Step into any Flint Hill classroom and you'll see curiosity and innovation at work.
Here is a look at the learning moments that are happening here every day, on and off-campus.
An algorithmic approach is how junior kindergarten students were introduced to their first computer science lesson, which was about algorithms. Step one was to learn the correct pronunciation of the word “algorithm,” which involved a listening activity. In step two, the students learned that an algorithm is a form of giving step-by-step instructions, and they discussed examples of instructions/algorithms that they use on a daily basis. The class then practiced with relatable activities, and, as their first lesson was in the winter, they talked about the steps they used to make a snowman. The students progressed, from talking about the steps to assembling an algorithm, by using directional cards to code how the parts of a bug are put together to make the whole.
A trip to the bowling alley provided both fun and a fundamental science lesson for kindergarten students who were in the midst of learning about the study of force and motion. During their observational activities, the students noticed that a lighter ball was easier to push than a heavier one. They also experimented with different ways to move the bowling ball, which included pushing it with both hands or pulling it back first and then pushing it forward with greater force. The gutters of the lanes had been equipped with bumpers, and when the ball bounced off, the students noticed how it changed direction with the force of motion. By the end of the trip, they had many questions and were enthusiastic to learn more about force and motion.
With paper clips and fishing regulations, first graders discovered that using a ruler is not the only way to measure objects. In their lesson about non-standard units of measurement, the students used paper clips to measure the lengths of familiar objects in their classroom. They did the same with cubes and then compared the results. To demonstrate how the non-standard unit of measurement is useful outside of the classroom, the students were given the example of recreational fishing and minimum length requirements. Using one-inch tiles, the students measured perch, alewife, and mackerel. Each type of fish had a different length requirement, and if the fish measured up to the specification, it was considered a keeper. As they collected their data, the students also learned about reliability and consistency of their research, a concept important in other areas of study, including science and social science.
Once Upon a Time in Language Arts class, while learning about fairytale-themed books and the style of writing for that genre, second grade students were given the opportunity to change the ending to the classic "Rapunzel" story. To do so, a cross-disciplinary activity was created with the Innovation department, for students to do hands-on problem-solving. Working in the Innovation Lab, the students brainstormed, designed and built different mechanisms to save the damsel in distress without Rapunzel having to use her long locks of hair. Slides, parachutes, and soft-landing areas were among the ideas they discussed, sketched, constructed, tested and re-tested, as they explored new ways for Rapunzel to safely escape the tower where she was locked. The ending of this story is a happy one: Rapunzel saved herself many times!
When Meteorologist Brian van de Graaff (WJLA/ABC 7 News) visited our third grade students, they gained a unique perspective of weather forecasting and science. They learned that meteorologists study cloud patterns and atmospheric pressure and use specific tools and equipment to collect information, like Doppler weather radar and satellites that detect precipitation, wind and lightning. In a question-and-answer period, the students learned about the use of the green screen at the television station, how van de Graaff became interested in meteorology, and the different career paths for meteorologists. The grand finale of the exciting visit took place in the parking lot, where the students had the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the StormTrak 7 vehicle – impressively outfitted, with video cameras and computer equipment, to do remote broadcasts during severe weather. The students were also able to see themselves on a big monitor on board. Later that evening, the students and their families enjoyed watching the visit on the news during the WJLA Lunchbox Weather segment.
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Author Patricia Powell visited fourth graders virtually for a discussion about her book "Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case." The students were inspired by the Loving's story and created their own book with collages they made. Then, they shared their book with Powell as well as Selina Alko, author of "The Case for Loving," and the Caroline County Historical Society, where the Loving family lived. The students received compliments, encouragement, and even requests to share their book with others.
At Flint Hill, students are always encouraged and taught skills to be innovative. Consequently, when distance learning was implemented due to COVID-19, the students were ready to adapt and to continue their studies in that type of environment. In Innovation Lab, fifth graders began studying chain reactions and the relationship with gravity, electricity, motors, circuitry, friction, acceleration, and hypothesis testing. In a fun, hands-on way to learn about cause and effect, the students were given a challenge to create a multi-step machine using everyday objects in their homes. Each step of the mechanism was required to cause a reaction triggering the next step until a main task was accomplished. To inspire them, the students were shown examples by 20th century cartoonists and inventors, including Rube Goldberg, Bruno Munari and Heath Robinson, who designed whimsical contraptions that purposefully involved overly-complicated ways to perform simple tasks. The students submitted videos to show their creative inventions, including a machine that was used to feed the family dog.
If making a hologram sounds futuristic, the future is now in Middle School Science. The hologram project was introduced as a way for sixth graders to become intrigued and gain a better understanding of light waves. To begin, the students made pyramids using clear transparencies. Then, with their iPads and the Keynote app, they observed each property of light they had studied in class — reflection, refraction, and transmission, and absorption — and how that combination and interplay of light produced images that appeared like a hologram. As they continued their study of light, the hologram was put aside and the students went outside. To further demonstrate the property of transmission, the students were required to find objects that had distinct transparent, translucent, and opaque qualities. After they placed those objects onto a particular light-sensitive cloth and exposed them to the sun, they observed the varying levels of density imprinted on the cloth. Such hands-on projects shed light on the subject matter in tangible ways.
Who is Klondike? The seventh grade Broadcasting class set out to discover the answer to that question, by arranging an interview with Flint Hill’s mascot. The students prepared questions with consideration to what might be on the minds of their primary viewers – their peer Middle School students. Carrying their laptop, video camera and tripod, the field reporters met with Klondike on the porch of Flint Hill’s historic Miller House. After adjusting the camera settings and tripod position and doing an audio check, as they learned in class, they framed Klondike in the optimal spot in the viewfinder and proceeded with the steps in the script they had written. Back in the classroom, they put their post-production skills to work, then finalized and distributed the segment to air on the Middle School News broadcast, where curious minds discovered that, yes, Klondike enjoys Netflix as much as you probably do!
Embracing challenges is second nature to the Middle School students in Makers class; they are accustomed to problem-solving. That’s why their teacher, Chris Cook, was confident in their abilities and commitment to make a Halloween costume to fit on a wheelchair — a request he received in a phone call from the nonprofit organization Magic Wheelchair.
The class was matched with a local family through Magic Wheelchair, which was founded to “bring communities together to create unforgettable moments for children around the world by transforming their wheelchairs into magic.” The students discovered that 11-year-old Numa began using a wheelchair after a debilitating stroke he had at age 7. They also found out that Numa had been a “Star Wars” fan, and though they only had six weeks, they worked diligently to construct a TIE-fighter vehicle costume, worthy of being in the movie, which they custom-designed to fit around his chair.
The day before Halloween, a reporter with WUSA9 was there — outdoors in a cul de sac, in Fairfax County, Virginia., near the family’s home — when the class delivered the costume, complete with buttons that activated the sound of lasers. Some family, friends and neighbors were present, and the news videographer captured smiles all the way around, most importantly the one from Numa. “It was just incredible seeing everyone come and witness this thing, this small thing that we've done,” said Evan Demsey ’25, who estimated contributing about 50 hours to the project.
Magic Wheelchair CEO Christine Getman, who uses a wheelchair herself due to spinal muscular atrophy, contacted the students a few days later via a virtual call to personally thank them and to answer questions about the organization.
Upper School: Science Research Symposium
The idea to host a mini-conference was born when teachers in the Upper School Science Department noticed that a few students had independently pursued research experiences outside of class time. Impressed by their initiative as well as the quality of the research, the teachers discussed ways to spotlight their work for the Flint Hill community to see. As enthusiasm grew around the idea, the teachers also talked about featuring outstanding in-class research projects, all of which led to the inaugural Flint Hill Science Research Symposium. Approximately 25 students prepared poster presentations and were present for questions by teachers, parents and their peers. Topics ranged from "The Argo Mission" to “Therapeutic Penetrating Keratoplasty Using Full-Thickness Gamma Irradiated Corneal Tissue” to “Analysis of Genetic Association with Sleep Patterns.” “The Research Symposium was held because we have fabulous science students at Flint Hill that seek out a variety of high-level research opportunities outside of the school,” said Grades 7-12 Science Department Chair Zack Krug, Ph.D. ’95. “As teachers, we take pride in their accomplishments, as we try to create independent thinkers and well-trained scientists at Flint Hill. This is also true of the amazing projects done inside the classroom. The event was modeled after a poster session you would find at a research conference, as this was the best way for the presenters and the audience to interact. I was very happy to see that the community embraced the event, and the presenters walked away with the sense of accomplishment and pride that they earned.”
Upper School: Visiting Writers
Award-winning authors Angie Kim and Zach Powers were the first guests to be part of the 2019-2020 Visiting Writers Series at the Upper School. They shared their experiences and advice with the students, who had several questions about their creative processes and how they ventured into writing as a career. Kim is the author of the national bestseller "Miracle Creek," which was named a Best Book of the Year by Time and Amazon, a Washington Post Bestseller and Summer Read pick, and a Top 10 AppleBooks Debut of the Year. She was also selected as one of Variety Magazine’s 10 Storytellers to Watch. Powers won the BOA Short Fiction Prize for his debut story collection "Gravity Changes" and had recently published his novel "First Cosmic Velocity." The authors spent an active afternoon engaged in a full schedule of literary activities, open to teachers and staff as well as the students. With small discussion groups, question-and-answer sessions, and readings from their work, the authors had ample opportunity to provide their in-depth knowledge about the world of writing and publishing.
Upper School: AP Government Debates
A lively debate occurred in AP Government class when each student was randomly assigned to the role of a current U.S senator and to reflect that politician’s stance on three specific topics: Social Security sustainability, construction of a border wall, and firearm safety. They researched voting records and viewpoints and, whether or not their own opinions aligned with their assigned politicians, the students prepared to make their case in the debate. Often members of the same political party joined together to caucus and then made attempts at compromise with colleagues on the other side of the aisle. Ultimately the students learned some of the nuances and complexities involved in how a bill is drafted and debated in the U.S. Senate.
Upper School: Discovery of Engineering
Construction of Flint Hill’s new Middle School building provided a synchronous learning opportunity for Upper School students in the Discovery of Engineering class. In addition to being able to regularly observe the foundational principles of engineering applied in a real-world setting — literally outside of the window, steps from their desks — guest speakers from the construction site gave presentations to the class. One visitor was Denis McMullan, whose structural engineering firm, McMullan & Associates, designed both the Middle School building under construction and the Upper School academic building. Having experienced professionals available to answer their questions and a teacher with the foresight and dedication to seek and arrange for unique teachable moments means that learning, for these students discovering engineering, is most certainly always in progress.