Semester in Review: Winter 2018

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


Advanced Calculus: Multivariable – Advanced calculus students finished 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. The students are also beginning to apply the calculus that they learned last year into higher dimensional space by calculating partial derivatives and gradients to model situations like the changing temperature of a metal plate.

Advanced Technology –

Adv Tech ended the semester working with Adobe Illustrator.  This is a drawing program that allows the students to create Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) images.  The advantage of these is that they may be enlarged many times without loosing detail or pixilating.   An example of a village is shown below.  As you can see many of the houses are very similar, and that is one of the points.  One can create one house, the copy and paste it, make a few changes and you have a “different” house.  Later the students took the house idea and made more complex houses as part of the final exam.  Illustrator followed our work with Photoshop.  Most students enjoy Photoshop because they can start with a photo they took with there camera or phone and manipulate it to look very interesting.  An example is shown below.

AP Calculus BC – In the second half of the fall semester, AP Calculus BC students completed their work on differential calculus and began a study of integral calculus. Antiderivatives and Riemann sums provided a lead-in to the Fundamental Theorems of Calculus which was applied in a variety of physical contexts. The semester concluded with the calculus of exponential and logarithmic functions and we will resume in January with a study of differential equations.

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 – As the semester was drawing to a close we were working on problem solving with arrays, recursion and some general math problems.  Part of the time was devoted to practice for the final exam and part to learning new coding methods.  The students spend a good bit of time working together to solve the coding problems and helping each other get ready for the exam.  For those who love code here is piece of an example of what we were working on.  The program will calculate a max and min tip for a meal when the user provides the cost of the meal and the max and min percent for the tip.  The class will pick up here in January for a short review and them move into ArrayLists.

Photo of local sinkhole courtesy of Jay Blackstone and Ian Lawson.

AP Environmental Science – We have been studying geology, mining, and waste over the last 8 weeks.  In the geology unit, we studied soils at Shenandoah National Park, identified rocks in the SVGS rock collection, and looked at local geological formations.   For the mining and waste unit, students learned about different types of mining that have occurred in Virginia including the future possibility of mining for Uranium.  Students will review the waste unit by visiting the Augusta County Landfill in January.

AP Statistics –  AP Statistics students have been learning all about probability and probability distributions.   They used Excel to construct probability simulations to approximate the probability of complex events such as the probability that a particular football team would end the season with 12 wins.   Students also looked at various applications of probability, such as medical testing, and learned the importance of conditional probability.  Students looked at the importance of discrete probability distributions in many  contexts, such as investment:

They also looked at the binomial distribution as a tool to answer research questions.  Second semester will be devoted to statistical inference, the most crucial part of the AP Statistics exam.   Students will also be working on their big AP Statistics projects.

Calculus (DE) – Students in SVGS Dual Enrollment Calculus finished 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 competed in Radford University Cyber Security Contests for High School and Community College Students.  These contests challenged students in a wide variety of topic areas including anatomy of an attack, an introduction to networking, cryptography, forensics, web security, and Windows/Linux security. The preliminary round provided an opportunity for students to learn a great deal of material in a short period of time, motivated by challenges and supported by hints, videos, and other educational materials.

SVGS had two teams competing – CoffeeSec (Michael Koch, Jay Patel, Drew Kelly, Katelyn Neighbors, Ben Rochford) and JEMB (Joseph Reilly, Elias Nafzinger, Bo Bowersox and Mausam Mehek).

In the preliminary round, CoffeeSec finished 1st and JEBM finished 11th out of 234 high school and college teams participating across the state.  Contest topics includes reconnaissance, cryptography, steganography, operating systems (LINUX), networking, and cyber history.  Congratulations to these students!

The spring qualifying round provides an opportunity for students to test their mettle against their peers and continue to hone their skills. Earning their way to the on-campus finals should provide an experience they will never forget as they learn to construct a network and then defend it from expert penetration testers.

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 – Students presented their air pollution projects before the class moved on to study chemical reactions and stoichiometry. Laboratory experiments helped students recognize different reaction types and develop product prediction skills. The quantitative aspects of chemical reactions were further developed through stoichiometry practice and experiments developing the ability to answer the “how much” question in chemistry. The semester ended with an independent research project with topics ranging from dark matter, stars and cryo-chemistry to the brain chemistry involved with PTSD, music enjoyment and love.

Engineering I –  Students completed the Bracket Design Challenge as part of their exploration of mechanical engineering. Teams of students designed and simulated brackets using Autodesk Inventor. The brackets were then printed on our 3D printer and tested with weights to determine their maximum load capacity. The next unit in engineering focused on simple machines, mechanical advantage and efficiency. Students experimented with different types of simple or compound machines and learned how to calculate their mechanical advantage or disadvantage. Energy conversion devices and systems were also researched and tested for their efficiency or inefficiency and effectiveness. The semester culminated in a class-wide Christmas themed, Rube Goldberg machine. Teams of students worked to design and build 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.

Engineering II – Engineering II students focused on gearboxes and thermodynamics for the second half of the semester. Students researched, designed, 3D printed and tested motor driven gearboxes to lift a 1 kg mass 1m in 10s. A trip to the Rexnord Gearbox facility in Stuarts Draft helped to reinforce the concepts learned and introduce students to the function of a modern manufacturing plant. Applications of the laws of thermodynamics, with a focus on heat engines and thermal cycles rounded out the term. The Rube Goldberg Machines designed and built by the Engineering II students included aspects of fluid mechanics and thermodynamics.



Map courtesy of James Garrison an Mark Sliwoski

Geospatial Information Systems – Students have been researching and mapping hurricanes for the last two months.  They began with Hurricane Katrina, then they applied what they learned to a hurricane of their choice with more research and maps.  For the midterm, they presented their maps to Mr. Rittenhouse and Dr. Kolvoord from JMU.  Next semester, they will start working on their own research projects and continue to develop new GIS skills.

Molecular Biology – Students in MolBio classes recently completed a multi-faceted project focused on how “cells do life”. Completing this project required students to incorporate their knowledge of the molecular properties and interactions that underlie the structural and functional features of cells. Students created posters to illustrate how the integrated metabolic functions of systems of organelles are responsible for specific characteristics of life. Lab work associated with this unit focused on cellular function (transport mechanisms and enzyme activity) and mitosis. Students then began a unit on microbiology, beginning with the historical milestones in the development 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. In the lab, students learned sterile technique and methods for culture and identification of microorganisms.

Physics -During the fall semester, SVGS physics covered topics from Newtonian Mechanics, including kinematics, projectile motion, gravity, Newton’s laws of motion, friction, torque, angular momentum, and fluids. Students put their skills to the test in various scenarios, including investigating a skid mark to determine vehicle velocities before a collision, running away from a sensor to determine one’s own horsepower, and determining the lowest height from which a toy car can drop to make it around a loop-the-loop. In the spring, students will investigate electricity, magnetism, sound, and light.

Precalculus -During the first semester, students in Precalculus learned properties of linear, polynomial, rational, logarithmic, and exponential functions. They utilized functions as a way to model a variety of real-life phenomena such as modeling earnings of big budget movies and estimating the age of a fetus based on femur length. Second semester will start with an expanded look at trigonometric functions and modeling periodic behavior.

Research: Life Science – Students in Life Science Research spent the last half of the semester learning to read primary research articles and conducting a background literature review related to potential project topics. During this time, students were also focused on developing and refining project ideas by applying their understanding of topics addressed earlier in the semester including research principles, experimental methods, and use of various model organisms. During seminar week, students established details of project setups and/or performed preliminary tests of their methods. Proposed topics range among a variety of scientific fields including environmental science, plant science, microbiology, virology, animal science, and medicine and health. 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 -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. For their semester exam, students will be able to choose between examining the role of conscience and civil disobedience in our society (as voiced by Thoreau and King) or the need to overthrow oppressive conditions (as voiced by Frederick Douglass).

Humanities II –Seniors have invested time and energy in research essays based on Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening. After generating thought-provoking discussion, students accepted the challenge of choosing a point of interest or concern and, using scholarly database articles, composed essays that blended their own critical assessments with literary sources, producing insightful and in-depth essays. Currently, seniors are preparing their digital portfolios to be submitted as their semester exam—a collection of scholarly articles, online sources, and other digital media that reflect their individual impressions of this semester’s works. The portfolio gives students the opportunity to process the semester by synthesizing relevant and varied sources and to demonstrate how literary and social concerns resonate with them.

Communications – 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 juniors explored an acting technique called the Viewpoints by creating a  performance art piece set to poetry. They performed monologues in mid-October and then read  new plays in a search for their final exam monologues. We wound down the semester exploring  characterization and observation and how to apply those techniques to their final monologues.  We also began a unit on acting comedy to gear up for Lucky Stiff.

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. The students also studied various acting styles including Shakespeare, comedy of manners, and Chekhov (in conjunction with plays they studied in Theory & Crit). Next we’ll  move into the performance techniques of farce to prepare for our upcoming production of Lucky Stiff.

Intro to Theater We have journeyed through bloody Scotland with Macbeth, witty Victorian England in The Importance of Being Earnest, and a path to self-discovery in A Doll’s House. Our interactive and creative projects have included blood-making, the confessionals and Tweets of  the Macbeths, a traditional Victorian tea party, and children’s books and how-to guides on Victorian etiquette.

Theory & Criticism: We moved quickly through French Neoclassicism and 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. The students also created original Readers Theatre scripts to review theatre history topic prior to our exam. Throughout the semester, each student worked through  a creative project to read a classical play, analyze it, compare it to a movie version, and then  create their own short film interpretation. We had some pretty unusual takes on those  traditional plays!

Craft & Skills:  Barbara Spillman Lawson was back this year to lead a group of our students through the creation of an original piece of children’s theater. The actors came up with the
concept, wrote the script, found the props & costumes, and performed for 40 little audience members at Covenant Developmental Preschool in Staunton. They even created posters and coloring pages to send to the school! The children were entranced, and we got wonderful  feedback from the teachers and other adults in the room. The full video of “On Top of  Spaghetti” is available on the SVGS Theatre Facebook page. Meanwhile, the other students  worked with local artist and designer Brecken Geiman on costume design. They studied fashion  history and sewing techniques and put their new skills to the test creating original design  sketches and hand-sewn projects. They learned how to take measurements, and they have been  working energetically to build all sorts of fun costumes and accessories for Lucky Stiff. Look out  for their work with you come see the show!

Other News: In November, we made our annual trip to the American Shakespeare Center to see  Shakespeare’s witty comic romance, Much Ado About Nothing. Meanwhile, our students have
been involved in shows all around the community including My Fair Lady (Wayne Theatre), Les Misérables Student Edition (Blue Ridge Community College), Taming of the Shrew (Mary Baldwin University), and various productions at their high schools. In addition, we’d like to congratulate all of our students who advanced to the state finals of the VHSL one-act competition with their home schools: Margot Flanders, Sam Heller, and Shyanne Hensley from Wilson; and Mary Elam, Owen Edwards, Jake Morris, and Marin Rehfield from Lee, who emerged as state champions. In January, you’ll have the opportunity to see an original piece by senior Shyanne Hensley, who is writing and directing The Devil Walks a Tightrope for her capstone project (Jan. 6 & 7 at Eastern Mennonite University).  Also in January you’ll see all of our students on stage in Lucky Stiff, so stay tuned here and on Facebook for more information or visit


Studio I – Juniors have recently completed a huge independent study project where they identified a skill or technique they wanted to either improve or explore throughout the month of November. We had students working in digital animation, gouache painting, realism with acrylic and oil painting, portraiture, video documentation, and developing accurate depth and proportion. Students simultaneously developed their skills with graphite, finishing self-portraits using a grid to help produce correct proportions. Students also contributed a series of shoes to help bring to life the Centipede’s costume for a local theater production of James and the Giant Peach. We also took a field trip to the Fralin Art Museum at UVA to see the exhibition “Dealer’s Choice: The Samuel Kootz Gallery.” Students selected a work from the museum and created their own piece of art in response to their selection.

Studio II/AP – Seniors have been hard at work developing work for the Breadth portion of their senior portfolios, showcasing their range of technical skills and ability to work with a variety of subject matter. When we return from Winter Break, they’ll begin working on their concentrations. This series of work is based on a theme that is personally relevant, and will give them the opportunity (and challenge) of developing an idea over a period of several months! Some of the themes are: childhood memories through fairytales, digital web comics, expressive landscapes, expressive portraiture, meditative practice in painting, absurd reality, and family histories.

Art History – We have finished our study of the Renaissance across Europe, having learned about the influence of patronage systems on the development of art during this time period. Students also selected an artwork from the height of the Italian Renaissance to research and present to their class. Accompanying the presentations were review games, vocabulary bingo, videos of the “artists” discussing their work, and interactive note sheets!

Crafts & Skills – Seniors worked in oil painting with multi-disciplinary artist Elaine Hurst from Port Republic, having the opportunity to do a “plein air” painting early in the fall. Juniors worked in stained glass with Lisa Morrison of L&L Custom Framing & Stained Glass of Staunton. Both classes worked with Ashley Sauder Miller, a multi-media collage artist, and developed a series of 12 small artworks. They were challenged to create pieces that worked both individually and within the series, using a minimum of 3 different media.

Upcoming Shows:

2017-2018 SVGS Student Art Show at the Shenandoah Valley Art Center in Waynesboro, VA, is open to the public for the entire month of February! Join us for the show’s official opening on Saturday, February 3 from 6-8 pm at SVAC.

2017 Youth Art Month Show will be on view for the month of March, hosted by the Staunton-Augusta Art Center in Staunton, VA. Please join us for the opening reception on Sunday, February 25, 2017 from 1-3PM!

Enjoy a preview.  See student artwork shown below!

Caroline Conlon



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