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.
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 email@example.com.
After several years of success in the National Center for Women and Information Technology’s (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing (AiC) awards program, 2020 marks Rowland Hall’s winningest year yet—the capstone of which is our first national winner, junior Katy Dark.
Katy is one of 40 high schoolers tapped from a pool of 4,700 applicants to receive the highest AiC honor this year. She and the other winners will receive cash, prizes, and a trip to the Bank of America headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, to celebrate and network in early March.
“I’m ecstatic that I’ve gotten the privilege to win the national award,” Katy said, adding the recognition for pursuing her passion has left her stunned. Katy has applied for the AiC awards three times; in 2019, she won an honorable mention from the NCWIT Northern Utah Affiliate.
In addition to Katy’s national win, the NCWIT Northern Utah Affiliate gave senior Ellie Nichols and juniors Maddy Eatchel and Yuchen Yang AiC honorable mentions. Teacher and alum Ben Smith ’89 earned the Educator Award.
In addition to Katy’s distinction, our local affiliate gave senior Ellie Nichols and juniors Maddy Eatchel and Yuchen Yang AiC honorable mentions. And after an honorable mention last year, computer science (CS) teacher and alumnus Ben Smith ’89 secured our affiliate’s Educator Award for his steadfast support of young women in computing.
NCWIT’s Award for AiC honors women, genderqueer, or non-binary high schoolers for their computing-related achievements and interests. Winners are picked for their aptitude and aspirations in tech and CS—as demonstrated by their computing and leadership experience, tenacity in the face of barriers to access, and plans for college.
Not only is Katy committed to pursuing a computing career, she’s already using her knack for the subject to make a difference in her community. She’s been teaching coding to students—primary at-risk Latinx youth—at Salt Lake City’s Dual Immersion Academy since the school lost funding for CS in 2018. Read our story on her President’s Volunteer Service Award. Now, Katy hopes to make her program permanent through a combination of grants and fundraising.
“I’m honored to have Katy as one of my students,” Ben said. “She is deserving of the NCWIT national award because she has taken her interest in and passion for technology, cybersecurity, coding, and computer science and found ways to bring that passion to students who would not ordinarily have the opportunities that she has had. She is selfless and dedicated to making the world a better place.”
Ben started encouraging his students to enter the AiC awards in 2014. Since then, 13 Winged Lions have earned a collective 18 awards, including one win and two honorable mentions at the national level. On top of that, Ben won two educator honors at the affiliate 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. That effort shows in our classes: in January, Rowland Hall earned the College Board's 2019 Advanced Placement (AP) CS Female Diversity Award for achieving high female representation in our AP CS Principles class. Out of 20,000 institutions that offer AP courses, 818 won the award. We're one of only two in Utah.
Update, May 29, 2020: After the initial round of awards, senior Violette Truong also won an AiC National Certificate of Distinction (CoD). From NCWIT: "National CoDs represent approximately 10% of the application pool. These students are selected from all applicants who were not selected for another award designation. CoDs are selected on the basis of score and experience that indicates that they would benefit from being part of the AiC Community. Most CoD recipients have experience and achievements comparable to Affiliate Honorable Mentions but in many cases were not selected due to capacity limits for the Affiliates that cap the number of recipients that can be selected. This Award is designated by NCWIT." Congrats, Violette!
Top photo: from left, Yuchen Yang, Ben Smith, Maddy Eatchel, and Katy Dark at the NCWIT Utah Affiliate Award Luncheon on March 7.
Paper rockets whizzed through the air. Hot-air balloons fashioned out of fruit containers and plastic bags spiraled up a wind tunnel. Light from popsicle-stick flashlights and homemade circuits flared. And the sound of laughter—from both kids and adults—filled the room.
Rowland Hall’s first Maker Night, which attracted more than 140 people, was a success.
The event, held in the McCarthey Campus Field House on November 7, was inspired by the Lower School’s Maker Day, where kids explore a variety of science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) activities. Maker Night built on this event by including Beginning School and Lower School families in the hands-on learning experiences.
As Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus surveyed the activity around the room, he couldn’t help but grin. “We love the fact that families can experience what kids experience in the classroom,” he said.
Maker Night attendees traveled among stations, engaging a variety of skills as mini scientists and engineers. As the night progressed, parents like Jenna Pagoaga, mother of second grader William and preschooler Ollie, found themselves managing a small cache of completed experiments. “It’s a great community event,” she said as she watched William run to the Sky Floaters table to design a blimp for a Lego passenger. “It’s fun to see them be creative and use what they learn in class.”
Slideshow: Images from Rowland Hall's first Maker Night.
One of the biggest draws of the night was Nerdy Derby, where kids built cars and raced them on one of the three lanes of a tall, curvy track. The evening was punctuated with the cheers of those whose cars made it to the end of the track—and the groans of those whose creations fell apart on descent. Undeterred, those students simply grabbed the debris and ran back to the design table to figure out how to strengthen their vehicles. That is the point of Maker Night.
It's important for parents to see what their kids are capable of. Give them a pile of stuff. Let them explore. The play-based part of it, the creativity part, is very important.—Jodi Spiro, Lower School math specialist
“Kids are learning it’s OK to try things out, mess up, and try again,” Jij explained. He also noted the importance of giving children independence when it comes to exploration. “Often, learning outcomes are decided beforehand; this is more open-ended,” he said. “It’s exciting to think of kids leading their own learning.”
Lower School Math Specialist Jodi Spiro echoed this idea. Maker Night, she said, emphasized to parents and caregivers the scientific process of thinking, planning, testing, and redesigning. And it showed that kids don’t always need formal instruction to learn. “It’s important for parents to see what their kids are capable of,” she said. “Give them a pile of stuff. Let them explore. The play-based part of it, the creativity part, is very important.”
Tasha Hatton, who attended Maker Night with her fifth grader, Gabrielle, is excited by how simple an environment of exploration can be. She remembered how Gabrielle lit up when she saw fourth-grade teacher Haas Pectol’s recycled-plastic station, where children were braiding the plastic from discarded Halloween costumes into ropes that can be turned into things like baskets—or even, as Haas demonstrated, crocheted clutches. Maker Night, Tasha said, stimulated her family’s curiosity. “It’s introduced us to ideas we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.”
Tasha also marveled at how something as simple as recycled plastic can do wonders for a child’s imagination. “They’ll look at the world differently,” she said. “The next time they see something like that, it might spark a new idea.”