Technology at Rowland Hall
Technology is thoughtfully and intentionally interwoven throughout our curriculum to inspire students to make a difference and enhance teaching and learning.
Teachers purposefully integrate technology into classrooms to enhance student learning: tech is used to advance research, creativity, and collaboration. Students use iPads in kindergarten through eighth grade, and MacBooks in grades nine through twelve.
Why Teach Computer Science?
Computer science helps students think logically and computationally, and it's going to be the underpinning for future careers in math, science, engineering, and medicine. Most science majors at universities now require some computer programming, and we want Rowland Hall students to get an early start.
We give students of all ages the opportunity to innovate solutions to problems by tinkering, making, coding, and building. We spotlight the fun and creativity inherent in STEM pursuits.
Today’s children are surrounded by devices and it's essential that they learn healthy tech habits for life. Through a combination of lessons, group discussions, grade-level meetings, and assemblies, we teach students about aspects of privacy, screen-time limits, and cultivating a positive digital footprint.
Every day at Rowland Hall, students have their limits tested by a challenging curriculum and by mentors. It helps them grow. But what happens when the curriculum and mentors are pushed by challenging students?
At the beginning of the school year, members of Rowland Hall’s technology team were approached by a number of ninth-grade students who had a complaint: they wanted to be able to do more on their school-issued laptops, but the current administrative settings wouldn’t let them. The restrictions were impeding their ability to grow as coders, they said. They didn’t just want more access, they needed it to learn.
The tech team is used to complaints, but not like this. They decided to try something new. They came to the students with an offer they couldn’t refuse.
“They challenged us to hack through the protections,” said Eli Hatton. “They said if we could do it they would let us keep the access instead of revoking it.”
This isn’t to say the tech team didn’t have their reservations. And they had very good reasons to say no. But they also knew this was an opportunity.
This isn’t to say the tech team didn’t have their reservations. And they had very good reasons to say no. But they also knew this was an opportunity. “We are always interested in cybersecurity,” said Alan Jeppson, associate director of technology. “Sometimes the only way to know if our security is working is to try and break it.”
Break it they did: the ninth graders were able to gain the access they desired, and then walked the tech team exactly what they had done so the weakness could be resolved. And thus the Rowland Hall Debugging Club was born.
“First thing we did was have them write a contract for acceptable use with their new machines,” said Alan. “Then we started looking around the school for more projects.”
It didn’t take long to find them. Upper School Assistant Principal Bernard Geoxavier needed a solution for tracking students needing physical education credits while not playing a sport or taking a class. The Debuggers figured out a solution: students needing the credits can now log time in the weight room with just a swipe of their student IDs when they exit and enter. It was a learning experience for the club members they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. “We learned about readying software for very specific hardware and then deploying it,” said Eli. “Then we had to test it and see if it worked.”
Cybersecurity is a growing issue worldwide, and the club, along with members of the tech team and faculty, are looking at ways to improve their skills and the skills of the school community.
That was the first of many projects. Now the club is working on building a chatbot that will help students with everyday tasks, like navigating schedules, reviewing assignments, and performing other functions they would normally have to log in to the student portal to complete.
The opportunities are multiplying too, for both the benefit of the students and the school. Cybersecurity is a growing issue worldwide, and the club, along with members of the tech team and faculty, are looking at ways to improve their skills and the skills of the school community.
“We are looking at how we can get more kids involved, and how we could eventually compete in events like hackathons as a school,” said Ben Smith ’89, Upper School computer science teacher. “This would help these kids grow in areas where they could have real professional success in the future.”
Of course, the founding members of the Debuggers may have a future in store that no one has yet imagined. “This is a good group of super smart kids,” said Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey. “It’s put all of us back on our toes how advanced they are and how they take a project and go after it.”
Added Alan, “These kids are crazy smart and talented. I really am interested in where they go from here.”
Rowland Hall’s young women in computer science have continued their outstanding track record of earning accolades from the National Center for Women and Information Technology’s (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing (AiC) annual awards program.
This year, six Winged Lions earned awards from our regional Northern Utah NCWIT Affiliate: senior Maddy Eatchel and junior Irenka Saffarian secured wins; sophomore Ane Hernandez and freshman Sophie Zheng earned honorable mentions; and junior Tianyi Su and freshman Claire Wang were named rising stars.
Our students’ AiC success is due in part to the efforts of computer science (CS) teacher Ben Smith ’89, himself a past winner of two educator honors at the affiliate level. Ben always encourages promising CS students to apply for the awards; this year, he’s glad that many still did, despite the challenges of the pandemic. “It’s really a testament to the school's dedication to make computer science, robotics, and technology an accessible and exciting option for all students,” the teacher said.
Senior Maddy Eatchel, an affiliate AiC winner, is now captain of our robotics team after helping to start the team last year. She wants to study CS in college, and is working on a research project applying machine learning to data in order to find new compounds for batteries.
This year’s recognized group from Rowland Hall skews younger than usual, and that bodes well for our CS program’s future, Ben said: students who receive higher levels of recognition typically apply for the awards two or more years in a row. For lone senior Maddy, a 2020 honorable mention recipient, this year’s win is a natural progression: she’s now captain of Rowland Hall’s robotics team after helping to start the team last year. She wants to study CS in college, and is currently working on a research project applying machine learning to data in order to find new compounds for batteries.
"Maddy took my intro to Java course on a whim as a sophomore, with very little interest other than the need to fill a class period," Ben said. "She has gone on to take my AP Java class, and to be an integral member of the new school robotics team, leading the team in a very challenging year."
Rowland Hall students will attend the regional affiliate’s virtual award ceremony on March 20. In addition to recognizing awardees, the ceremony will include a panel of college students and networking opportunities with women in the tech industry.
Ben started encouraging his students to enter the AiC awards back in 2014. Since then, 19 Winged Lions have earned a collective 25 awards, including one win and two honorable mentions at the national level. Under Ben’s leadership, Rowland Hall has been committed to ensuring all students—especially young women, who are underrepresented in computing careers—feel welcomed and supported in CS.
Top image: The Rowland Hall robotics team at the Freedom Prep Academy FIRST Tech Challenge state qualifier in Provo, Utah, on March 13. From left to right: senior Yuchen Yang, sophomore Jordyn VanOrman, freshman Gabe Andrus, freshman Adam Saidykhan, senior captain and regional AiC winner Maddy Eatchel, senior Daniel Carlebach, and freshman Joey Lieskovan (cut off on the right edge).
Alum Anna Shott ’16 sent the following email to middle and upper school computer science (CS) teacher Ben Smith ’89 on December 3, 2020. Anna graciously agreed to let us republish it here. We last interviewed Anna in 2016 when she was a senior taking her first CS class with Ben and enjoying the collaborative, problem-solving aspects of the field, which often gets falsely stereotyped as an antisocial and rote career choice. Ben has worked hard over nearly a decade to show his students—especially young women, who are underrepresented in the field—the reality: that programmers typically work together in teams to solve real-world problems and ultimately help people. This year, Ben is even weaving in social justice as a theme, using the Algorithmic Justice League as one of his teaching resources. We're grateful for Ben's dedication to CS education and can't wait to see what he and his former students like Anna do in the future. If you're an alum with a story about how a Rowland Hall teacher helped to inspire your career choice, let us know.
Dear Mr. Smith,
Hope you are doing well and enjoying a nice holiday season! I am reaching out with an update and to say thank you.
After graduating from Rowland Hall in 2016 I took a gap year where I worked at my family's company and traveled. In 2017 I enrolled as a freshman at the University of Southern California studying computer science and business. The last two summers I interned at Microsoft, first as an Explore intern and then as a program management intern. I am now a senior finishing up my last few classes before graduation in May. Next fall I’m heading to Seattle to join Microsoft full-time as a program manager.
I would not have even thought to try out programming, let alone make computer science my undergraduate major and career priority, if it weren’t for the very first computer programming class you taught at Rowland Hall during my 2015–16 senior year.
I’ve spent much of my last four years participating in startup incubators, building companies, and exploring Los Angeles. I've stayed involved in the engineering community as a counselor for an on-campus computer science camp for K–12 students and as a teacher's assistant for one of USC's core software engineering classes. I would not have even thought to try out programming, let alone make computer science my undergraduate major and career priority, if it weren’t for the very first computer programming class you taught at Rowland Hall during my 2015–16 senior year. Your class truly influenced the path I chose, and I cannot thank you enough for sparking my interest in computer science.
I've had so much fun reading the various articles on the Rowland Hall website regarding the incredible computer science program you have built. Congratulations on the numerous accolades you and your students have earned over the years. I hope the program continues to grow and expose students to computer science and engineering, and ultimately inspire many to pursue a career path in those disciplines.
I wish you and your family all the best and hope you are staying happy and healthy during this time.
Many thanks again, and happy holidays!
Class of 2016
Top: Anna Shott ’16 at her graduation, receiving her diploma from now-retired head of school Alan Sparrow.
In their inaugural year, our Upper School FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics team not only racked up enough wins to qualify for the Utah Championship at Weber State University on February 22—they also left that event with the coveted Control Award.
According to teacher Ben Smith, Rowland Hall cinched that accolade—one of 10 awards in a competition among 36 teams—"for use of telemetry, image recognition, autonomous programming, and creative coding."
"This was our rookie year," Ben explained, "and given that fact and the fact that it was the first robotics experience for many of the team members, our qualifying for state and winning the Control Award is commendable to be sure." Below, watch Ben's video of Rowland Hall's robot roaming an Upper School hallway prior to the state match.
Senior Lucas Erickson, the team’s lead coder, said the group had hoped to continue in the challenge beyond the state level—but they still agree they did a great job for their first year. “Building the robot and getting to become a member of the FIRST competition community was well worth the time and effort that we spent, even if we're not thoroughly satisfied with our performance at state,” Lucas said. And the Control Award was no small feat, he added. Competition for it was stiffer than usual this year, “and we were still able to beat out the veteran teams that have been perfecting their code for years.”
Building the robot and getting to become a member of the FIRST competition community was well worth the time and effort.—Senior Lucas Erickson, lead coder
FTC is a global competition for teams of up to 15 members, and it’s open to students in grades seven through twelve. It involves designing, building, programming, and operating robots to complete tasks based around a given theme. The theme is reimagined annually, meaning challenges change every year. Watch FTC’s video explaining this year's theme, SKYSTONE, and how the competition works.
Our team—known in competitions as Rowland Hall Rowbotics (emphasis added to show the intended pun)—is currently made up of seven active members who have coding, organizational, and engineering skills to share. This year's team leaders include seniors Lucas (coding), Logan Bateman (organizing), and Shoji Mori (engineering), as well as junior Maddy Eatchel (scouting). After their success at the state competition, the group also got a chance to showcase their robot at the March 10–11 Utah Coalition for Educational Technology Conference in Provo. Following the COVID-19 outbreak and our campus closure, the team now maintains its momentum via regular Zoom meetings. And there are some virtual and in-person events still planned for the summer, Ben said.
Looking ahead, Ben hopes to expand this program for next year: in addition to a varsity team of 10 to 15 members, he wants to add a rookie team for students in grades seven through nine.
If you’re a Rowland Hall community member interested in volunteering to coach or otherwise help organize our growing FTC robotics program, or you know of a business or enterprise that might want to sponsor the team, Ben wants to hear from you—email firstname.lastname@example.org.