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If You Were Not Able to Attend the Math and Science Parent Forum
If You Were Not Able to Attend the Math and Science Parent Forum
On February 9, parents gathered on the McCarthey Campus to hear from administrators and faculty about math and science -- where we have been, where we are, and where we are headed. Please click to read the full article and see the video of the parent forum.
On February 9, parents gathered on the McCarthey Campus to hear from administrators and faculty about math and science -- where we had been, where we are, and where we are headed. Wendell Thomas, director of curriculum and instruction, started by sharing exam mastery statistics from recent AP, PSAT, and ERB exam results, which show that Rowland Hall students are among the strongest math and science scholars in the region. Wendell continued by saying that teachers are happy their students do well on exams, but that is not their main focus. Their goal is to inspire students to love learning in math and science.

Wendell next addressed the question, where are we headed? He discussed a study done by educators and researchers Douglas Clements and Julie Serrano which states how important early childhood mathematics is in a student’s learning trajectory. It has been shown that preschool children’s success in mathematics predicts later school success all the way through high school. Further, a strong foundation in mathematics is a better predictor of later reading achievement than actual reading skills are.

Wendell shared with parents that we are starting to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards in the Lower School and Middle School. The Next Generation Science Standards are “rich in content and practice, arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally benchmarked science education.” [1] In support of our commitment to professional development, the Lower School sent five grade level teachers and our science specialist to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Conference early this year where they attended sessions about integrating science into the classrooms and creating a student led, student driven environment for learning. Kirsten Walker, the Lower School science specialist, told parents about the use of formative assessment probes as a strategy for examining students’ ideas. The probes give teachers deeper insight into a student's thinking, they inform instruction, they foster rich discussion where all voices are heard, and they help eliminate common misconceptions among the students.

Katie Schwab, a second grade teacher who also attended the conference, shared a video of a student-led discussion and student-led experiment about the temperature of air inside a mitten and how it might compare to the room temperature air. Katie encouraged the students to be open minded, to respectfully agree and disagree with one another, and to use their own experiences as the basis for their hypothesis. Encouraging students to participate in student-led discussions is the best way to guarantee engagement. When watching the video clip, parents were also able to see critical thinking skills in action.

Sara Dacklin, fourth grade teacher, shared with parents what she learned about uncovering student thinking. She showed a video which demonstrates the Commit and Toss method in a group discussion:

1. Students write a hypothesis on a paper, but do not include their name on the paper.
2. Then they crumple and toss the paper into the center of the circle.
3. Each student opens a crumpled paper and reads and comments aloud.

Christian Waters, director of technology integration, then led a discussion on the Hour of Code. Hour of Code is an initiative launched by educators,, and industry leaders to encourage students to learn and enjoy computer science and coding. As stated by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, Inc, “Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” Coding reinforces logic, problem solving, spatial awareness, computational and sequential thinking, decomposing large problems into small tasks, and prototyping. Since its inception in 2013, over 99 million people have tried the Hour of Code.


Middle School Principal Tyler Fonarow then told the gathering that there is a lot of flexibility in the Middle School math program. By offering a variety of levels of math to our students, including the compacted math program, we are able to capture and challenge the outliers on the higher and lower ends of the spectrum. Fonarow also noted that students in his division again participated in Mathcounts, a nationwide mathematics competition, and took third in our region. Our team will go to state soon. Additionally, each grade level participates in a cross-curricular activity with math and science each year. The sixth graders integrate math and science learning in the foothills of the Wasatch Front by identifying flora and measuring and blocking sections of the area and calculating the data collected. The seventh graders participate in the annual bridge building (and crushing). The assignment is to craft a bridge out of thin (1/10" x 1/10") sticks of balsa wood to support a load in the form of five pistons pushing on the top of the structure. Each bridge's load is then divided by its mass to determine a ratio representing the efficiency of the design and construction. The eighth graders take advantage of the snowy mountains in our own back yard and venture out to investigate and analyze various aspects of the area such as avalanche threat, the subnivean environment (the zone in and underneath the snowpack), water content, and climatology.

Lee Thomsen, Upper School principal, shared upcoming opportunities that will soon be available to our students such as aviation science, ornithology, and medical physiology. The Upper School mathematics department has started the process of adding additional advanced topics to our mathematics sequence that go beyond BC Calculus. This particular addition should be available in the 2017-18 school year.


Wendell Thomas assured parents that in terms of the Strategic Plan goal to provide the Intermountain West’s most outstanding math and science program, Rowland Hall is starting from a position of strength. We will continue to grow and build upon the already strong program the school offers. By fostering critical thinkers and collaborators, not just students who are good at memorization and acing math and science tests, we are preparing our young people for a lifetime of mathematics and science challenges and successes.


Please click here to see the video of the Math and Science Parent Forum.


[1] “Next Generation Science Standards,”