Semester in Review: November, December 2016

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


Advanced Calculus: Multivariable – Students in SVGS Advanced Calculus wrestled with extending what they learned in calculus last year to three dimensional space. Along the way, they are mastering the use of software tools which (in addition to being powerful problem solving assistants) help us visualize the difficult new concepts of vector calculus. Here’s a link to a webpage containing a student created plot illustrating the fundamental truth underlying the technique of Lagrange optimization:

Advanced Technology – Students worked on their exam project combining the three areas  studied so far this year: audio, video and still photography.  Products were a video using pictures students have taken, and video students shot. Students had a commentary that accompanied the images and music as background. The video and the images told a story of the students own design.  Their commentary was added to tell the story as the images progressed on the screen.  Music was added as an accompaniment to the story.

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.

AP Chemistry- AP Chemistry students have been focusing on the interactions of particles at the molecular level that determine the macroscopic properties of chemical substances.  By understanding the types of forces at work between atoms, ions, and molecules, students have learned to predict trends in properties such as boiling point, vapor pressure, and solubility.  The study of interparticle forces led into a study of ideal gas laws and deviations from ideal behavior.  Most recently we explored the interparticle forces at work in solutions and solids.  We will begin the second semester with an investigation of chemical kinetics, the study of molecular-level changes that control reaction rates.

AP Computer Science – 

Breccia from the Staunton Pulaski fault. Photo by Kristen Bauer
Breccia from the Staunton Pulaski fault. Photo by Kristen Bauer

AP Environmental Science -We have been studying geology, mining, and waste.  In the geology unit, we studied soils at Shenandoah National Park, identified rocks in rock collections, and looked at local geological formations.   For the mining and waste unit, students mined for chocolate chips in cookies and next semester we will finish the waste unit by visiting the Augusta County Landfill.

AP Statistics – AP Statistics students have been learning about probability and probability distributions.   They used Excel to construct probability simulations to approximate the probability of complex events.   Students also looked at various applications of probability, such as medical testing, and learned the importance of conditional probability.   Students looked at the binomial distribution as a tool to answer research questions and used it to answer questions that have plagued humanity for millennia such as “Do dogs look like their owners?” The semester ended with an introduction to sampling distributions.

Calculus (DE) – In SVGS Calculus, we worked hard the first semester extending ideas from algebra, geometry,and trig into a world of change. We ended the semester grappling with the idea of an antiderivative.  Part of the review process for the midterm consisted of online antiderivative review games (Power Saucers and Sinusoidal Saucers). You can try your hand at them by visiting: and

Computer Networking and Security –  

Electric Vehicle Team –  The Electric Vehicle Team participated in the North Hampton Electric Automobile Team event at NCCAR near Roanoke Rapids, NC. With the re-tuned suspension and real-time battery management, we were able to get some very good performances in the Datsun. Several rookie drivers made significant progress in their autocross skills. We are continuing to work on getting lithium batteries in the Porsche and ended the semester with an active seminar working on controllers, battery charging and a STEM cycle (mini-EV).

Environmental Chemistry – Students presented their air pollution projects before the class moved on to study chemical reactions and stoichiometry. The conservation of mass requires balanced chemical reactions so students did several experiments to help develop reaction type recognition and product prediction skills.  The quantitative aspects of chemical reactions were further developed through stoichiometry practice and experiments leading to being able to answer the “how much” question in chemistry. The semester ended with an independent research project with topics ranging from fossil fuel combustion and water crisis to kitchen ventilation problems and the dangers of shampoo.

eng-1eng2captureEngineering I –  Students completed the Bracket and Nozzle Design Challenges as part of their exploration of mechanical engineering. Teams of students designed and test brackets and nozzles using Autodesk Inventor ™ and printed the designs using the 3D printer.

The next unit in engineering focused on simple machines, mechanical advantage and efficiency. Students experimented with different types of simple machines and learned how to calculate their mechanical advantage and efficiency or lack thereof in the case of the pneumatic ping-pong ball launchers. The semester culminated in a class-wide Christmas themed, Rube Goldberg machine. Teams of students worked to design and build simple machines that started with a lit candle and ended by ringing a bell. The different teams had to collaborate with each other to insure that the last step of one team triggered the first step of the next team.


Geospatial Information Systems –  Students have been working the last month on a homeland security tutorial in California and their midterm exam which examined crime in Houston, Texas.  For the midterm, students made maps and graphs in ArcMap to show the amount of crime, type of crime and time of day of crimes in Houston, Texas in August of 2006.  The objective was to make suggestions to the city to reduce the amount of crime.  They presented their final maps to Mr. Rittenhouse from JMU.  Next semester, they will be working on their own projects while still learning more GIS skills.

Map by Emma Casto

Molecular Biology – Students studied:

During the final weeks of the semester, MolBio classes studied the molecular properties and interactions that underlie the structural and functional features of cells.  Specifically, students investigated metabolism (including energy, enzymes, and cellular respiration) and the cell cycle.  Students completed posters to illustrate how “cells do life” by illustrating the structural and functional interactions that are responsible for cells having the characteristics of life.  We then began a unit on microbiology, beginning with the intriguing history of the science.  In the context of emerging and re-emerging diseases, students studied bacteria and viruses and their interactions with humans, particularly their role in causing disease.  Students explored these topics through group activities, computer simulations, case studies, class discussions, and labs.  Laboratory work focused on investigating enzyme activity and mitosis and providing students with experience in established and emerging technologies related to microbiology and disease, including proper use of sterile technique and culture and identification of microorganisms.



20161011_080505Physics -Through the fall semester, students focused on various theories and laws of Newtonian Mechanics, including the equations of motion, projectiles, free body diagrams and forces, energy, momentum, angular momentum and torque, and fluids. Students watched lecture videos on YouTube before coming to class to engage in activities to help them practice and master these college-level concepts. Students also participated in an online discussion board for extra credit opportunities, in which many class topics were brought forth in real-life scenarios. In the spring, students will begin to learn about electricity, circuits, magnetism, sound, and light.

Precalculus -During the first semester, students in Precalculus learned about vectors and trigonometric applications.   They dove into a study on functions where they analyzed properties of linear, polynomial, rational, and exponential functions.   They utilized functions as a way to model a variety of real-life phenomena such as modelling earnings of big budget movies and simulating the life cycle of mammoths.   Second semester will start with an expanded look at exponential and logarithmic functions before moving on to a study of trigonometric functions and trigonometric identities.








Data readings from PASCO sensors showing anti-reflection coating enhances transmission of light and, therefore, increases light-electricity conversion. – Ian Lawson

Research: Life Science –    After spending the first several weeks of the semester mastering life science lab techniques and other aspects of scientific research, students spent the rest of the semester focused on project development.  Classwork focused on basic research methodology, including research principles, experimental methods, use of model organisms, reading scientific literature, and using descriptive and inferential statistics.  Students applied this information in choosing a research topic and designing their individual projects.  Students spent time during seminar week working out details of project setups and/or performing preliminary tests of their methods.  Proposed topics range among a variety of scientific fields including environmental science, microbiology, virology, physiology, animal behavior, and developmental biology.  Once projects have been completed, students will prepare for the Regional Intel Science and Engineering Fair to be held at JMU in March.

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 finished the semester with a strong showing. Perhaps the most intellectually and emotionally challenging theorists we have saved for last:  Thoreau and his call for civil disobedience, Nietzsche and his rejection of moralists, MLK Jr. and his encouragement of racial equity and, finally, Gazzaniga and his offered proof of a universal morality.  The semester exam gave students the chance to apply these questions of ethics to current societal conditions—where do we still see examples of civil disobedience? How does King’s message of racial equity sound today?  Moving forward next semester, students will shift from studying theory to searching for and listening to America’s voice in literature articulated by giants such as Dickinson, Whitman, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner.

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humanities-ii-collaborative-discussionHumanities II–Perhaps the most misunderstood monster of all, Frankenstein’s creature has captured seniors’ imaginations and curiosity. Far removed from Hollywood’s version of a stumbling and dispassionate creature, our creature exudes the emotions and intellect of Shelley’s take on Romanticism and shows us how the concept of monster continues to evolve as society does.  Seniors have engaged in deep discussions about the humanity of this creature and the inferiority of humans who surround and reject him.   Semester exams gave students the chance to reflect on monsters from our works (Grendel, Caliban, Frankenstein’s creature) and to investigate the possibility that these monsters may be more than threats to us—they may exist as mirrors of ourselves.  Our monster study continues next semester with a look at the dark side of fairy tales while our next novel will move us into the Victorian age with the novel Dracula.



20161204_184142Acting I: The juniors finished their study of the Viewpoints by creating performance art piece set to poetry. They explored the rules and techniques of improvisation and read new plays in a search for their final exam monologues. They also had the unique opportunity to perform at the Blackfriars Playhouse as a part of the ASC’s Holiday Season Staged Reading. The students worked on melodrama, stock characters, and physical comedy in preparation for this performance of the traditional English mummers’ play, “St. George and the Dragon.”

 Acting II:  The seniors worked hard to apply the Guideposts they’ve studied to scene study performances in November and for their final exam. We worked through various exercises and techniques in class, but ultimately the students were responsible for the direction of their own scenes. They also studied various acting styles including, farce, comedy of manners, and realism (in conjunction with plays they studied in Theory & Crit).



Intro to Theatre: The students wrapped up their unit on The Importance of Being Earnest with a Victorian tea party and creative projects highlighting various Victorian etiquette customs. Then we moved on to realism and Henrick Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. We finished the semester with a short introduction to playwriting and some VERY creative scenes and monologues written by the students.

Theory & Criticism:  We moved quickly through the English Restoration and then examined the historical and social changes that brought theatre artists into realism. We wound down the semester by studying Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and considering how this new style of playwriting influenced Stanislavski and the acting method that he ultimately created.

Craft & Skills: The juniors learned to enchant audiences of all ages with professional storyteller Barbara Lawson of Stories with a Twist. The seniors finished their time with Paul Hildebrand with a more intensive study of improvisation.


Production News: The SVGS theatre department is pleased to announce its winter production, Arabian Nights, Jan. 19-22, 2017. This updated retelling of the thousand-and-one tales (don’t worry, we only cover six!) features a strong ensemble and creative physical storytelling that is sure to delight audiences young and old. Stay tuned here and on Facebook for more information or visit for tickets.






img_8846Art History – Students visited the Fralin Museum at UVA and took part in the Writer’s Eye creative writing competition. After taking docent-led tours around the collection, students selected a piece of interest as inspiration for their poetry or prose submission.  We studied Ancient Greece – both art and culture. Students explored the transition in style from Geometric through Hellenistic art.

Studio I – Students submitted drawings for the Doodle for Google national contest. They learned to use Adobe Illustrator to design a logo. Students created clay boxes by slab building. Each student designed a mural concept for the City of Waynesboro. Their designs were a response to a local call to art students and will be submitted for judging this month. The winning design will be painted on a 190 foot long wall in Waynesboro. Students studied Abstract Expressionism and were challenged to create abstract non-objective work that expressed certain emotions. Students are now transforming one of their 2D abstract pieces into a 3D sculpture.

Studio II/ AP Studio – All students completed the Breadth section of their AP Portfolio and many began on their Concentration (sustained investigation) portion. Some concentration themes include a monochromatic shadow study, biology, prehistory, timeless accessories, light sources, domestic abuse, clocks of different decades, and Japanese folklore. Weekly critiques allow students to provide each other meaningful feedback.

Students took a trip to Mary Baldwin University to meet with Brooklyn artist Diana Cooper. She shared slides of her abstract painting and installation work and spoke about her aesthetic. The intimate setting allowed students to have a conversation with her about artistic process.


Crafts and Skills I – Students worked with oil painter Barbara Phillips of Staunton.

Crafts and Skills II – Students worked with soft pastel artist Elaine Hurst of Harrisonburg.

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