Semester in Review: Fall, 2017


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


Advanced 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.

AP Calculus 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.  Very shortly we will turn our attention to integral calculus where antiderivatives and Riemann sums provide a lead-in to the Fundamental Theorems of Calculus.

AP 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.  In the lab students used gravimetric analysis and spectrophotometric techniques to explore precipitation and redox reactions.  We then completed an introductory unit on thermochemistry which culminated in the design of a hand-warmer and most recently have begun taking a “deep dive” into atomic structure and bonding theories.

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.

AP 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 started their plant experiments.  They will also be visiting a dairy farm and a hydroponic farm in the coming weeks.  We are finishing up the agriculture unit with soil and will start the geology unit after that.  Students will visit several sites on Old Greenville Road to learn about geologic formations, rock ID, and how to use geologic maps.

AP Statistics –AP Statistics students have been learning all about data this year.  They first studied principles of experimental design and concerned themselves with the question “how should we best collect data”.  They learned about both good ways to collect data and also poor ways.  They identified flaws and studies, and learned how to collect data in an appropriate way.  Recent weeks saw students utilizing statistical software (SAS:JMP) to construct graphics and analyze data.  Students also used Microsoft Excel to construct pivot tables and describe relationships in categorical data.

 Calculus (DE) –  In the first semester of this course we will explore the calculus of algebraic and transcendental functions including the study of limits, derivatives, and an introduction to integration. In the second semester we will explore the the calculus of algebraic and transcendental functions including rectangular, and parametric graphing, indefinite and definite integrals, methods of integration, and power series along with applications. This course is designed for mathematical, physical, and engineering science programs so applications of these concepts are stressed.

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.

Discrete Math – Students, using programming skills learned from their AP Computer Science, wrote JAVA codes to conduct matrix operations (i.e., matrix class with methods of input/output, addition, subtraction, multiplication, calculating determinant and finding inverse etc. ).

Environmental Chemistry –Environmental Chemistry began 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 brief overview of matter and energy laid the foundation for further study. Students researched and shared how fire (and sunlight) can be made to work for man.

A background in atomic theory and atomic structure prepared students to explore nuclear chemistry, where they researched and presented topics from nuclear weapons, nuclear power and nuclear medicine. Half-life problems and nuclear reaction equations 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 quantitative aspects to our study of compounds. Students are using their nomenclature skills to figure out “What’s in that?”

Next comes gases and the atmosphere. Gas Laws and the kinetic molecular theory provide a background for the study of atmospheric chemistry, which will culminate in a research project on air pollution.

Engineering I –Engineering I started out with rapid prototyping of straw towers. The engineering design process was explained and practiced. Students also identified and offered possible solutions to some of the many challenges facing modern society. The reverse engineering of toy cars and research into famous engineering failures helped to promote hands-on trouble-shooting skills and awareness of the limitations of engineering designs. Humans learn by pushing back the boundaries and finding the limits.

Students formed teams based on personality profiles and skills assessments. Teamwork and collaboration are important aspects of the engineering profession. With kinematics to provide mathematical models, we began our study of moving objects. Civil engineering was introduced through the Traffic Jam project as well as land surveying and bridge design. The forces acting on stationary objects was modeled with statics.

Mechanical drawing and Autodesk Inventortm are next on the syllabus. Students will develop their drafting skills and use them to design ABS (plastic) brackets for 3D printing and testing. This introduction to mechanical engineering will include torque and finite element analysis through problems and Autodesk simulations.




Engineering II – Engineering II students also did some rapid prototyping of towers and airboats before diving into a more thorough exploration of fluid mechanics. Buoyancy, drag, lift and thrust where all examined through projects including airfoil design, using Autodesk Inventortm, and testing the designs in the simulated wind tunnel with Flow Designtm, as well as fan blade designs that were made using Autodesk Inventortm and printed on our 3D printer. The fans were then tested with an electric motor and “wind sock”.

Geospatial Information Systems – GIS began the year with a unit on maps and the basic workings of ArcMap and ArcCatalog.  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 multi-part lab to make a map of SVGS where the students used GPS points, digitizing, and will use geometry calculator to make useful maps of our school and campus.

They explored the ocean floor with depth sounding by taking readings from a closed box with a simulated ocean floor.  They were able to take use the readings and the Lat/Long coordinates on the box, 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.  They will be presenting their maps to practice for the midterm presentations.

Molecular Biology – Molecular/Microbiology classes began the year by considering the big ideas of cell and molecular biology.  In the context of the cell as the unit of life, students studied biochemistry in order to promote their understanding of the molecular properties and interactions that underlie the structural and functional features of cells.  Recently, we have begun a unit on eukaryotic cells, emphasizing the idea that structural and functional organization necessary for cells to “do life”.  Laboratory work has focused on basic techniques in microscopy and molecular biology, molecular modeling, detection of biomolecules in foods, and identification and purification of molecules important in living things.  More recent lab work has been related to cell structure and function, including an investigation of diffusion and osmosis and a study of enzyme activity.

Physics -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. After watching lecture videos at home, students come to class prepared to problem solve individually or in groups, complete hands-on activities and simulations, or participate in a class-wide discussion. They have engaged in laboratory activities highlighting course topics such as friction, universal gravitation, and circular motion, conducted analysis of motion and friction using video tracking software, and foiled multiple “alien attacks” by using kinematics equations to launch plastic projectiles at targets. Students are now beginning to explore the concepts of kinetic and potential energy, work, and power. Later in the semester, they will learn about angular momentum, torque, and fluid dynamics.

Precalculus – In pre-calculus students have been learning all about functions.   They used technology such as Maple and Excel in analyzing function characteristics and have used data to construct mathematical models of various forms.  In recent weeks, they have been studying exponential and logarithmic functions as they learn about more and more ways to model real life phenomenon (such as measuring the quality of a movie by looking at how quickly movie sales decay, looking at the effects that alcohol has on the relative risk of a car accident, and counting how many folds of a piece of paper it would take to reach the moon [the answer is 42!]).  The coming weeks will see students begin to apply functions into a variety of real life situations (such as predicting the rising costs of social security and modeling disease spread).

Research: Life Science – Students in Life Science Research have begun the year by working to master the knowledge and skills needed for completing their research projects.  Toward that end, we have considered the scientific process and experimental design, principles of measurement and error analysis, and descriptive and inferential statistics.  Laboratory concepts and skills, including the use of model organisms, have also been emphasized; these include exploring the factors affecting rate of fermentation by yeast, determining the effect of antiseptics on E. coli, and comparing chemotactic behavior of normal and mutant C. elegans.  Students have been introduced to methods of displaying their investigative work, including research presentations and posters.  At this point in the semester, students work on skills in accessing, reading, and documenting primary source material.  They will also begin to develop ideas for their own projects.  Students will complete the semester by preparing and presenting a formal research project proposal.

Research: Physical Science -After conducting mini-project on air resistance, studying descriptive statistics and variable correlations, students started to explore possible correlations between natural disasters such as hurricanes and wild fires and various human activities.









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 – Students continued their examination of the role of the individualist in society by examining the willful and ambitious Victor Frankenstein in the book of the same name.  Students considered the role of responsibility both from the creator’s and the creature’s perspective, then applied this problematic scenario to Pomerance’s play The Elephant Man.  Students will conference on their Elephant Man essays next week while continuing to examine the moral dilemma of their current protagonist, Edna Pontellier from The Awakening.  This work will be the basis for a research essay that will draw on both the work and critical theory.

Communications – Our new Communication Studies course is well underway. Six students were screened and invited to take part in this dual-enrollment, pilot Humanities course, led by recently retired professor of Theatre and Communication, Paul Hildebrand. The first semester is focusing primarily on public speaking skills and rhetoric.  The course will broaden considerably come winter semester, taking students into the traditional areas of communication study and practice including nonverbal, interpersonal, small-group, public/mass media, and intercultural/global communication, debate, and civil discourse. The students will present a program to the school in the final slot of this year’s Humanities guest speakers’ series, Giving Voice.

Psychology – Psychology is a new course offered as part of our pilot Humanities program led by JMU doctoral student and counselor Matt Bukowski.  The first semester is focusing primarily on the study of psychology, research, ethics, brain function and the nature of being human.



Acting I: The Studio I class is focusing on imagination, ensemble work, physicality, and voice. They recently shared their talents with students at Stuarts Draft Elementary School as part of the “One School, One Book” assembly themed around this year’s title, Mr. Popper’s Penguins. The juniors are currently rehearsing monologues to perform for class in mid-October.

 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/monologue analysis. They have practiced using the Audition Guideposts in class study scenes and are now applying them to longer undirected scene performances. They have explored techniques and theories of such acting practitioners as Viola Spolin, Constantin Stanislavski, and Lee Strasberg.

Intro to Theatre: The juniors began the year with a bit of absurdism (The Bald Soprano) before moving on to the Ancient Greeks and Antigone. We began exploring Shakespeare by examining his theatrical environment and how his texts may have evolved. We read and discussed A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the students had the opportunity to create Shakespearean cue scripts and stage a scene from the play. Now we’re delving in to the dark and bloody tragedy, Macbeth.

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 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:  We have combined the classes for Craft & Skills this year, which gives students the choice between two guest artists and allows juniors and seniors to work more closely together. For the first round, some students studied audition preparation with Mary Evans Lott to select and hone monologues for future auditions. The others completed a six-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 designing a makeup look based on an animal and creating a complete guise including hair and costume. Now the groups are either working with professional storyteller Barb Lawson to create a piece of children’s theatre or with local artist Brecken Geiman on costume design.

SVGS Art Studio has been humming with activity since the start of the school year! Developing our visual communication skills has been the center of the junior class’s work this fall: SuperSketch (super-sized artwork, whose size needed to be at least the height of the artist) pieces were developed with the additional criteria of identifying a specific theme to convey to the audience. We are currently working on a piece dealing with the passage of time: evolving a food item, while simultaneously working on our ability to develop an dynamic and energizing composition! Seniors are deep into the development of the “Breadth” section of their senior portfolios, allowing them to showcase their range of technical and conceptual skills with a variety of art media.




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