Semester in Review: Winter Seminar 2016

Winter seminars began on Monday, Dec. 12 and  continued to Dec. 19.  Regular classes did not meet this week but will resume meeting on Jan. 3, 2017.  Seminars offered student an opportunity to intensively study a new and unique area of interest outside of  the regular  curriculum.  Students choose one seminar topic to focus on for the week.  In addition to seminar topics, seniors met with their advisers to review progress on capstone projects and research students conducted preliminary experiments to prepare for data collection for their research projects.

Below are descriptions of what students worked on in their seminars.

Digital Humanities

Digital Humanities gave students a chance to cultivate an appreciation for various humanities-oriented fields of interest. Class activities such as watching and discussing TED talks, listening to radio interviews, and watching and responding to an arts/science-centered documentary allowed students to explore topics touching on philosophy, communication, the visual and performing arts, and ethics.  These activities were enhanced by student-applied technology culminating in final presentations to share with the class—understanding the importance and the craft of using electronic media and various platforms and apps to deliver content effectively.  Presentation topics included the ethical complexities of cloning, the value of archaeological digs, the cinematic impact of Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, and the importance of civil discourse in our world. Click here to see an example of a student presentation.seminar    Students also had opportunities to explore their creative nature by using the apps Paper 53 for visual art and GarageBand for music composition.

Some comments:

·         “I was able to get a better look at philosophy and art when we talked about Socrates and various artists that I did not know a whole lot about.  I was also given an outlet to show my interest in movies through my presentation which was a lot of fun.”

·         “The Vermeer documentary was very interesting because I never thought of a way to combine technology and art (I really want to try the technique).”

·         “I feel like I’ve definitely been enriched with this seminar.  I liked being able to delve into topics like art and music that I don’t get to normally get to explore in school.”




This seminar introduced Chinese culture and Chinese calligraphy to any students who are interested in oriental culture.  Students learned the most basic Chinese language – speaking and writing, discuss any topics about China, and  created their own work of Chinese calligraphy.


Marine Biology 

For this seminar, students learned about the ecosystems of the ocean, interesting fish, and methods for studying the ocean.  Each group of students designed an experiment to test a method used for studying the ocean.  Experiments included a prototype for a new design for a snorkel, testing pressure changes to represent lungs, echolocation, and using air pressure to transport materials to a submersible.  Thank you to Augusta Health and Fitness for allowing us to use their pool for the experiments! Things worked completely different from in an aquarium in the lab.



Our winter seminar group took a field trip to Historic Downtown Staunton. Students explored historic districts and took photographs of architecture that interested them. We visited the 3rd floor of the R.R. Smith Center where Executive Director Frank Strassler of the Staunton Historic Foundation showed students old maps of the city. He was also generous enough to pull out old architectural drawings from the Collins Architectural Archive for students to photograph.

Students designed a series of three digital photomontages inspired by our trip. Some students chose to focus on the history of one location, while others focused on the variety of architectural styles in Staunton. They learned a variety of photoshop techniques including color correction, selection, shapes, blending modes, filters, clipping masks, adjustment layers, and layer styles.

clocktower courthouse-3 greenhouse2 train-series-1 webster-series-2


Students in Puzzlemania honed their critical thinking skills and practiced their persistence with a range of puzzles and brain-teasers.  From Rubik’s Cube to Einstein’s Puzzle to the “Black-and-White Hats” problem, the seminar was designed to expand the arsenal of problem-solving techniques at the student’s disposal.  It turns out that critical thinking can be a lot of fun!


A Taste of Python

The purpose of this seminar was to give students an introduction to programming using Python. Students worked on some basics of programming and used three data types: integer, float and strings.  With that in hand students moved to programming with turtle graphics which helped to visualize the code that they were writing.  Then we made life simpler by using loops. After a few days of drawing images with turtles a few more advanced topics were worked with.  We used the python list and worked on how to make a list, add to a list and how to use a list to return multiple items from a function.   We then moved to work a little with recursion and finally ended up writing a couple of classes with one or more methods.  This gave the students a taste of python as a object oriented programming language.



Fourteen SVGS students elected to spend the last six days of the semester studying, flying, and modifying indoor microquadcopters, including the “tiny whoop” (watch the 2016 tiny whoop world championship at ). Everyone developed soldering skills attaching video cameras and transmitters to quadcopters, learned how to fly FPV with goggles, and discussed best practices for everything from video transmitting antennas to disposing of lithium-polymer batteries. The last day included opportunities to demonstrate flying skills by navigating a student-built obstacle course, and participating in sudden death FPV racing.

Hey! Now I can fix my broken helicopter from home!
Doing background research for a presentation, and practicing soldering skills.
Working through the Flight Training Checklist to earn permission to fly FPV.









Sports Analysis

In Sports Analysis, we dove into the world of sports and how analytics is changing the game we know.  We learned about how cameras are being utilized to track every movement that every player is doing on the court, field, or pitch.  We learned about how that data can be utilized to improve player performance, choose better strategies (when should we go for it on 4th down), and determine a player’s worth.  We focused on new statistics that are impacting the game and how they improve upon the statistics that have been around for a number of years.  A high note of the seminar was the opportunity to interview the CEO of a company that works with ESPN to provide analytics services (data and visualizations) as well as 20 MLB teams and all NFL teams.  sports-anaStudents commented that they enjoyed:

  • “being able to explore sports that I enjoy watching in an in-depth way and seeing how conventional wisdom isn’t always correct.”
  • “creating a rating system to predict a game’s results.”
  • “learning how to use [Microsoft] Access


Stop Motion Video Seminar

In this seminar, students used the app “Stop Motion Studio” to bring everyday objects to life in self-designed, directed, scripted, and edited educational videos. After working through some brainstorming, storyboarding, and practice with video editing techniques, students launched headfirst into their projects. Some highlights included a recreation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth using only McDonald’s foods, a robot that explains a conservation of energy physics problem to a test-taking student, an informational video about cloud types conducted entirely on painted canvas, a tour of SVGS, and a whiteboard that comes to life with various random bits of trivia.

Theatre Production

Our Theatre Production seminar provided the opportunity for all of our actors to put their full focus and creativity into bringing the stories of Arabian Nights to life. They worked together every morning on the stage at ShenanArts to invent the myriad characters, locations, sounds, and events of these stories with minimal set and props. “I had such an amazing time at seminar!” says one junior. “Getting to know and creating art with everyone involved in the theater program was an absolute joy!”

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