What If I Taught Girls the ONLY Math Class They Ever Took?

by Anne Szymendera, STEM teacher

“Imagine your students were only required to take one math class in their career. How would you teach them? What would you teach them?” These questions prompted a weekend of inspired learning from math teachers across the country. When I attend the Teaching Contemporary Mathematics conference hosted by North Carolina’s School of Science and Mathematics last month, I was eager to learn ways in which I could answer these questions in regards to my own students. This two-day conference invites presenting teachers from around the country to share their ideas on how to incorporate technology, find realistic applications, and increase student involvement in their classes.

As a second-year teacher, much of my time preparing for classes feels like doing what I can day-to-day, and just continuing to keep learning and doing better with each lesson. I work hard to create interesting and exciting lessons, and I pride myself in trying to thoughtfully execute each day. Inevitably, though, the day-to-day can get exhausting, and it becomes about keeping my head above water, and doing what I can until I have time to plan something better. Then, suddenly, I find myself falling into a pattern – a pattern in which I have to ask myself, “Am I really doing everything I can to make these girls’ learning worthwhile?”

The conference introduced me to ways in which I can create both small goals each day in my classroom to help avoid this pattern. I learned ways to think about how I can make students’ time in my classroom time well-spent by improving how my students learn, not just teaching them material, and growing in what they learn. I ask myself: If mine was the only math class these girls were required to take, would they want to come back for more?

The two days of the conference were spent attending hour-long sessions, on topics that piqued our interest. One that I found really inspiring was a session on GeoGebra, an online mathematics program used to create interactive lessons; I immediately saw ways in which I could incorporate even just five minutes of this online math program to deepen levels of understanding and learning with my students. Even better, the session’s presenter answered the question: How can we make students leaders of their own learning? He noted that even weaker students flourish from discovery-based learning, and providing opportunities for students to guide their own encounters with new concepts is monumental in their long-term understanding. This may not be a novel approach, and it is one I have used before, but it’s an important one that can get lost in the day-to-day of teaching.

Other sessions I attended addressed a variety of stimulating topics. One highlighted specific math problems that can be carried through, and repeated in, different math classes throughout high school in order to inspire connected learning; another looked at problem-based learning as a basis for classroom teaching. Yet another focused on how to incorporate computer programming in any of your classes, not just computer science.

I was inspired anew as a learner, as well as a teacher. I was filled with ideas and the desire to bring new ideas to my classroom each day. After these two days, I realized that it is not about overwhelming myself by trying to create an epic classroom using every new thing I learn. It’s about reminding myself why I am planning each night. It’s about remembering who I am teaching. It’s about making small, thoughtful changes that leave big impacts on my students’ learning. It’s about never being intimidated to try something new and possibly daunting, if it means your students might really flourish.

I want to be the teacher I set out to be each day — one who inspires personal growth and an interest in learning within a mathematical framework. I was reminded after the Teaching Contemporary Mathematics conference of my purpose in being in the classroom each day, and I continue to reflect on, and work towards answering this question: Would my students be lucky to take my class as their only required math class?

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Mission Accomplished: The 2019 Paul K. Bergan Poetry Festival

by Anne Burridge, English Department Chair

Foxcroft Mission
To help every girl explore her unique voice and to develop the skills, confidence, and courage to share it with the world.

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As a community of educators, we are continually seeking ways to create authentic and meaningful learning experiences that reflect the ways in which girls learn best, allowing them abundant opportunities for self-knowledge and personal growth within a nurturing environment that celebrates their creativity and individual voices. Nowhere does this mission manifest itself more vividly than during one wintery day each year when the Foxcroft community takes a hiatus from the regular class schedule to hear, compose, and recite poetry.

As it always does, the festival began with the keynote poetry reading by award-winning poet, Dr. Tina Barr, who began her own journey as a writer at Foxcroft.  As Tina read from her latest work, Green Target, she interwove some marvelous stories about her life as a Hound and field hockey player at Foxcroft as well as the inspiration she found on our beautiful campus as a young, aspiring poet. I was struck by her descriptions of the various ways she finds material for her poetry — a fusion of true stories, philosophical musings, striking imagery, and emotional volatility, all of which communicate both the frail beauty and the pain of life. Listening to Tina, we were all riveted and eager to break out into our poetry writing workshops and play with some words for ourselves.

We all got that chance as each student chose two separate poetry workshops to participate in, one following Tina’s reading and one later in the afternoon. The subjects varied from ekphrastic poetry (which comments on the visual image in works of art) and “found” poetry to a poem illustration workshop. I led a nature writing workshop that used our gorgeous outdoor campus as inspiration for charting landscapes of the heart and mind.

“I absolutely loved the nature poetry workshop. It really helped me connect with myself and understand things about my feelings that I hadn’t been able to before,” wrote one student. Another participant found the experience unexpectedly enjoyable. “I love to be outside — except when it’s cold,” she wrote. “The Nature Poetry workshop was based on going outside. At first, I was hesitant, but rather than sitting outside being unhappy, I wrote down all the things that do make me happy and ended up writing a poem dedicated to a place I love very much and how even it changes with the seasons.”

With the setting of the sun came the Festival’s finale — an Open Mic session followed by the free-wheeling Poetry Slam — events that capped off an extraordinary day devoted to celebrating the written and spoken word by offering every girl another chance to explore her unique voice and share it.

During Open Mic, the girls gathered at round tables in candlelight (battery-powered, of course) in sometimes raucous support of their peers, who took the stage to share original poems, offer colorful puns and limericks, or sing favorite songs that invited the cheers and whoops of an exuberant, appreciative audience.

The Poetry Slam featured the largest number of contestants in memory, young slammers who inveighed on issues of gender, identity, social awareness, politics, justice, and feminism. That we as an English Department can create a loving environment in which our girls feel safe in exposing their vulnerabilities in slam poetry that invites authentic self-discovery testifies to the power of English program as well as single-gender education at its finest.

The Art of Teamwork

By Julie Fisher, Digital Arts Instructor

Fisher_JulieDesign is everywhere. Almost all things we touch were imagined and realized through an intricate process of design. Art teachers try to instill in their students a keen understanding of these stages of development from initial idea to final form. Each project I present to my class is a unique design challenge through which I help students navigate their own creative paths.

This past semester, I was charged with teaching Foxcroft’s Introduction to Engineering class, which delivers a curriculum developed by Purdue University called Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS). In this design approach, an entire class has to coalesce into a team and deliver a single solution to a creative problem. Our mission was set to design and manufacture something that could add value to the community, and we focused our efforts on Foxcroft School’s very own Office of Student Life.

This EPICS team successfully established a climate of open communication and eager collaboration. The girls’ confidence grew as they initially worked independently. This allowed them to recognize their individual strengths as they worked through concept development to prototype building. Through the critique process, the girls ultimately understood their unique contributions to their team and they began to coordinate their efforts. Sophomore Eunice Y. says, “I learned that everyone’s idea can be innovative, and we only need to trust ourselves.“ Adds senior Lizzie S., “I felt really proud of how my group worked as a team. We all brought different strengths and ideas to the table. I was impressed with how well we meshed.”

The specific design challenge was to create a multipurpose pop-up shop that could be used by clubs and other organizations to spread some “Trail Magic” — surprising and thoughtful activities that might bring a little unexpected joy into our lives. Together, the girls brought to fruition a fun, transportable, and interactive station that will enliven events both on and off-campus for years to come.

The Office of Student Life worked closely with the engineering students throughout the entire design process. There were a number of community members invited to design reviews to provide valuable feedback. These students had to navigate public speaking and pitch their designs to an audience that was ready to push the functionality, feasibility, and aesthetic quality of their work. Georgia G. ’20 observes, “The critical design review was a great experience, for multiple reasons. I felt like it really involved everyone and we could explain our ideas in our own spot lights. It made us get the feel of what it’s going to be like in the real world.”

The students’ biggest hurdle was building on those conversations and reshaping their ideas into a deliverable outcome. Mimi S. ’20 writes, “One of the greatest challenges was making decisions about the different design paths that our final product could take. There were times when our prototypes were very different, and we were not sure how
to best merge them.” Many of the strongest individual ideas were carried over into the final design.

popupshop+trailmagic110618 bbs_5317 2

“The Shoppe” was ultimately conceived as two separate carts that could function both independently and together. The first was named “Charlie” after Charlotte Haxall Noland, who founded Foxcroft in 1914 and first backed the Fox team. The second was named “Millie” after Mildred Greble Davis, the first Hound backer. By the time the final construction phase was upon them, the girls were operating as a seamless team. Where one person left off, the next would pick right up and finish. “There was never someone not doing something. Whenever we finished our tasks we would find someone to help,” says Lauren S. ’20.

They were driven and, most importantly, proud of what they were doing. The wood used was reclaimed from the Brick House pergola and given a new life in the form of two rolling carts with chalkboard inlaid doors and pegboard shelving interiors. Laser-cut signage to feature the School and the hosting organization or individual was added. Amanda C. ’19 explains, “I really enjoyed the final construction with painting sealant, using a sander for the first time, and using the power saw. It was a very fun process and I feel much more confident.”

The entire project was an exceptionally rewarding way for girls to be creative, to respond to critique, adapt to change, work as a team, and to give a part of themselves to fill someone else’s needs other than their own.

Seasonal Strategies

Abbott_ErinBy Erin Abbott, Director of the Learning Center

It’s that time of year again when peppermint mocha fills our cups, holiday tunes get stuck in our heads, and the wonder and joy of the exam season excites us. . . Wait, exams? At Foxcroft, December brings exciting events like our Christmas Pageant, “Christmas in Middleburg” Parade, Lessons and Carols, and various valuable community service opportunities. This is a busy — but beautiful — time of year. In the midst of this season, our students also hunker down in preparation for end-of-semester exams.

I had a New Girl exclaim, “Mrs. Abbott, I’m so stressed out about exams!” My reply was simple and calm: “Remember, you’ve already done much of the work. You’ve prepared for every quiz and test you’ve taken this semester and attended all your classes.” I caution our girls not to fall into the drama of cram sessions and all-nighters, and to refrain from buying into the idea that “I’m so stressed out” is a badge of honor and a motto of the high achiever.

We don’t need to fall into this trap of being victims of our educational or even personal obligations. We all have the option to choose resilience and healthy coping skills. As I shared with our Freshman Class this week, planning, preparation, positivity, and self-care are stronger than the stress monster.

When it comes to exams, I encourage our girls to use their planner and specifically map out what they need to do and when. Label the actual name of the class of the exam taken on a specific day. Our first exam is World Language on Monday, and if that is Spanish 1, be specific and write that down on your planner! Look at the review guide that each teacher has created for their exams. Coding each topic with a green dot (meaning “this topic is known and understood”), yellow dot (“this topic is somewhat understood”), or red dot (“OMG, I need my teacher!!!!”) is a good place to start assessing how much time is needed for each topic and subject.

Compile all the old tests and quizzes from the whole semester and use those as a resource for the review. Does the exam contain many terms? If it does, notecards may be your best friend as the actual act of writing down terms and subvocalizing what is written activates part of the brain that reinforces the storage of the material in long-term memory. Flashcards and websites like Quizlet also promote active recall and help honestly answer, “How well do I understand this topic?” or “Is my answer complete?” Another useful strategy also offers a very honest assessment of the ability to recall information. Cover a page of notes or text and then use a whiteboard or piece of paper to write down all the facts and details that can be recalled. There are numerous strategies and tips for preparing for exams; finding the one that works best for an individual is a valuable and lifelong tool.

Perhaps the most important thing for all of us to remember, regardless of whether we are preparing to face an exam or that difficult relative who always complains about lumpy gravy during the holiday meal, is to take time for self-care. Walk, breathe, feed, and water yourself properly. Prepare for what you can control and be patient with what you can’t. Open your eyes to the kindness and love of the season.

Why We Come to School: A Reminder to Learn

Varney_KristineBy Kristine Varney, Director of STEM Education

“If we already knew everything, why would we need to come to school?”

So asked my colleague Lindsey Bowser in a Chemistry lesson I observed recently. The students were making clay models of molecules, and one student was concerned that her model wasn’t correct. Ms. Bowser deftly reassured her that, in fact, they were still learning about the different molecular structures and it was fine that she didn’t know how to make it quite yet. “We’re learning,” Ms. Bowser told her. “That’s what school is. If we already knew everything, why would we need to come to school?”

It seems self-evident that school is about learning, and yet academic institutions sometimes lose sight of this fact, focusing more on honing students’ ability to regurgitate facts on standardized tests, which doesn’t really feel like learning, or at least not the kind of learning that will prepare students for college and beyond in the 21st century. In the four months since I joined the Foxcroft faculty, I’ve found that it’s a place where the full range of learning is embraced, and where everyone is encouraged to question, to wonder, to try and fail, and to try again.

This learning isn’t relegated to inside the classroom walls. One of the biggest adjustments for me in moving to a boarding school from an independent day school in Texas (aside from the weather) is the amount of “school” that happens outside the academic day. I was told in my orientation meeting that at Foxcroft, “everything we do is curriculum,” but it took some time for me to fully understand what that means. From the erudite (bringing in guest speakers from a variety of STEM industries as part of a new after-school “STEM Presents” speaker series) to the mundane (laughing with advisees about why it’s a bad, though admittedly funny, idea to decorate cookies to look like laundry pods), there have been opportunities for learning at every turn.

Foxcroft teachers also see ourselves as learners. The implementation of a “pineapple board” this year (see Aug. 23, 2018 blog post, Faculty Conversations Inspire Higher Learning) has allowed us to stretch beyond our own departments to observe and learn from colleagues across all disciplines; I’ve brushed up on my French with Mme. Mueller, written a poem with Mr. McCarty, and even begun to learn Spanish with the help of Sra. Riestra. Each and every time I visit a colleague’s classroom, I walk away with ideas that improve my own physics and math classes. The robust and fascinating conversations about teaching that inevitably follow these visits are an added bonus.

This teacher-as-learner mindset was encapsulated in our faculty and staff in-service day following the Thanksgiving break. While students spent that Monday preparing for the weeks ahead, faculty and staff participated in a series of teacher-led workshops on a variety of professional development topics. In one session, I enjoyed learning about Ms. Burridge’s and Ms. Young’s use of The Innovation Lab for class projects in Literature and World Cultures, respectively. The Innovation Lab has facilitated a reimagining of many class projects, but it can be daunting for teachers to take a class into a space where they themselves don’t feel like experts in all of the ins and outs of the sophisticated equipment there. Ms. Burridge reassured us that this wasn’t necessary in order to make the most of the space, suggesting that teachers and students can, and should, all learn together.

After all, if we already knew everything, why would we need to come to school?

Exploring Unique Voices through Storytelling

From Lindsay O’Connor, Ph.D., English teacher

OConnor_LindseyWhether they know it or not, everyone has a story to share, and at some time or another, we all need someone just to listen to us. These basic human needs are the foundation for a unit on oral storytelling in American Literature class.

A box of conversation cards I found at a thrift store provided a warm up: each student drew a card and answered its question for the whole class to hear. “Would you stop eating sweets if you could live 10 years longer?” “What is the most redeeming quality of the person you most dislike?” With everyone sharing in the mild discomfort of sharing their ideas and feelings, a few jars of superlatives prompted students to narrate the first or last time they were very late for something, the best or worst meal they ever ate, or another outstanding everyday experience. Halfway through class, every student had told a story to at least a few of their classmates, if not the entire class.

My class heard about ill-fated family trips, elite middle-school athletic competitions, and imaginary friends, and I’m sure Steve McCarty’s American Literature classes enjoyed similarly amusing tales. The content of stories creates connections and encourages empathy, and the classroom activity of telling a story is just as important for this goal. Knowing how they feel while sharing with the whole class encourages students to support one another as they share stories from their pasts that might never come up in conversation.

As a Moth Curriculum Partner, I draw on the rich resources of many other educators who teach with storytelling, and the guidelines and goals for this project reflect the collective trial and error of storytellers nationwide. Steve and I want to assess both narrative composition and presentation skills, and we want students to explore techniques for clear, compelling oral storytelling while maintaining a supportive, collaborative classroom. Students will provide feedback as their peers develop, revise, and practice stories in the coming weeks. Each story should have a clear beginning and end and just the right amount of vibrant detail to keep us interested and focused. These are stories of learning and growth, and with the help of a few recordings from the Moth’s high school storytellers, students have seen that experiences as simple as going to a dance or volunteering at a hospital can be transformative and story-worthy. Students learn to mine their own experiences and reflect on their learning and growth in the process. They analyze stories they hear, and they synthesize their own stories to arrive at the best 5-minute version they can.

After months of writing, revising, and editing other written work in American literature and elsewhere, I hope this new focus on orality instead of writing will deepen students’ sense of story: a story is not so much a series of well-composed sentences as it is a constellation of ideas and emotions manifested in images and concrete details. The words we use to convey stories may change from telling to telling, and by adapting to occasions and audiences, we continue to process our experiences and to learn about who we are and how we got that way. Foxcroft promises unique learning experiences and a community of understanding hearts, and this project will “help every girl explore her unique voice” and her unique story as well.

Trail Magic — Pass It On!

From Heide Hotchkiss, Residential Coordinator and Lead Dorm Parent

Hotchkiss_Heide2018We’ve had a busy few days as we begin the month of November. I absolutely love our theme of our School planner, “Trail Magic.” Defined as an unexpected act of kindness, making Trail Magic and generosity a focus of our daily lives together in Reynolds dorm is a most worthy goal.

Early in the week, student leaders wrote and delivered little notes of encouragement and appreciation to each of the freshmen. The hall was filled with “oohs” and “awes” as the girls returned from class and discovered the notes. One student wrote, “Thank you for always being so nice to the other girls in the dorm.” Another note said, “I enjoy seeing you every time in the dorm.”

Thursday was announced as a “Head’s Day,” a favorite tradition granted on occasion by the Head of School to provide a break from classes in order for students to catch up on work, to relax, and to rest.  On that same morning, girls delivered breakfast in bed to our student leaders. Freshmen Chelsie E. and Leah N. were delighted to take the lead in this act of kindness and generosity.

Later that day, we gathered in the Court Conference Room for our class speeches and officers election. Each girl picked one of Foxcroft’s core values — Respect, Integrity, Kindness, and Service — as the topic of a one-minute speech that she prepared and delivered to her peers. Of the forty-three class members, sixteen ladies ran for the five leadership positions. The speeches filled my heart. Here is an example of a lovely speech given by Olivia K.:

OliviaK-election-speech
Olivia K. chose to focus her Freshman Class election speech on the Foxcroft core value of Respect. (Photo by Bella Z. ’20)

Respect plays a key role in our community at Foxcroft. It is something that must be earned and then reciprocated. I chose respect as my value because it is the most prominent and vital part to making Foxcroft a comfortable and safe community. You never know what people have experienced in their lives, which is why you should always be kind and respectful. “Give to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself,” founding father Thomas Paine once said. As you all probably have realized, Foxcroft’s values are extremely important and must be respected and valued as new girls entering this community.  It is important to always be kind and respectful towards others’ ideas and beliefs as if you would like someone to treat you in that same way. At the end of the day, it’s truly up to you to make others feel welcome and respected in the Foxcroft community.

The evening continued with study hall and then a dorm party that had the dorm’s student leaders giving each freshman a trail name. With grape Kool-Aid raised, a toast was offered: “To the trail ladies! We are ALL on our individual trail but for this moment in time, this academic year, we are sharing the trail with each other in Reynolds dorm at Foxcroft School. Enjoy the time we have together. Make some magic. CHEERS!” The leaders, with walking sticks in hand, then bestowed names to the girls. Names like Tippy Tappy, Sugar Bomb, Fibbles, Zibbles, and ’Lil Miss. (These happen to be the new Freshman Class officers). Names were happily received and we are enjoying relearning what to call our Reynolds family members.

At Morning Meeting on Friday, the seniors were happily surprised by a festive paper bunting hung over the library’s staircase which reads:  We Love our Old Girls. (Compliments of the Class of 2022.)

There is still lots of November left to find ways to spread joy and thoughtfulness. I found myself folding lots of laundry on Saturday morning and leaving a little note on top of the baskets — Trail Magic! Pass it on! The recipients figured out who had done the folding and their appreciation was enthusiastic and genuine.

And that enthusiasm, fun, thankfulness, and kindness is what I hope will become so contagious that it spreads way out of November. Hope you catch the fever, too. Trail Magic! Pass it on!

Blind Spots: Foxcroft Girls Embrace Conversations about Differences

By Emily Johns, Assistant Head of School for Student Life

Johns_Emily2In a time of intense polarization, where people are holding themselves back for fear of offending or of creating conflict, Foxcroft girls are rolling up their sleeves and diving into crucial conversations. In the name of stretching our comfort zones, we have delved into understanding human differences from multiple perspectives, with the collaboration and leadership of three vibrant student clubs: We the People (diversity and inclusion), Global Cultures, and Hand-in-Hand (LGBTQ-straight alliance).

This leadership group’s ultimate goals were to challenge each member of the community to gain a broader understanding of our biases while also preparing all of us for the October 18 campus presentation of The Defamation Experience, “a riveting courtroom drama that explores the highly charged issues of race, class, religion, gender, and the law” — and for the interactions with one another and with the play’s cast that would take place when we were asked to serve as jury, deliberating, discussing, and ultimately deciding the case.

The girls in these clubs planned and facilitated schoolwide diversity conversations in a variety of contexts. Seated lunch conversations explored important vocabulary terms about cultural identifiers and diversity topics. A Silent Movement activity asked us to consider questions about our identities and values, and to stand up to indicate those with which we identify. The students also organized and facilitated “Courageous Conversations” in the dorms, where students shared in a “fishbowl” format their personal experiences with privilege, difference, discrimination, and inclusion at Foxcroft.

Wendy X. ’19, Student Head of School, reported that her participation in these conversations completely shifted her perspective on the ways in which girls experience privilege and difference in our community. Wendy’s goal for her leadership role this year is to actively work to promote and nurture a more inclusive community. These activities are a testament to her commitment — and to Foxcroft’s commitment — towards creating a culture of belonging.

Our girls truly set the tone for how to explore and consider new ideas, and how in doing so, we acknowledge, affirm, and learn from our experiences of living and leading within a diverse community. The Defamation Experience cast was so impressed with the girls’ confidence, courage, and preparedness for these complex conversations and their ability to navigate emotionally charged events with civility and compassion.

Learning how to face the little things — whether trying a new cuisine, making new friends, or communicating our needs with a friend or roommate — will teach girls how to handle more complex situations, such as navigating an open-air market in a different country, networking for a job, or asserting her physical or emotional boundaries in future relationships. These skills will give her the courage to take on the unfamiliar and unknown and the ability to develop positive relationships with friends, family, and employers; and they will teach her how to live with greater ease in a global community. Ultimately, she will learn to live in the world authentically with her values firmly intact. We could all learn from the example our girls are setting and stretch ourselves to share our stories and to “get to know our neighbor,” especially if we think they live or think differently from us.

Draw.java

by STEM teacher Dan Hales

Hales_DanYou there! Yes, you. Grab some paper and a pencil. You’re going to need it. Follow each of the following instructions carefully.

First, I want you to draw a big square. Next, draw an isosceles triangle sitting on top of it. It should stretch across the entire top of your square. Brilliant! Now, draw a rectangle inside your big square. It should be about twice as tall as it is wide, and the bottom edge should touch the bottom edge of your square. Make sure it is centered! Inside this rectangle, draw a small circle about halfway up, on the left, just inside the line. Next, I want you to picture a shape. This shape is a square, which is cut into four smaller squares by vertical and horizontal lines. Maybe try a practice sketch somewhere else, to make sure you know what I mean. Got it? Awesome. Draw two of these shapes inside your big square — one to the left of the rectangle, and one to the right of the rectangle. Use your judgment to make the right size.

My vision for what I wanted you to create is at the bottom of this post. Do they match? Hopefully our pictures wound up in the same neighborhood.

Let’s think about what we just did. I wanted you to draw a picture of a dragon*, but the only means I have to communicate with you in this blog post is a collection of words that we both understand, and I couldn’t assume that you would just know how to draw the final project exactly how I wanted it to turn out. So I wrote a set of very detailed and unambiguous instructions, hoped you had the prerequisite knowledge to use them, and asked you to follow them step-by-step. You may not have known what you were drawing when you started, but hopefully you got the idea by the end. And if not, that’s my fault for writing unclear instructions, and assuming you knew what I meant.

This is the main challenge facing AP Computer Science A students in class. They need to get the computer to perform some kind of a task for them, but they can only communicate with it in a set of words that both humans and the computer understand — in this case, the programming language Java.

First, students ask the computer to allocate the resources they think they will need to complete this task, and they have to be very specific. If I had asked you to grab a banana and a horseshoe instead of a pencil and paper, the rest of the instructions would probably not make sense. Similarly, if a student tells the computer to reserve some memory for a String but tries to perform a mathematical operation on it, the computer will generate an error.

Next, students break down the problem they want to solve into the smallest, most specific steps possible. That is, they develop an algorithm to meet their needs. They know the type of simple things a computer can do and leverage these small tasks into a complex sequence of instructions that complete their goal.

As we move forward in class, we are going to start learning how to take some things for granted. I asked you to create a very specific type of object — a square that had been divided into four smaller squares — and then I asked you to create instances of that object where I needed them. In other words, I explained what I wanted one time, and then I referenced that idea wherever I needed it. This type of thinking is called Object-Oriented Programming, and it is truly the heart of AP Computer Science A. Rather than having to explain every single step each time, you can establish a few steps and reuse the code as often as you need it. In fact, we worked with an object from the very beginning: I assumed you know what a square is, and what an isosceles triangle is. These abstract structures that are predefined before you even begin your program are called classes.

Similarly, students have been getting to know some basic objects in class, such as the String class, the Scanner class, and, more recently, the JOptionPane class. These classes are housed in their own files — for instance, Draw.java. Even though we have not officially introduced and defined classes yet, students have unknowingly been writing them since the very first day of school.

As of writing this blog, our APCSA students are preparing to turn in their first major open-ended project: a text-based, choose-your-own adventure game. I gave them a small list of required features and intentionally left the vast majority of the decisions up to them, and everyone has been going above and beyond in how they choose to implement the concepts we have covered in class. Even better, they are having fun doing it! They are learning that in a structure as rigid and binary as a computer’s memory system, there is a huge amount of room for creativity, personal expression, and fun. I know that as this year marches forward, they will continue to amaze me, and I am excited to see what they create!
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*Just kidding. Here’s the drawing I was hoping for:

mysterydrawing

 

Sportsmanship at Foxcroft School

“We have the will to win and the desire to surpass ourselves.
To be teammates first and friends to all opponents.
To be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.
Mens sana corpore sano. Foxcroft can’t be beat.”

Woodruff_MichelleThis is the opening chant that all Foxcroft teams say prior to the start of each game. In reflecting on the subject of sportsmanship, the “Foxcroft Chant” immediately came to mind and questions began to form: Are we surpassing ourselves? Are we truly humble in victory and gracious in defeat? Are we really friends to all opponents? The questions rumbled through my mind.

I decided the first thing I needed to do was to look up the definition of sportsmanship. One source defines it as: fair and generous behavior or treatment of others, especially in sports. Conduct that is gracious, whether winning or losing. This definition led me further down the rabbit hole to discover the words true meaning. I began to consider how we, as coaches, parents, fans, and athletes, react to winning and losing here at Foxcroft.

Are we teaching our girls the very valuable life lesson that good sportsmanship teaches? Are our girls showing respect for themselves, their teammates, officials, their school, and those they compete against? It’s so easy to get caught up in the game, allow emotion to rule, and lose sight of the joy of competition. Parents, coaches, and fans… are we all good role models for our girls? Do we react positively regardless of what is happening on the fields and courts? Are we all uniting to show our athletes that we believe in respect for competitors and that our will to win is balanced by fairness and respect for ourselves and others?

Sports mirror society, and I believe we would all like a society filled with people who are aware of their impact on others. The great classroom of the fields and courts is where we can pursue the values of playing fair; showing grace, respect, and dignity in all circumstances; and giving it your all no matter what – great life lessons that aren’t just for those who are competing.

I think back to all of my years as a coach and the practices and games that I have been involved with, and I chuckle at the number of times I have said to the girls, “And that was a life lesson.” But I realize that good sportsmanship isn’t necessarily automatic. I have to be a very active part in teaching the lesson that I want our students to learn. I look for fire and passion and the will to win in our athletes, but I also know that how I behave during my afternoons with the girls is a very important time for me to model the behavior that exemplifies good sportsmanship.

Each of us will be on both sides of winning and losing at some point . . . Let’s choose the positive side of sports and achieve that desire to surpass ourselves.