper School Science Department Chair Alisa Poppen, the skills and concepts learned through lab work are essential, and her department recently acquired some new sensors and probes necessary for proper data collection. Echoing Molly, Alisa said, "We are using labs to build models rather than simply confirm ideas. We are focused on the behaviors of scientists, and understanding that science is not a collection of facts but rather a series of practices."

We are using labs to build models rather than simply confirm ideas. We are focused on the behaviors of scientists, and understanding that science is not a collection of facts but rather a series of practices. —Alisa Poppen, Upper School science department chair

While the Upper School curriculum is focused on moving toward lab-based Advanced Topics courses—rather than using the NGSS as their guide—Alisa is thrilled at the prospect of students entering ninth-grade science with an excellent foundation in the claim-evidence-reasoning framework. Furthermore, she sees additional lab time creating an upswing in student engagement, much like Carly observed in first grade.

Teachers and administrators will continue to observe how students perform in science classrooms—and, like good scientists, they will refine their practices based on the data they collect. Ultimately, Rowland Hall remains committed to providing students with the best possible learning experience. New Middle School science teacher Melissa Sharp hopes that by increasing students' enthusiasm for science, their learning experience will carry over into after-school hours too. "I want them to get into the car and ask their parents about genetics, and say, 'Mom, let me see your thumb!'" she said. "Or they might watch football and think about concussions, wondering what is happening in terms of neuroscience."

What it boils down to for everyone teaching science at Rowland Hall, including Melissa: "I want students to embrace the identity of a scientist."

STEM

Aviation Curriculum and Culture Takes Off Under Direction of Retired Navy Pilot

Pilots have the greatest office in the world. It's one of the simple-yet-effective pitches from Middle School teacher Bill Tatomer to pique interest in aviation.

At Rowland Hall, interests are piqued. Middle schoolers pack Bill's aviation electives. Upper schoolers recently started a lively Aviation Club. One recent alumnus—Davis Kahler '17—is studying at Westminster College to become a pilot, and some current students want to follow suit.

Bill's matter-of-fact passion for aviation helps to sell the subject. Beyond the incredible view from the "office," flying is just fun, the retired US Navy pilot said. "You're flying different profiles with different people, seeing different places," he said. "The dynamic environment made for a wonderful profession." Even his old uniform, a green flight suit, still brings him joy. "I miss wearing this pretty much every day because it's so darn comfortable," he said on Halloween, clad in the coveralls as an easily accessible costume.

Bill flew planes in the Navy for 22 years before retiring in 2007. Like so many former military pilots, he planned to become a commercial airline pilot. But he sought to reverse his career trend of spending about 40% of his time away from his two daughters and wife Linda, now the Lower School specialty principal. After Bill's final military tour in Hawaii, the family returned to Bill and Linda's former home of Salt Lake City. Bill landed a coaching job at Rowland Hall while he waited to interview with the airlines. Then, former Middle School Principal Stephen Bennhoff offered him a long-term maternity substitute position for seventh-grade world studies teacher Margot Miller. "I got into the class setting with the kids, and just fell in love," he said. He subsequently canceled scheduled interviews with Southwest and FedEx, and now celebrates 10 years in our classrooms.

Within two years of his Rowland Hall tenure, Bill convinced Stephen to let him teach a six-week aviation elective. From there, the curriculum grew: he now teaches three six-week intro classes, a six-week flight design class, and a trimester advanced flight class.

The intro class covers topics such as professions in aviation, aerodynamics, and Bernoulli's principle. In flight design, students learn about the aircraft engineering process and design one of their own prototype airplanes, guided by constraints such as size, materials, and flight distance. In the advanced course—an abbreviated Federal Aviation Administration ground-school class—students learn pilotage using simulators, and as a capstone activity actually pilot a real flight with instructors from Westminster College, Bill's alma mater.

Bill Tatomer with students and planes

During a field trip to the Westminster College Flight Center, located in the southeast corner of the Salt Lake City International Airport, Bill Tatomer fist-bumps a Middle School aviation student after she correctly answered a question.

As classes expanded, so did corresponding equipment in Bill's classroom: he now has four flight simulators thanks to ongoing tech help from Lincoln Street Campus Network Manager Nick Banyard, and general program support from current Principal Tyler Fonarow. When practicing on the so-called "sims," students reference flight checklists straight from the Westminster program. Bill serves as air traffic controller. Sims are linked so students can see each other taxiing out, flying on their assigned mission profile, and following the aircraft landing pattern. A deer might show up on the runway, and birds might hit the plane mid-flight. "The realism is incredible," Bill said.

The aviation curriculum aligns with our commitment to experiential education, and with our Strategic Plan goal of providing the region's most outstanding math and science program.

The aviation curriculum aligns with our commitment to experiential education, and with our Strategic Plan goal of providing the region's most outstanding math and science program. "From metereology to aerodynamics to flight physiology, there are so many STEM applications," Bill said. "Every class is STEM-based."

Junior Ned Friedman, president of the Aviation Club and an aspiring Air Force pilot, agreed. For the past couple of years, he's attended summer camp to fly gliders and has learned, for example, about aircraft engineering and how weather—especially wind—affects the physics of flight. Ned didn't attend Rowland Hall's Middle School, but commended Bill for his infectious love of the subject, and for serving as faculty liaison for the Aviation Club and connecting that group with Westminster's myriad aviation resources.

Sophomore Sophie DuBois, club vice president, loved taking Bill's beginning and advanced aviation classes, and especially loved flying from Salt Lake to Heber in the latter class. Now, she said unequivocally, "I want to be a pilot."

"That's why Rowland Hall is so great," she said. "We can have experiences like this that not a lot of other schools, at least locally, are able to offer," Sophie said. Bill, she added, was her favorite eighth-grade teacher. He's inclusive and tries to get everyone interested in what he's teaching. The Utah Air Force Association agrees: in May, they named him Chapter 236 (Southern Utah) Secondary Teacher of the Year.

That's why Rowland Hall is so great. We can have experiences like this that not a lot of other schools are able to offer.—Sophie DuBois, sophomore

In addition to dovetailing with our Strategic Plan, the rise of aviation at Rowland Hall coincides with a national pilot shortage. To curtail that shortage, the industry could encourage more women to join the field, since they comprise just 5% of pilots. Westminster is doing a bit better: there, the percentage of women in the aviation program is about thrice that, according to Aviation Admissions Counselor Stacie Whitford, one of Bill's main Westminster liaisons. The retired Navy commander is doing his part to close the gender gap—Sophie said he recruited plenty of girls for her Middle School classes. The teacher hopes to continue building on our school's partnership with Westminster, and sending them aviation students, especially young women.

Upper schoolers who want to advance in their aviation studies can do so through a Westminster course for high schoolers that runs January through April, and through a new Rowland Hall Interim trip that condenses Westminster's aviation summer camp into five days. Plus, the roughly 15-member Aviation Club meets 9:20 am Tuesdays in Bill's room, MS 203. In addition to educational trips after school or on weekends, the group is diving into community service. Through December 8, they're collecting donated toys, school supplies, clothes, and more for Angel Flight West's Utah Santa Flight, which will bring the items to students at a title 1 school in Roosevelt, Utah.

Experiential Learning

Middle Schoolers Ace Mathcounts Competitions, Follow in Principal's Footsteps

As an eighth grader back in 1985, Tyler Fonarow calculated his way to second place in his California home county's Mathcounts Competition Series. Now, Middle School Principal Fonarow is ushering in the new era of the mathlete here at Rowland Hall.

Team and individual Mathcounts trophies are starting to pile up since Tyler rebooted Rowland Hall's Mathcounts program in 2014. In 2015, the team took third in the North Salt Lake Chapter. In 2016, they took fourth in the chapter, then leapfrogged some chapter competitors to take fourth in the state. This year, they took first in the chapter, then third in the state, with one Winged Lion for the first time in school history making the Utah team to compete at nationals, and another student ranking fourth in the state.

Rowland Hall has energetic kids who love to be stimulated, and watching the dialogue around a math problem is really fun.—Middle School Principal Tyler Fonarow

When Tyler was a middle schooler, he thrived on the competitive aspect of Mathcounts. "I want our kids to have that opportunity and see math in a different way," he said. "Rowland Hall has energetic kids who love to be stimulated, and watching the dialogue around a math problem is really fun."

According to the nonprofit, Mathcounts provides students with "experiences that foster growth and transcend fear to lay a foundation for future success." Mathcounts competitions take place at four levels—school, chapter, state, and national—and each level has four rounds. In the sprint round, students have 40 minutes to solve 30 math problems. In the target round, they solve four pairs of problems in six minutes per pair. In the team round, four students collaborate to solve 10 math problems in 20 minutes. Finally, the countdown round is known as the most rigorous: students go head-to-head and have a maximum of 45 seconds to buzz in with the correct answer to a problem.

The level of focus and intensity at a Mathcounts chapter or state competition rivals that of any athletics championship game—including for Tyler, who's coached soccer for 15 years. He laughed as he imitated the leg-shaking, nail-biting experience of watching his math students on stage during the countdown round: "The only thing that's been as stressful for me is watching a penalty kick in soccer." View the Mathcounts multifaceted problem of the week, and imagine a middle schooler solving that problem quickly, flawlessly, and with an audience.

The students rise to the challenge. "It makes math more interesting," said seventh grader Curtis Schaefer, a basketball player and the youngest student on Rowland Hall's four-member Mathcounts competition team. "People that are more competitive like me...it makes you want to win."

Mathcounts presents an opportunity to push students who excel in math, Tyler said. Eighth grader Andrew Yang, Rowland Hall's first student to compete at the Mathcounts National Tournament, echoed that thought. "It's a big step for high-level thinking," he said. Mathcounts problems go beyond simply calculating the area of a circle, for example. "You need to think about the problems more."

Mathcounts—coupled with the Middle School's math faculty and curriculum—has helped show students just how good they are in the subject. Tyler said he's proud of the students for developing a culture around aptitude in math. "For some of those kids who didn't realize that they were strong math students, the confidence is half of it," he said. "Once they find success, they're going to keep working at it."

Mathcounts—coupled with the Middle School's math faculty and curriculum—has also helped show students just how good they are in the subject. Eighth-grader Zach Benton said he didn't "feel that strong about math" before coming to Rowland Hall this year. At the chapter competition in February, Zach took fourth place in aggregate score and the countdown round. At state in April, the top four students in the countdown round would make the Utah team and go to nationals. Zach placed fourth in Utah overall and fifth in the countdown round, one question away from joining Andrew at nationals—quite an accomplishment for a student who was previously unsure of his math prowess. "Rowland Hall has really strengthened my math skills," Zach said.

Tyler said he's proud of the students for developing a culture around aptitude in math. "For some of those kids who didn't realize that they were strong math students, the confidence is half of it," he said. "Once they find success, they're going to keep working at it."

Seventh grader Kaitlyn Bates agreed: "It's able to boost your confidence when you get something right," she said. "It is also able to help you when you get something wrong."

Mathcounts also fosters friendships across grade levels. Seventh grader Lizzie Carlin said of working with her older peers, "It's nice to see how they've solved problems, and then they can help me learn what to do for next time."

At nationals in Orlando, Florida, Andrew placed 144th out of 224 students, and Utah ranked 28th out of 56 teams—a huge improvement from last year's ranking of 46th. "I was quite proud of that," he said.

Andrew embodies the growth mindset that yields success in Mathcounts. In sixth grade, he said he barely snagged the fourth and final spot on Rowland Hall's Mathcounts team. Tyler held a mock competition and Andrew beat the fifth-place student by a point. From then, he set a goal to get to Mathcounts nationals and worked towards it. "If you really want to do well and you work hard, there's a great chance that you'll do well regardless of where you are in math coming into sixth grade," he said. Weekly practices at school encompassed just 10% of Andrew's Mathcounts studies. He spent the bulk of his study time on the internet researching the kinds of problems asked at competitions, and then practicing those problems.

Andrew said doubts crept in, but didn't stop him: "I thought there would be four kids that are better than me in Mathcounts, that would beat me to nationals," he said. "But I kept working and I got there."

Like Zach, who used Mathcounts in part to meet people at a new school, Andrew emphasized Mathcounts isn't all work and no play. Andrew bonded with his Utah teammates and they keep in touch via social media. In Orlando, they hung out together in a hotel room, talked, joked, and played video games. "It's a cool way to just talk to other people and make friends," he said. "We're actually just kids, and we want to have fun too."

ACADEMICS

Students Show off STEAM Skills at First Annual Maker Day

In mid-May, Lower School students convened in the McCarthey Campus Field House to engage in hands-on, creative STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) activities with members of Rowland Hall's Technology Department and special guest educators from the Wonderment Bus, a repurposed school bus with maker equipment. Our lower, middle, and upper school students also displayed both high- and low-tech maker projects they worked on throughout the year.

STEM

Upper, Middle Schoolers Win National EcoChallenge Prize, Endow Fund for Student Sustainability Projects

On April 22, Earth Day, 17 middle and upper schoolers found out they’d turned trash into treasure. The students learned that a sustainability project they spearheaded won the Shane McConkey EcoChallenge’s grand prize of $6,000 to benefit sustainability endeavors at Rowland Hall.

Now-seniors Alicia Lu and Cindy Shen, along with help from now-freshman Hailey Hauck, led an inspiring cross-divisional charge last school year to collect garbage and turn it into eco-bricks—plastic bottles stuffed with non-recyclable trash—to build a bench on the western side of the Lincoln Street Campus. They collected about 10 large trash bags, or 1,000 gallons, of dry non-recyclables in a month. Watch their EcoChallenge video entry here.

Cindy and Alicia were thrilled at news of the win, and their Middle School counterparts were “almost more excited than we were,” Cindy said. The victory left Hailey speechless. “I knew that we had a chance, but winning a national award seemed too farfetched,” she said.

Seventh-grade World Studies teacher Margot Miller advised Alicia and Cindy on this undertaking, which served as the juniors’ Project 11. Margot also helped them galvanize the Middle School community in support of the cause.

“They were motivated to do something about the environment,” Alicia said of her younger peers.

Sixth through eighth graders made promotional project posters, donated the most trash, and stuffed the most bottles. Middle schoolers also came up with the idea to create a competition between grade levels to fuel productivity. Whichever grade donated the most non-recyclables earned a free dress day; the youngest group, sixth graders, won.

“At Rowland Hall, everyone sort of thrives on competitiveness, so we needed to make some sort of competition for our project,” Hailey said.

Some students were inherently motivated, but multiple incentives helped to drive project participation, Alicia explained. “We felt like it’s great to be altruistic, but you kind of need an incentive to stuff trash into trash,” she joked. The incentives worked. For example, at the May 20 All-School Carnival, the EcoChallenge team gave out donut holes to anyone who would stuff a bottle. Volunteers from all divisions pitched in, including little beginning schoolers who tried their hands at bottle-stuffing for a few minutes.

That sort of community collaboration helped to make the project highly successful. Hailey, a Rowland Hall lifer and an eighth grader last year, valued the opportunity to spend time with and learn from upper schoolers. “It’s sort of hard to motivate people in your grade, because you’re their peers,” Hailey said. “It can be done, but it’s much easier when you have people who are older than you to help you with that.” There was a sense of looking to Alicia and Cindy as role models, she said. Cindy and Alicia, in turn, gave middle schoolers an equal voice in the project and gave them full credit for bringing a “creative edge” to the table, including the competition idea.

Alicia, Cindy, and Hailey completed work on the bench last summer, with help from Rowland Hall staff members and a professional contractor. While the bench itself is made partially with sustainable supplies—the eco-bricks—its main purpose is to raise community awareness. Before the end of 2016, the students plan to install a commemorative plaque that lists the prize-winning project and all students involved, along with a dedication to Margot.

Alicia and Cindy used some of the EcoChallenge prize money to finish the bench, but the vast majority remains and will be made available to students who want to pursue similar sustainability projects in the future. Alicia and Cindy set up a formal application process for students who want to conduct environmental projects; view the application here. And for any future student-run sustainability projects that win prize money, that money would ideally go back into the sustainability project fund.

Ethical Education

You Belong at Rowland Hall