Learning By Doing

Experiential Learning at its Best

Studies in the field 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 one through eight enjoy a variety of sports experiences for five weeks every winter through the Winter Sports program. Overnight trips, beginning in Middle School, take our students on fall 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, chess club, the World Language Department, and the service-learning program also take advantage, when appropriate, of state-wide, 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—when students see the relevance of what they learn, they're more engaged. It develops new ways of thinking, persistence, and autonomous learning. It’s distinct from rote learning where students are passive in the learning process.

School Trips

Middle School

  • Sixth Grade: Weeklong Wasatch adventure filled with paddling, rafting, climbing, and exploring in and around the Wasatch Front with local organizations.
  • Seventh Grade: Weeklong adventure with four nights at the Teton Science School in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
  • Eighth Grade: Nearly a week in Washington, D.C., 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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Winged Lions in the Field

Mud Kitchen Enhances Beginning School's Menu of Outdoor Play Spaces

"It's a beautiful pie party today!" a bundled-up three-year-old declared one sunny January morning on the Beginning School playground.

Beginning schoolers have been throwing plenty of beautiful pie parties lately thanks to their playground's latest addition: a mud kitchen. They may fill their "pies" with pine cones and sand instead of pecans and sugar, but it is indeed beautiful to see how the kitchen stirs the students to use their imaginations, collaborate, and dig into nature.

Professional development introduced Beginning School Lead Enrichment Teacher Alesa Davis to mud kitchens—she first heard of the concept through conferences held by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

"We most often see more engaged and interactive play in the outside space when children are using their own imaginations," Ms. Davis said. "We, as teachers, are always thinking of ways to enhance and encourage that kind of play." For Ms. Davis, a mud kitchen sounded like a great way to achieve that ever-present goal.

So after years of marinating on the idea, last summer, the 11-year Rowland Hall veteran decided to finally make it a reality. Initially deterred by a limited and pricey selection of prefabricated options, she and her husband, John, opted to take it on as a DIY project.

Ms. Davis bought a reasonably priced potting bench online and began scouring hardware and secondhand stores for the necessary tools and accoutrements. Thanks to the treasure trove that is Deseret Industries (affectionately known to thrifty Utahns as "the DI"), she found a faucet for $3 and a brand-name toy wooden stovetop for $1. Together, the Davises trimmed the potting bench down to toddler height, and relocated the burners and knobs from the thrifted stovetop to the new bench. Then, they slathered on several coats of wood preserver, and appended the final touch—hooks under the shelving for pots and pans. "Another trip to the DI, and we had enough pots and pans, dishes and plates, and spoons to start up any imaginary restaurant," Ms. Davis said. To round out the nature motif, teachers added log stools, and an outdoor wooden bench purchased for the playground last school year.

Beginning School Principal Carol Blackwell applauded Ms. Davis's dedication. "She is a very resourceful teacher, and she constructed the mud kitchen for the benefit of all," Ms. Blackwell said. "Rather than put the mud kitchen on a wish list for someone else to implement, she took the initiative."

Since playground space is at a premium, it took some brainstorming to determine where the mud kitchen would live. Faculty and staff eventually settled on a corner dirt patch previously occupied by a tree. "It turned out to be the ideal place," Ms. Davis said. "Boxed in by two brick walls, it became a cozy little kitchen nook."

Others agree. 2PreK and 3PreK Lead Teacher Gail Rose and Assistant Teacher Mary Swaminathan said the kitchen transformed an underutilized area into a hub. "Deliveries of fresh food and visits from customers are regular activities," Ms. Rose said, explaining it's a destination for students riding scooters and toting wheelbarrows. Accordingly, the kitchen helps students build physical and social skills: "The stumps and crates are used for both sitting and heavy muscle work as the children prove their strength and make room for friends at the table."

Ms. Davis said she couldn't have predicted all the creative-play premises students have cooked up. "From a pie shop and an ice cream parlor to a poisonous-potion kitchen, they've giggled with delight over their own ideas blooming to life," she said.

Plus, a mud kitchen isn't a bad fit for a school community and metro area rife with outdoor enthusiasts. Encouraging youngsters to play outside and dig in the dirt, author Linda Åkeson McGurk posits in a new buzzed-about parenting book, ignites an appreciation for nature that can ultimately bolster one's health, resilience, and confidence.

Indeed, students now scamper around our playground with their pots and pans, collecting various earthly treasures: leaves, grass, sand, bark, water from our rain gutters, and snow from the ground. Then, they work together to concoct recipes and stage scenes inspired by food establishments. "We've been thrilled to watch their interactions, especially across age levels," Ms. Davis said. "Children that don't typically socialize as much have found their voices in the mud kitchen."

As the seasons change, so do the students' pie ingredients, and teachers rotate kitchen tools as needed over the course of a year. But in general, the kitchen runs itself.

"When children are so engaged that they don't need us or even notice us on the playground, we know we've been successful," Ms. Davis said. "That was the goal, and it was accomplished. Here's to many more hours of childhood happiness."

Experiential Learning


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 Mr. Tatomer'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.

Mr. Tatomer'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.

Mr. Tatomer 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 Mr. Tatomer's final military tour in Hawaii, the family returned to Bill and Linda's former home of Salt Lake City. Mr. Tatomer 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, Mr. Tatomer convinced Mr. Bennhoff 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, Mr. Tatomer'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 Mr. Tatomer'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. Mr. Tatomer 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," Mr. Tatomer 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. "From metereology to aerodynamics to flight physiology, there are so many STEM applications," Mr. Tatomer 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 Mr. Tatomer 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 Mr. Tatomer'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. Mr. Tatomer, 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.

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 Mr. Tatomer'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 Mr. Tatomer'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

Students Study Sage-Grouse in Southern Utah, Cut Teeth on Field Science

Environmental science and ornithology upper schoolers on an early April weekend drove south to frigid, beautiful Bryce Canyon National Park to study sage-grouse—an indigenous bird species that junior Sarah Kaye playfully describes as resembling a "fancy chicken."

The group of eight students and their teachers worked with biologists from the Wild Utah Project and Utah State University—most notably Dr. Nicole Frey, a sage-grouse expert. Ornithology Teacher Rob Wilson called the excursion an "uncommon opportunity" for students to do field science.

"This is a remarkable field trip," said Mr. Wilson, who also teaches biology and leads Rowland Hall's participation in a prestigious pilot program to bolster genetics and evolution curriculum in high school. According to Mr. Wilson, sage-grouse present the most important wildlife conservation and land-management question in the Western United States.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) doesn't list sage-grouse as an endangered species, but the species has had a precarious past. From 2010 to 2015, FWS considered sage-grouse to be "warranted but precluded" from listing, trumped only by other priorities of the Endangered Species Act. Sage-grouse is also an umbrella species, meaning that protecting the bird will protect other species of the sage-steppe ecosystem. Plus, the colony Rowland Hall students studied may need to be relocated due to impending mining, and Dr. Frey and her colleagues are figuring out the best way to do that, if at all possible.

Sage-grouse males and females meet on what's called a "lek," their strutting ground—an open area mostly free of sagebrush.

"The males puff out their tail feathers (which kind of look like pine cones) and their chests (which are big, white, and fluffy)...and they strut," Sarah said. "They chase the females around, and the females decide who they want to mate with." The females, she explained, are plainer—they look like brown chickens. And many of the females select the same male for mating. "The females are very choosy," graduating senior Marguerite Tate said. "They're looking for very specific things."

During the field study, Environmental Science Teacher Ben Smith, Mr. Wilson, and Dr. Frey placed flags in the ground to mark (1) random locations and (2) known locations sage-grouse have been, according to GPS trackers on the birds. Students divided into two groups to gather data. One group measured the height of all plants five meters north, south, east, and west of the flags. Another group measured ground cover—they'd place a hula hoop at the edge of the five-meter marks and record the types and percentages of plant coverage on the ground within the hoop. "It was cool to have an experience where you were actually taking in data that was potentially going to be used in (Dr. Frey's) experiments," Sarah said.

Marguerite and Sarah said the study aimed to show what kind of shelter the birds prefer—critical knowledge should they need to be moved. "In the past, trying to move them to a brand new place just has not worked. They don't mate, they don't start a new colony, it just does not work," Marguerite said. "But we learned from this experiment that you can expand their territory as long as the restored areas are right next to their older areas."

Mr. Smith said he hoped that by going on the trip, students gleaned the value of field studies. According to Sarah and graduating senior Marguerite, they did.

Marguerite said that while researching out in the cold was a sobering experience, "It's really cool to know what it's like to be a field scientist."

Sarah and Marguerite both trumpeted the value of environmental science and ornithology and said students shouldn't overlook the classes just because they're not APs. "It's really important for students to get this other grasp of science—that it's not all just sitting in a lab," Marguerite said.

Sarah said the knowledge is also useful for other classes—in AP Biology, for instance, she was learning about species and habitat, which she'd studied in depth for Mr. Smith's class.

For the students, one of the most valuable aspects of the trip was meeting and working with Dr. Frey, a renowned expert in the subject of their study. It proved to Sarah that a STEM job can be more than crunching numbers. "It was cool seeing how she wasn't just out there to make money, gather data, and kind of be a robot," the junior said. "She was really interested and really passionate about the sage-grouse."

Experiential Learning

Upper School Group Drops into Denver for American Historical Association Annual Meeting

Trip Combines Teachers’ Professional Development with Students’ Experiential Learning

Since launching the 2014 five-year Strategic Plan, Rowland Hall teachers have collectively attended hundreds of hours of conferences and workshops each year to boost their expertise. But when Upper School history teachers Dr. Fiona Halloran and Dr. Nate Kogan ’00 learned the American Historical Association’s (AHA) January 2017 annual meeting would be held in nearby Denver, they recognized a unique opportunity beyond traditional professional development.

“It's so close and so easy to get to that the travel seemed so much more reasonable for students and faculty alike,” Dr. Halloran said, contrasting Denver to previous AHA meeting locations such as Boston and Washington, D.C. “We wondered whether this would be a chance to enrich the curricular experience for a small group of students and, at the same time, to provide an intensive professional development opportunity for faculty.”

So the teachers and six upperclassmen flew to snowy Denver January 5–8. Collectively, the group attended 33 meeting sessions with titles such as “Teaching the US History Survey in a Global Context,” “Translating Scale: Space and Time between Science and History,” and “History in the Federal Government: Careers Serving the Policymakers and the Public.” The latter panel included representatives from the Navy, National Archives, Department of State, and Department of Education. Read the full list of sessions attended here.

Dr. Halloran said it was extraordinary to see the students—juniors Isaac Ball, Sophi Cutrubus, and Skylar Diamandis; and seniors Jason Cowdrey, Will Matheson, and Maddie Barker—embrace the varied topics at the meeting.

“I wasn't sure whether they would be interested in the more abstruse panels but I was completely mistaken,” Dr. Halloran said. “They began to read through the program before we left town, downloaded the app, marked their favorite sessions, and then attended anything and everything they had the slightest interest in.”

Dr. Kogan added the meeting gave students insight into historians’ work environment and the type of narrow research they explore. After a full day of sessions, one of the most interesting chats he had with the juniors and seniors dealt with what it meant to be an adjunct professor. “It provided an authentic opportunity to talk about funding issues at the university level, the hierarchy of professors, the tenure process, and the ways in which these features of academic departments might impact their experience as students,” he said.

Students valued the opportunity to see experts at work firsthand. “It built on my experiences at Rowland Hall and extended my engagement with the field, helping bridge the gap between high school and the professional world,” Will said. A seasoned Rowland Hall debater, Will added he enjoyed the academic arguments that arose on the panels. “Seeing the disputes between historians was both hilarious and inspiring.”

Maddie said she most enjoyed the opportunity to listen to specific historical topics not covered in high school. Skylar’s favorite part was seeing and meeting historians—such as William Cronon and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich—whose works he has read.

And of course, our teachers and students alike took full advantage of the meeting’s book fair. “Free books, cheap books, signed books, even gift books,” Dr. Halloran said. “On the way back, we had to check bags because...books.”

Dr. Halloran and Dr. Kogan said while the AHA would like more high schoolers to attend, Rowland Hall might have had the youngest students at the roughly 3,500-person conference. The conference is targeted toward professors and graduate students, but it was a hit with our upper schoolers, and Dr. Halloran and Dr. Kogan hope to do something similar again in a couple of years.


Experiential Learning

You Belong at Rowland Hall