A New Way to Explore JTerm

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You can now experience the excitement of JTerm on The Episcopal Academy website. Check out news, class blogs, and Twitter feeds here.


Probability, Pro Sports, and Poker

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To an outsider, Mr. Bryant and Mr. Lavallee’s Games 4 Geeks course may look anything but academic: students gather around tables for poker, huddle around computer screens to experiment with a business simulation game (Titan), or move pawns across a map of Europe while making deals with foreign nations in Diplomacy.

However, a quick listen to the conversations resulting from these activities proves that all of this gaming is anything but play. Instead, students are learning strategy, behavioral psychology, game theory, and statistics – concepts they will later apply to everything from horse races to the comic book industry.

Games 4 Geeks, at its core, teaches students build connections between statistics and game theory to real-world examples.

For their final presentation, one group of students related Philadelphia Eagles former head coach Chip Kelly’s aggressive player trading to variance in poker. They asserted that most professional teams try to limit variance by keeping their team rosters consistent, and that making sweeping roster changes is a high risk move that does not always pay off – especially in the case of the Eagles.

payoffmatrixTwo students designed a payoff matrix to compare the profitability of small- and large-market NBA teams aggressively investing in high-price free agents versus picking up players in the draft. Quotations from Moneyball and A Beautiful Mind helped illustrate their thesis.

Another group explained why there are so few female professional poker players, citing reasons ranging from the fact that women are socialized to be passive, to the real-world struggle of limiting financial risks while taking care of a family. However, other players’ awareness of these typically feminine qualities may lead to a big pay-off for female players  like Annie Duke, who play into stereotypes to reign in multi-million dollar rewards.

These incredible connections represent only a few of the lessons taught in Games 4 Geeks. And while students certainly proved themselves in their presentation, the real test will take place tomorrow… at the final poker tournament.



Unprecedented Access on the NH Campaign Trail

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ChelseaClintonPart of the intrigue of politics is one never knows what will happen in a given day. EA students on the campaign trail in New Hampshire learned this first hand as they mingled and snapped selfies with a slew of presidential candidates.

Brian Rodio ’16, and classmates in Anne Barr and Sam Willis’ Journalism, The Bedrock of Democracy JTerm course, attended a Donald Trump rally this week where Brian confidently asked Trump a question about Bill Clinton stumping for his wife Hillary. “It was pretty unbelievable to see Trump, let alone ask him a question. The atmosphere was incredible. The tough part was deciding whether to ask him something substantial or something that would incite him.”

Students snapped selfies and met Chelsea Clinton on Tuesday. Later in the day they stopped by the Ted Cruz campaign to learn more about his stance on gun control and, of course, take more selfies.

The JTerm trip to New Hampshire has been an eye-opening experience for Michael Larkin ’17 observing, “It was a great opportunity to see candidates from both sides of the political spectrum and to truly understand the type of person each candidate truly is as a person.”

Chris ChristieLee Billmyer and Rob Trumbull’s students in the Explore Philadelphia, The Brandywine and The New Hampshire Primary course are also on the campaign trail. Wednesday morning both classes met New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

For Anne Barr the JTerm trip to New Hampshire has been an experience of a lifetime for her students. “Real reporting about important, immediate issues is what teaches students about the vital role journalism plays in a democracy. It has been nothing short of thrilling to watch my EA students do this in New Hampshire. With every rally, discussion with a New Hampshire resident, tweet sent and note hastily written in a phone or a reporter’s notepad, I see their journalistic understanding and passion growing. It is a teacher’s dream come true.”

Faith, Family, and Food: Traditions Around the Table

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When you think of your family’s traditions, what come to mind? Your grandmother’s pumpkin pie? Seder with your aunts and uncles? The birthday cake your mom bakes for you every year? Making – and eating – hundreds of Christmas cookies?

For families across the globe, food is at the center of their most cherished memories. And food traditions are more than just simple recipes: they’re snapshots of cultures. Food has the power to unify generations, promote conversation, and welcome strangers.

IMG_4495It is this concept that inspired world religions teacher Holly Johnston and math teacher Cheryl McLauchlan to create their JTerm course, Faith, Family, and Food: Traditions Around the Table. Now in its third year, Faith, Family, and Food invites students to discover other cultures through exploring religious and food traditions. Students achieve this through speaking with religious leaders at local places of worship, combing the aisles of specialty grocery stores, and making meals in home kitchens.

IMG_4493EA parent Divya Mukherjee invited the class into her home for a traditional Indian feast. On top of making savory delicacies like masoor daal (lentil soup), aloo jeera (cumin potatoes), and murgh makhani (butter chicken), the students learned about India’s rich culture through reading books, watching a Bollywood film, and learning a Hindi dance.

IMG_4496In the kitchen, Mrs. Mukherjee explained the significance behind every dish, key ingredient, and even table setting. Students learned that stainless steel thali plates are found in every Indian home, and that a masala dabba carries the main spices in Indian cuisine. Students sipped mango juice and cardamom tea before sitting at the large, communal table for lunch.

Throughout the course, Faith, Family, and Food also explores Ukranian Easter and Jewish Passover celebrations. Students will finish the two weeks by presenting their own favorite food traditions to classmates.

“Learning about food is important because it really shows you another culture,” said Sarah Baturka ’16. “You see the traditions that make that culture unique, but you also see similarities, like values and morals. You realize that you’re really not so different after all.”

JTerm Trips Have a Lasting Impact on Students

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a guest post written by EA student Corrine Kneizy

Study abroad is an experience most people only have the opportunity to do in college; however, Episcopal students get the unique chance to travel to places like Spain, Belize, Haiti, and India while still in high school. These various trips offer different benefits; some are cultural exchanges, community service projects, and others study the ecology in the environments. Christina McLaughlin, a senior currently in Gran Canaria, Spain had this to say, “J Term has really pushed me out of my comfort zone. I have the opportunity to see a foreign country through a local’s eyes, and that’s something almost nobody can say they’ve done”. The students in Gran Canaria also had the opportunity to host kids from Spain earlier in the year. “It was nice to have a different perspective on American culture. The things we consider normal are very strange through their eyes” McLaughlin said. J Term has not only exposed students like Christina to different cultures and perspectives, but also given students opportunities to give back to the world.

The Haiti trip inspires students and gives them a feeling of fulfillment through community service. “I appreciate the fact Episcopal gives us the chance to help those really in need. Travelling to Haiti and helping kids who want an education gives us a sense of gratitude for what we have. Haiti changed my life and I am forever grateful to Episcopal for the experience,” said Carolyn Bell, also a senior at Episcopal. Bell has returned to Haiti after her initial trip, and inspired other students to take the trip as well. Claudia Teti, a senior, says, “I have never been anywhere like this before, so I don’t know what to expect at all. I’m going into it with a positive mindset, and I’m really excited to step out of my comfort zone for the next week, make connections with the community of St. Marc’s school, and experience a culture entirely different from my own”.

J Term trips push students past where they are comfortable and force them to adapt. Each different trip offers new and exciting opportunities tailored to student’s interests. The memories from these trips last a lifetime, and the lessons students take away from the trips shape the way the students grow.

Teachers K’NEXing with Students

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a guest post written by Dr. Delvin Dinkins, Head of Upper School 

How do we accelerate responsible innovation in our schools? Create a coherent and interdisciplinary intercession that tosses aside prescribed content and instead serves as a laboratory for teaching and learning.

JTermKnexAt EA, we call it JTerm. A prolific source of promising practices, JTerm allows teachers to team up with each other and with their students to create, acquire, and share knowledge through experimentation with ideas. An unceasing focus in the studio, a detectable passage to another culture and region, a cavernous plunge into textiles and technology—these are just a few arenas teachers and students are tapping. I have visited just about every JTerm class on campus and have been blown away by the amount of student self-direction and agency.

Take, for instance, the Innovations with K’NEX class. Students were instructed to build a six-foot Ferris wheel, with a plug-in motor. The amount of focus required of students to erect the 8,500-piece structure was seemingly overwhelming. However, their effort, investment in the task, and necessity to communicate and collaborate allowed them to make short work of the challenge. Students made not one but two wheels, in addition to a few bridges (truss, suspension). They pored over their work, with teachers connecting with them and coaching them to do their thing.

This sort of meditation is a powerful signpost: students enjoy vibrant, hands-on and minds-on exertion.


From Courtrooms to Campus: Fritchey Discusses Organized Crime

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JTermOrgCrm1David E. Fritchey spent his career fighting organized crime. From Nicodermo Scarfo to Joey Merlino and so many others, Fritchey has faced down some of the most feared criminals.

Today, the former prosecutor and head of the US Attorney’s Office Criminal Division faced the toughest room yet – a handful of EA freshmen in Mr. Steven Schuh’s Organized Crime JTerm course.

Fritchey visited the class to not only speak about his career, but to shed light onto the genesis and rise to power of criminal organizations like La Cosa Nostra.

“The American Mafia is really an outgrowth of the Mafia in Sicily,” said Fritchey before explaining how the island’s historic political instability led to the rise of organized crime. “The Sicilian Mafia began as a well-intentioned, liberty seeking, clandestine shadow government, but gradually, criminal activity became commonplace.”

JTermOrgCrm2Fritchey framed students’ understanding of this global organization through skillfully weaving pop culture and political history references, ranging from The Godfather to the European Enlightenment to the Magna Carta.

Prohibition, he reasoned, escalated the power of organized crime because it prompted gangsters to master the diversity of skills needed to successfully bootleg alcohol. Later, the Great Depression would heighten their power even more, as mobsters extended much-needed loans to struggling families.

While the American Mafia’s background is complex, its backbone is simple. Fritchey quoted a comment from Mafia witness Pete ‘The Crumb’ Caprio to illuminate this point:

“We’re all about violence. Without violence, we are nothing.”

Fritchey’s discussion provided an incredible opportunity for students to learn from an expert. While the Organized Crime class focuses on both Mafia and non-Mafia crime (think Griselda Blanco and Pablo Escobar), this discussion offered great context into an organization that spans over a century and affects thousands of people.

However, the conversation was more than a chronological history of organized crime – it also inspired students to someday fight crime and injustice by acting as fearless leaders.

“To me, you are all tomorrow’s leaders,” explained Fritchey. “To be a leader, you need to do two things: first, identify social and economic problems in society. Then, think of ways to fix them.