Semester in Review: September, October 2016 Academic News

*The “Semester in Review” highlights academics, student experiences, community events and happenings at SVGS. 


calAdvanced Calculus: Multivariable – Advanced calculus students are finishing their introduction to 3D coordinates and vectors with a series of labs in which we use matrix transformations in homogeneous coordinates to create 2D and 3D animations. The same mathematics is used to program movement of machines in 2D and 3D. Here’s an example, in the form of a 3D game. Use Chrome to view this site. Arrow keys let you look around. Use W to go forward, S to go backwards, R to go up, and F to go down. It’s easy to get lost in space!


Advanced Technology – In Advanced Technology the students have been working with digital video, digital photography and digital audio.  They have been creating projects that involve creating and editing work that they have produced and works that were collaboratively produced with other members of the class.The class started with audio so they could then edit audio used later with their video projects.  The video projects included a video tutorial for one of the Physics labs and a video tutorial made for the Pre-Calculus class.We have now moved to digital photography and editing images with Photoshop.  The students are exploring ways to use Photoshop to change and enhance photos that they have taken.  Their present project is to work on a portfolio of edited images that they have taken.wolf

AP Calclulus BC –  AP Calculus students began the year with an investigation of limits and continuity.  We then explored the tangent line problem as an introduction to the study of differential calculus.  We applied differentiation techniques to a wide variety of functions, learning to represent them analytically and graphically as well as numerically.  We also used differential calculus as a tool for solving practical problems in related rates and motion.  More recently we have turned our attention to integral calculus where antiderivatives and Riemann sums provide a lead-in to the Fundamental Theorems of Calculus.  Over the next few months we will continue to expand our repertoire of integration and differentiation techniques.

apcheAP Chemistry-  AP Chemistry is the equivalent of a first-year college chemistry course and is designed around six major themes:  atomic structure, bonding, reactions, kinetics, thermodynamics, and equilibrium.  Our semester began with a foundational unit on the structure of matter and stoichiometry followed by an investigation of solution chemistry.  Students used gravimetric analysis and titration techniques in the lab to explore precipitation, solubility, and acid-base reactions.  We completed an introductory unit on thermochemistry which culminated in the design of a hand-warmer and most recently have taken a “deep dive” into atomic structure and bonding theories.  We are now beginning to consider the intermolecular forces that determine the macroscopic properties of chemical substances.

AP Computer Science – In APCS the class is working on programing project in Java that are aimed at about data structures and how to build a Class in Java.  As we build a foundation for their work we are learning about algorithms and how to think through a programing problem.At the moment we are working with arrays and ArrayLists which pose some interesting learning challenges.  How do you insert a word into an already sorted list of words?  This sounds like a simple task, but provides an opportunity to think about how the program will attack the problem.  As we aim toward the AP exam in the spring we are also working on problem solving skills as well as programing skills.  The exam will provide unique challenges in programing problem solving and we want to be prepared.

apes-1AP Environmental Science –  AP Environmental Science students started the year learning about ecosystems and how populations and biodiversity affect ecosystems.  They went to the Frontier Culture Museum to learn the difference between invasive, introduced, and native species and how they can affect biodiversity.

The next unit was public lands where they learned about our nearby national parks, state parks, national forests, rangelands, and wildernesses.  Students learned about the formation, rules, and regulations of each type of public land.  They visited St. Mary’s Wilderness to see how a wilderness is managed by the National Forest Service.  They also tested water to see the effects of acid rain on an area with no natural limestone and viewed how the land was changed by mining and a hurricane.

Students next learned about agriculture and farming in Africa from JMU professor Dr. Coffman who studies the Maasai people in Africa.  They will also be visiting a dairy farm (thank you Isabelle Leonard) and a hydroponic farm (thank you Bloomakers) in the coming weeks.

We just started the geology unit to learn how soil is made and general information about rocks.  Students will visit several sites on Old Greenville Road to learn about geologic formations, rock ID, and how to use geologic maps.  The AP exam is scheduled for May 1st, 2016.


statsAP Statistics –  The month of October began with students working on correlation/regression.  They chose projects such as:

1)            Which is a better predictor of Fantasy Football points, past performance or future projections?

2)            What is the relationship between state divorce rates and education rate/median income?

3)            What impacts the sale price of Honda Civics more?  Is it the mileage on the vehicle or the age of the vehicle?

4)            What correlates more strongly with NYC crime rates?  Is it the high school dropout rate, or the annual income per capita?

The month ended with students working with probability.   They used Microsoft Excel to create simulations of complex probabilistic questions.  They also employed Bayesian reasoning in calculating probabilities associated with medical tests.

 Calclulus (DE) –  Students in SVGS Dual Enrollment Calculus are finishing their introduction to differentiation with a three part lab in which they are creating a mathematical model of the motion parameters for an express elevator to an observation deck, inspired by Toronto’s CN Tower. They have researched levels of acceleration and jerk acceptable to riders, and are modeling displacement, velocity, acceleration and jerk for a ride which ends smoothly at the observation deck.

Computer Networking and Security –  Students worked to understand the basics   of the OSI 7 layer model for networking and command line tools needed to administer Linux operating systems, and simple attacks that are used against them.

Environmental Chemistry – Like many science classes, Environmental Chemistry started out with measurement & units. Students figured out how big and how heavy $10,000,000 worth of gold is and what “parts per million” can be used to measure. A background in atomic theory and atomic structure prepared students to explore nuclear chemistry, where they researched and presented topics from nuclear weapons to nuclear power to nuclear medicine. Nuclear reaction equations and half-life problems provided useful mathematical models for radioactive decay, fission and fusion.  Next came the Periodic Table and Chemical bonds. Patterns and families of the Periodic Table lead to different types of chemical bonds as well as chemical nomenclature. Formula mass calculations and mole/mass conversions added the quantitative aspect to our study of compounds. Students used their nomenclature skills to figure out “What’s in that?” Gas Laws and the kinetic molecular theory provide a background for the study of atmospheric chemistry, culminating in a research project on air pollution (“Why are the Blue Ridge Blue?”).

engEngineering I – Engineering I & II started out with some rapid prototyping, including newspaper and straw towers, in order to gain experience with the engineering design process. Unit conversion skills were practiced as engineering projects utilize a variety of measurements. Students were encouraged to identify and offer possible solutions to the challenges facing modern society. Long-term projects were proposed and evaluated.

The reverse engineering of toy cars and research into famous engineering failures helped to promote engineering awareness and trouble-shooting skills. Kinematics practice was included to provide a mathematical model for moving objects. Students formed teams based on personality profiles and skills assessments. Teamwork and collaboration are part of the training for engineering.

Civil engineering was introduced through the Wilson Memorial Complex Traffic Problem as well as surveying, bridge design and destructive testing. The study of Statics was included to allow students analyze the forces acting on stationary objects. Resolving and combining vectors are vital for engineering analysis.

Engineering students are currently working on the Bracket and Nozzle Design Challenges as part of their exploration of mechanical engineering. Teams of students will design and test brackets and nozzles using Autodesk Inventor ™ and print the designs using the 3D printer. Torque practice has been included to provide a basis for balancing the rotational forces involved. Simple machines are coming up next!

gisGeospatial Information Systems –  GIS began the year with a unit on maps and the basic workings of ArcMap and ArcCatalogue.  They quickly moved past the simple assignments that showed them how to use the tools of ArcGIS to doing mini-projects and health and safety tutorials.  Their first big mini-project involved a three part map of SVGS where the students used GPS points, digitizing, and geometry calculator to make useful maps of our school and campus.

They also explored the ocean floor with depth sounding where they took readings from a closed box with a simulated ocean floor.  They were able to take the readings and using the Lat/Long coordinates on the bos, put them into a map and make them three dimensional.

Students also researched a potentially explosive situation that occurred in Springfield, Virginia and determined how to make detours for the interstates and escape routes for residents to shelters and determined the best place to land an emergency helicopter.

molbioMolecular Biology – Students studied:

“Big ideas” in biology, biological principles, characteristics of life

  • Basic chemistry and biochemistry
  • Structure and function of eukaryotic cells
  • Laboratory work
    • Basic lab skills: use of microscope, pipetting, making serial dilutions, using spectrophotometer, making and using standard curves
    • Molecular modeling
    • Separation methods—column chromatography and gel electrophoresis
    • Chemical tests for biomolecules
    • Diffusion, passive transport, and osmosis
    • Enzyme study

phy1Physics – Students began the year exploring vectors, right triangle trigonometry, and unit conversions. They then applied these skills to physical concepts including velocity, acceleration, 2-dimensional projectile motion, and forces. They have engaged in hands-on laboratory activities highlighting course topics, conducted analysis of motion and friction using video tracking software, and foiled an “alien attack” by hitting a target with a projectile cannon on the first try. Students are now beginning to explore the concepts of kinetic and potential energy, work, and power.

Precalculus – Students began the year studying trigonometry and vectors.  They used trigonometry to solve a variety of application problems including calculating points of impact in an automated car tracking system as well as various navigation problems.  The month of October saw students working with functions.  They used technology such as GeoGebra and Excel in analyzing function characteristics and have used data to construct mathematical models of various forms.



resResearch: Life Science –  Student work has focused on knowledge and skills needed for research project:

  • Scientific process and experimental design
  • Principles of measurement and error analysis
  • Descriptive and inferential statistics
  • Accessing, reading, and documenting primary source material
  • Creating presentations and posters
  • Laboratory concepts and skills, including the use of model organisms
  • Detecting proteins, using the spectrophotometer, making and using standard curves
  • Exploring the factors affecting rate of fermentation by yeast
  • Determining the effect of antiseptics on common bacteria
  • Comparing chemotactic behavior of normal and mutant C. elegans

Research: Physical Science – Students have been learning and/or reviewing fundamental concepts in physics and chemistry, with emphasis on energy generation and conversion. We conducted two new mini-projects on terminal velocity and thermoelectricity.




Humanities I – Juniors have waded into complex but rewarding waters with their course essays in education, language, and gender studies. Students have examined some of the most influential writers in these fields (Dewey, Chomsky, and Butler), voicing their own opinions, and learning from and supporting each other through class discussions.  Collaboration gives them opportunities as well to pull theory together in preparation for taking original essay ideas through the writing process:  prewriting, drafting, peer editing, conferencing, revising/rethinking, and submitting.

Humanities II– Seniors are working chronologically through their study of monsters and the societies that produce them.  So far, they have examined the monstrosities of Grendel, manifestations of medieval supernatural beings, and Shakespeare’s “monster human” Caliban in The Tempest.  Since finishing the play, students have embarked on a challenging journey to develop original thesis statements and essay plans based on their various interpretations and are now uncovering secondary sources to use as part of their research essay.



Acting I: The Studio I class is focusing on imagination, ensemble work, and physicality/voice. The juniors explored an acting technique called the Viewpoints, which they will be applying to the creation of a performance art piece over the next few weeks. They also recently performed the monologues on which they’ve been working.

 Acting II: Our actors have been using Michael Shurtleff’s Audition as a guide (a common college text often referred to as the Bible for working actors) to delve more deeply into character creation and scene analysis. They have practiced using the Audition Guideposts in class study scenes and then applied them to longer undirected scene performances. They have continued to delve into the acting theories of Constantin Stanislavski, and they have also explored some of Lee Strasberg’s Method and Shakespearean acting style (in conjunction with their reading of Hamlet in Theory & Crit).cirquetacular2

Intro to Theatre: The juniors began the year with a bit of absurdism before moving on to the Ancient Greeks and Antigone. We began our unit on Shakespeare with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and then switched from love to death with Macbeth. Our Macbeth unit ended, fittingly, with blood. The students engaged in an activity where they had to closely read portions of the script, determine how much and what kind of blood the scene calls for, and then make and apply the blood in class. That was a messy day! Now we’re reading Oscar Wilde’s witty satire, The Importance of Being Earnest.

Theory & Criticism: The seniors are working through the history of great dramatic literature. They began the year with Ancient Greece and Oedipus Rex. Then they examined some samples of medieval mystery and morality plays before moving on to the English Renaissance. They recently finished Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and are now in the midst of what is possibly the world’s most famous play, Hamlet.

Craft & Skills: The seniors started off their year studying audition preparation with guest artists Mary Evans Lott and Kathy Lafon, honing both monologues and songs in anticipation of upcoming college audition. They are now learning how to devise their own performance art pieces with retired theatre professor Paul Hildebrand. The juniors completed a seven-week stage makeup class with professional makeup artist Joe Hurt, who taught makeup techniques for old age, wounds, clowns, and beards. The class culminated with the students executing their Midsummer-inspired fantasy makeup designs complete with hair and costume. They are now studying storytelling with professional storyteller Barb Lawson.


Field Trips: This fall will be a time of travel for the theatre department. We’re headed to the newly-restored Wayne Theatre at the end of October to view the acrobatic performance Cirquetacular. Then we’ll join the visual art seniors and attend The Tempest at JMU. This is an especially exciting opportunity since the seniors recently studied that play in Humanities. In November, we’ll make our annual trip to the American Shakespeare Center to see this year’s offering, Twelfth Night.



img_8304Art History – Students gave group presentations on prehistoric cave paintings and completed group poster projects on the mummification process. They have independently created infographics, artwork trading cards, family trees of mythological characters, a variety of graphic organizers, and are beginning a creative writing assignment based off of Ancient Greek artwork. We’ve also discussed the current social & political situations in the geographical areas we are studying.  Topics and areas studied are:

  • Paleolithic and Neolithic Art
  • The Ancient Near East
  • Ancient Egypt
  • The Prehistoric Aegean

Studio I – Students have completed studies in:

  • Line variation & color theory
  • Observational drawing
  • Portrait drawing by grid
  • Independent study around shared prompt

Students write an artist statement for each completed piece and we hold peer critique for each completed project.




Studio II 2D – Students have completed studies in:

  • Line variation
  • Observational drawing
  • Negative space study
  • Independent portfolio development

img_6402Studio II 3D – Students have completed studies in:• Wire sculpture

  • Building with clay using slab construction
  • Independent portfolio development

Students write an artist statement for each completed piece and we hold peer critique for each completed project. Peer critiques have been especially valuable in this class. Students ask each other questions that really push their peers to think about their own creative choices and intended purpose of their work. During these critiques student ask advice, offer valuable feedback, debate, come to realizations, and feel pride in their work.


img_0255Crafts and Skills I – Students completed printmaking with Piper Groves, started oil painting with Barbara Phillips.

Crafts and Skills II – Students completed recycled fashion with Brecken Geiman, started pastel with Elaine Hurst.


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