Dynamic Mathematics Offerings
Did you know that three seniors ---Charles Barksdale, Rohit Gondi and Wayne Hu --- completed Multivariable Calculus, a course generally taken in the sophomore year of college by Math, Physics and Engineering majors? This course is through an online self-paced program with Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. And, Wayne Hu threw in Linear Algebra, just for good measure. This Academic Point will show you how these kinds of advanced math courses can happen at Episcopal these days.
“Dynamic” is a good adjective to use when looking over the last few years of progress in Episcopal’s Mathematics curriculum.
In the months before I arrived at Episcopal in June 2010, Singapore Math was adopted for Lower and Middle School use. It was rolled out with high professionalism including retaining a consultant from LSU, Dr. Scott Baldridge-- parent of Autumn Baldridge (’26), and creating a multi-year professional development program, all with the active involvement of Ms. Pam Goodner (Math Department Chair at the time) and Dr. Leslie Arceneaux (a fifth grade math teacher then). That quite significant change has served our students in grades K to 7 well. Singapore Math has proved to be a good math foundation.
As I wrote the paragraph above, it felt that introducing Singapore Math occurred “so long ago.” I think that feeling arises from knowing all the improvements that have followed and flowed after introducing Singapore Math.
The math journey begins in Pre-K3 through 3rd grade with all teachers in their self-contained classrooms following specific curriculum guidelines. In 4th and 5th grade students rotate to study math with a teacher dedicated to teaching math to the entire grade level. These math teachers, typically, use differentiated grouping of students to reinforce and to challenge students with non-routine problems and thinking activities at their own level.
Significant shifts in recent years in Middle School allow some eighth graders (10 this year) to take Honors Geometry during the regular school year, others to take Honors Geometry over the summer, and a good-sized group of sixth graders (14 this year) to tackle 7th grade math. These creative adjustments to the Middle School offerings prepare a chunk of students interested and able in math to push the math envelope by taking advanced math courses during the four years of Upper School. Everyone in Middle School conquers Pre-Algebra and at least 60% are able to move through Algebra I and on into Geometry.
The Middle School math options have facilitated beginning high school science in 8th grade and taking more advanced science courses than ever before-- in fact approximately 8% of our current junior and senior students take AP Chemistry and another advanced science during their school day. Three other students actually take three advanced science courses.
The Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus BC course we have is offered by only half as many schools as AP Calculus AB. In recent years, 15-20% of each graduating class at Episcopal has completed coursework through AP Calculus BC. Moreover, for the last five or more years, Episcopal students are wildly successful on the AP exam (which is scored on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the highest) earning an average score of 4.21. By comparison, the national average was 3.18 placing Episcopal students in the top 15-20% nationwide. There is no doubt about the high math achievement.
In Honors PreCalculus, the decision to teach Trigonometry in the Fall, while atypical, creates a valuable opportunity for students to begin AP Calculus concepts that Spring in a small-group, semi-independent study atmosphere. Picture roughly ten students around a conference table watching a video in the style of Khan Academy and then assuming the role of teacher for each other. As a result, many juniors who might have only taken AP Calculus AB their senior year take AP Calculus BC instead.
In addition to AP Calculus and AP Statistics, students at Episcopal also have the opportunity to earn up to nine hours of college credit in College Algebra, Trigonometry and Business Calculus through a Dual Enrollment partnership with LSU. These courses are taught at Episcopal, by Episcopal’s teachers. While the college credit is beneficial, the opportunity to take courses taught so similarly in style to that of the universities many of our students will attend is definitely college preparatory.
Math Department Chair, Stephen Anderson (’02), came “home” to Episcopal to teach math and to coach swimming in 2011 after he began a successful teaching career at Central High School. After a few years of teaching various math courses and inspiring many student math scholars, he became Math Department Chair. His leadership has robustly moved forward in a tailored manner. He and his colleagues have provided students with personalized pathways, enhancing their knowledge and appreciation of math.
The math faculty has supported the design of the Academic Commons. Thanks to them, new types of collaborative learning environments support the math faculty’s work to provide students instruction at customized skill levels.
During the current school year, the Upper School math faculty taught the following courses as their contribution to building strong critical math skills:
You'll Peek at What Our Seniors Choose From in English
Please click here to be exposed to a rigorous and, yet, enjoyable literary wonderland offered to Episcopal’s seniors for 2018-2019.
Each senior makes a choice for Fall and Spring Semesters, respectively, among five or six seminar-style courses.
The seminars cover the fiction-to-memoir-to-poetry-to new media waterfront in offerings such as:
These seminars build upon more foundational English I and American and British Literature courses in grades 9, 10, and 11.
I hope you will at least scan these materials and think for a second about how well Episcopal’s English offerings and faculty prepare graduating Knights for their college work.
This Academic Point focuses on Episcopal's dance offerings and brings forth how dance– one of Episcopal’s art offerings—has stimulated Thesis Research plans of Madeleine Cope, a junior. Almost too quietly, Episcopal has established a first-class dance curriculum in the Arts Department. Led today by Ms. Christine Chrest, the curriculum, which crosses divisional lines, is increasingly popular.
Episcopal students have been recognized by the National Honor Society for Dance ArtsTM for their outstanding artistic merit, leadership, and academic achievement:
On a related front, the following students are working toward an Academic Distinction in Performing Arts (focusing on Dance) here at Episcopal, dedicating themselves to an even deeper appreciation of dance as an art and academic form click to refer to the Distinctions Blog for details.
Madeleine sensed a connection between her development as a dancer and as a critical thinker. Her thesis research inquiries have centered around this intersection, and she has been studying how movement and learning are intertwined and connected. So far, she is understanding the benefits of dance and kinesthetic learning in K-12 settings, as it provides more stimuli to create memories and promotes higher retention rates and focus.
She has begun to study the “flow state,” focus and attention, “whole-brain approach,” learning-by-doing, dance as nonverbal communication and “Math in your Feet” (a tap dance program that teaches math). Madeleine also plans to create a prototype system that integrates dance education and content-learning and would be implemented in a traditional school setting.
Students making these sorts of connections as Madeleine has come upon confirm for me (and for teachers at Episcopal) the efficacy of our Mission & Ministry setting up our four pillars—spirituality, academics, arts, and physical education—for worthwhile student exploration and development. Do you think, just maybe, that Madeleine will remain a life-long learner?
As I finalize this Academic Point, I am filled with gratitude and appreciation, with poignancy for the bright and motivated students who strive with their parents, mentors and teachers to “seize the day”!
Episcopal has adopted a program of Academic Distinctions applicable to Upper School students beginning in this school year-- 17-18. You can read a description of the Academic Distinctions here.
In prior “Academic Points,” you may have read about the high percentages of Episcopal’s students who perform at or above national testing averages. Certainly, we want to serve those students well, but we also want to serve the other students here just as appropriately. In particular, we want to ensure that all students are recognized when they combine their interest (or “passion”) with ability and dedication. Distinctions is a way of recognizing students who have high levels of interest and success in one or more subjects.
It is commonplace in independent schools to find a “closed circuit” of student recognition in which the same few students receive National Merit, Valedictorian, Salutatorian and other classic academic achievement awards. Those classic awards tend to test the same skills and they tend to favor students who do well across the board in traditional academic settings. The same few students—say, the top 5% in GPA’s---seem to walk away with the preponderance of the classic annual and graduation awards. Episcopal will retain all of these classic awards.
The Distinctions program adds the opportunity for a student with great passion and ability in a subject or two—say, French or Physics---to earn recognition as a distinguished student in a particular academic subject. Such a student may miss the GPA-based classic awards due to a let-down in other subjects, say, English and Math, but be a star-- with high grades – in French or Physics. The Distinction or Distinctions will be reflected on the student’s transcript and, therefore, identify the student in their college opportunities as someone with strength in the subject areas about which the student cares greatly.
Our Distinctions program requires accomplishments both in the classroom and outside the classroom. When a student strikes for a Distinction, faculty advisors work with the student to delineate (and agree upon) which experiences outside the classroom will be necessary. For example, a Math Distinction may call for participation in Mu Alpha Theta and an approved service learning project. Among other reasons, the outside the classroom activities are included to reflect to the college and our community a “passion” or “great interest” the student has in the subject area.
I predict that Distinctions will engender from within the students a deeper love of learning. Student choice, ownership, and mentoring are elements of Distinctions which are known, thru educational research, to result in commitments to being a life-long learner. In other situations, Episcopal students have blossomed when they are partners of a kind in their academic adventures.
Over time, Honors Thesis became the only method of graduating “with Honors” at Episcopal. The Class of 2018 will be the last class for which the “with Honors” route will pertain. As we developed more avenues of achievement for students ---ESTAAR is a fine example --- the use of Honors Thesis as the safe route to a main recognition began to appear out of date. “Thesis” will now be a “Distinction,” which maintains the substance of the very valuable Honors Thesis program. In short, the Distinctions program replaces, with it multiple routes to being recognized, the single-route approach which Honors Thesis had become. Those who seek the “Thesis” Distinction will have access to the same program that has been known as “Honors Thesis.”
As with all new items, Distinctions may be altered over time as we learn from experience. Additional Distinctions may be added, including a Distinction in Global Studies. However, I do not anticipate any major changes in the use of Distinctions as one of Episcopal’s primary vehicles for recognizing and publishing the academic achievements, abilities, passions and interests of Upper School students.
In the main, Distinctions was, in my view, mandated by the enhancements in academic ability which accumulated in Episcopal’s student body over the last decade. Keeping the “Thesis” experience available as a Distinction, while opening up a much broader range of skill and interest recognitions seemed both fair and reinforcing to our student body. Rather than one route to graduating “with Honors,” many more students will be able to be recognized for their academic achievements and hard work.
One of my goals for Distinctions is that a wider range of colleges (say, those with strong engineering programs) will be able to identify our students as appropriate for admission. My hope is that students, while at Episcopal, will uncover, by striking for a Distinction or two, their innate abilities and interests in depth.
Doing the Best and More for Students
How We "Punch Above Our Weight" in Preparing Students
To paraphrase, “No school is an island.” Over the last few years, Episcopal has developed relationships with a number of well-known institutions to give teachers first-class opportunities for continuing development and to support our efforts to be the best we can be. In a sense, these off-the-island relationships and experiences help us to “punch above our weight” or be “more than just Episcopal” for students and families. I hope you find this partial list insightful:
A balanced approach that keeps us grounded here at home and informed of best and emerging practices around the country seems best for us. Episcopal graduates compete with students educated in other schools across the country—for college admissions and jobs after college. Our strategic relationships and on-site programs help us prepare our students to be fierce competitors in their rapidly changing world using the best and emerging education practices and techniques.
“Effective professional development programs engender an atmosphere of excitement, intellectual stimulation, and collegiality… They generate faculty enthusiasm, and there is a ‘trickle down’ effect: an energized faculty leads to energized students.” - Lynn Friedman, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University.
Quiet Determination and Success: Jacob DeWitt ’17
Preparing for the Academic Points series took me back to 2010 when we put out a series of short notes entitled “60 Days of Good News.” Here is one of the treasures uncovered:
As the twig is bent, so the tree is inclined---Jacob’s career at Episcopal stands for many things, including the value of copious early reading. All, as you will see.
In 2017, Jacob DeWitt graduated as the Valedictorian of his class. Jacob will be able to tell his grandchildren of his following exploits and achievements from 2010 and through his graduation night in 2017:
He feels Episcopal “prepared him.” I hear he is doing well---Dean’s List last semester, staffmember of the Eco-Rep Leadership Program, and member of Engineers Without Borders USA Lehigh Chapter. He is also diligently taking seven courses. I am confident he will go on in quiet determination to make a place for himself in the post-college world with his focus on alternative fuels. Jacob worked diligently. He took advantage of what Episcopal offered in spirit, mind, and body. No excuses. To me, Jacob stands for the proposition that a very strong math and science secondary preparatory education is available at Episcopal, just for the taking. And, it combines nicely with well-rounded experiences in state-title level sports, music, language, and service.
Don’t you just love it when things come together? I do!
We are pleased year in and year out with our 7th grade students participation in the Duke University TIP Talent Search. The program is well known across the country and is designed to identify students with above average promise to become outstanding scholars. Participation requires parental consent.
A seventh grader must score at or above the 95th percentile on an approved standardized subtest, such as an ACT series test, during 5th or 6th grades to enter the TIP program through the 7th Grade Talent Search. It is typical for 66% of Episcopal 7th graders to qualify to enter this nationwide program, which requires these young students to take an official ACT or SAT test alongside high school students at a local testing center.
In a recent five-year span, 175 of Episcopal’s 7th graders participated, around 35 a year more or less. More than half of those received either Duke TIP State or Grand recognition. Those students now populate the graduating classes of 2018 to 2022.
Students with “Grand” recognition, in a given year, have achieved skill levels equal to the 90th percentile of all college-bound seniors, in that year. The “State” recognition level scores rival those of half of all college-bound seniors, in a given year.
My hat is off to Ms. Lucy Smith, the Head of Middle School, and to the faculty and staff in Middle School for providing students sensible and effective strategic skill development. The dedication and teamwork of Middle School faculty and staff are impressive. If you want broader insights into the significance of Middle School academic life, you may find the “Forgotten Middle Research Study” interesting; published in 2008 and updated in 2014, it sets out major challenges and expectations in Middle School education.
After the formation of a new Middle School class each year as a result of our significant entry point in 6th grade, Duke TIP serves in 7th grade as a worthwhile check on the progress of students before they launch into the rigors of 8th grade work, some of which counts for Upper School credit. Further, we welcome the nationwide comparisons obtained through Duke TIP and are pleased with the outcomes.
All Lower School faculty teach technology skills integrated with classroom learning and projects. The Lower School Librarian and Instigator provide additional experiences and support.
Here are just a few examples:
Fifth graders continue to expand their knowledge of coding and robotics by completing the final level of the Code.org elementary curriculum. They learn sophisticated coding skills such as conditionals, variables, and functions which help them create programs that respond to user input or perform more complex operations. The students generalize these skills over a variety of block programming apps (code.org, Scratch, LEGO Mindstorms). Block programming allows students to code without having to worry about typos or syntax and is used to teach coding even at the college level. One of the many benefits of coding and robotics is that it helps students apply math concepts in meaningful ways. Geometry concepts such as calculating internal angles of polygons can be abstract, but when students are using those skills to teach their robot to drive or their character on the screen to draw a snowflake, the concepts become much more concrete.
In Pre-K 3, 4, and Kindergarten myriad technology tools aid learning and age-appropriate projects: Nabi, very large android screen tablets, allow for group interactive learning games, See-Saw iPad application for recording original stories and serving as a virtual portfolio for student work, Smartboards for assessment of skills and interactive centers, and the Green Screen application where students recorded a Career Day video.
Perhaps one of the best examples is the use of the Journey North application where students record data about the monarch caterpillars in their garden. Data are collected from around the world and shared to help track the biannual monarch migrations.
In Episcopal’s Lower School, we are comfortable with technology. But we use it as a vehicle for inquiry learning and projects not as an end in itself.
6th Grade Genius Hour:
Freedom to Explore and Create
At Episcopal, grades 6, 7, and 8 make up Middle School. Our 6th grade represents a well-defined entry point for students from other schools to join those moving up from our 5th grade. Together this group begins the march through Middle School.
Demonstrating the freedom provided to faculty to shape their curriculum and modes of teaching, two years ago the 6th grade academic teaching team asked themselves these questions:
What if 6th grade students had time and freedom to explore and create anything they wanted to? What if their individual passions and curiosities helped shape their learning?
Excitedly, they decided to adapt and use the Genius Hour. Genius Hour is time set aside during the school day for students to pursue their diverse interests.
Diverse, indeed. A 3-D model of the human eye with the goal of one day creating a prosthetic eye for improved eyesight. A virtual reality video game. A working model of a steam engine. When students are given a choice, they are active participants in their own learning.
Throughout their Genius Hour work, students apply research skills they have learned in classroom project work, connecting their personal and academic selves. As students research, tinker and question, they cultivate the kind of creative flexibility it takes to solve real-world problems.
With choice, students become directors of their own learning. Genius Hour doesn’t end there, though. Communicating their passion is a key component of self-directed learning. Students might create a podcast or an infographic or a blog post. Making communication decisions pushes students to consider audience and voice.
Personalizing educational experiences is something we do well at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. The creativity, problem-solving and flexibility cultivated by 6th grade students in Genius Hour lays a firm foundation for challenges out on the horizon.
I am grateful to the 6th grade academic teaching team, Ms. Callaway, Ms. Day, Ms. Guarisco, and Ms. Hill, for embracing Genius Hour and employing it.
Electives that Will Make You Want to Come Back to High School
Over the last few years, Episcopal has been expanding its elective offerings in Upper School. One of the major goals of this pedagogical move is to provide more student choice and to engage more students in areas about which they have a high interest level.
Here are a few examples: