Our Stories

Adventures in Learning!

March 10, 2022 by Ronit Greenstein (Faculty and Staff)

Immersive Learning Week provides students with opportunities to engage in concentrated, absorbing, and experiential learning about topics of study shaped by their interests. Students work in small groups, studying the foundations of their subject and broadening their understanding through field trips, discussions with guest experts, and written and creative expression. Last week, middle school students enjoyed a week of immersive learning, delving into the Physics of Flight, Spycraft and the History of Espionage, the Art of Paper, Out of the Box Justice, Talmudic Tales, Dance, and Adventures in Nature.

Highlights from the week include:

  • Dance lessons with US Open West Coast Swing Champions, a Dance Hall of Fame inductee, and the artistic director, choreographer, and founders of a West African Dance Company
  • Learning the art of claymation and making short films that retell Talmudic tales
  • Hiking more than 30 miles in 3 states and Washington, D.C.
  • Participating in workshops on deciphering forensic clues, such as fingerprints and shoe molds, and learning about the history of espionage
  • Learning with legal experts about intellectual property and copyright, environmental law, arguing civil rights cases in front of the US Supreme Court, and legal careers at the FBI, in the office a DC prosecutor and the City of Takoma Park
  • Practicing the ancient artform of sumingashi (Japanese marbling), designing pop-up cards, making paper circuits, creating collages and Blackout Poetry, and learning the art of paper cutting
  • Private tours of Udvar Hazy Air & Space Museum, College Park Aviation Museum, and Shannon Air Museum; and a behind-the-scenes look into the work of air traffic controllers and airport safety officials

Over the course of the fun week, students expanded their horizons, discovered new passions, connected with each other and their teachers, and learned more about themselves and their world.

Physics of Flight

Students who participated in the program on the physics of flight learned with outside experts; visited the Udvar Hazy Air & Space Museum, College Park Aviation Museum, and Shannon Air Museum; and got a behind-the-scenes look into the work of air traffic controllers and airport safety officials. After hearing from Janet Davidson (Chief Pilot and Safety Officer for Chantilly Air) and Natelie Chappell (Air Traffic Controller at Manassas Tower) about regulations and requirements for safe and effective airports, students competed to create their own airports! Over the course of an exciting week, middle schoolers learned about flight from many angles: forces of flight, history of flight, careers in aviation, and logistics of flight (maps/charts and airports).

Spycraft and the History of Espionage

Students selected a time period of espionage to focus on: American Revolution, Civil War, World War II, Cold War, or Israel post-independence. On day two, they traveled to the Spy Museum, where students learned about espionage and tradecraft in general, as well as delving more deeply into learning about the time periods that were of greatest interest. Students then created a dossier about a specific spy and made an artifact representing how their spy communicated secrets. In addition, middle schoolers participated in a workshop in which they had to examine forensic clues, such as fingerprints and shoe molds, to determine who the “mole” was in the organization.

Art of Paper

Middle schoolers learned about the Art of Paper as part of Immersive Learning Week. Delving into the ancient artform of Japanese marbling, they made their own sumingashi prints; they learned with collage artist and Milton parent Rachel Farbiarz, and used cutouts from different media to create scenes and stories; they created Blackout Poetry by taking written pieces from books, newspapers, and magazines, and redacting words in order to come up with their own poetry; they learned how to make pop-up cards with Dora Bever from the MIT Museum; they made paper circuits using copper tape, LED lights, batteries and electrical tape; they worked with Jewish paper cutting artist Melanie Dankowicz to learn the art of cutting paper designs using only a single sheet of paper; and they used recycled materials to make their own paper.

Out-of-the-Box Justice

In Out-of-the-Box Justice, students explored broadly the concept of justice, honing their personal definitions of the term as their Immersive Learning Week experience unfolded. They went to justice-themed exhibits at the National Building Museum, explored the permanent collection at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and heard from a range of guest speakers: Seth Stuhl spoke about his legal work on Disney Theatrical as well as about his pro bono LBGTQIA+ advocacy, including cases heard by the Supreme Court; Jonathan Frenkel spoke about his legal career at the FBI and his current role prosecuting misdemeanor cases for the District of Columbia; Louise Milkman and Ted Boling discussed environmental law and the role the government and private citizens play in protecting the environment; Grayce Wiggins discussed her role as a lawyer for the City of Takoma Park, including the many stakeholders whose interests and concerns must be taken into account; and Sig Libowitz discussed the protection of intellectual property, prompting students to consider the complexity of creative ownership with examples from popular culture. We are grateful to our guests for taking time from their busy schedules to enhance the students’ deep learning.

Talmudic Tales

Middle school creative teams made short films that retold Talmud tales using stop motion animation. They began by studying stories from the Talmud (Mishna and Gemara). Students then learned the mechanics of the creative and labor-intensive art form of claymation, a kind of stop motion animation in which filmmakers take a series of photos of flexible clay figures, with each picture being slightly different, to give the illusion that an object is moving – similar to a flipbook. Students began the artistic process by learning how to create armatures, or the “bones” of a clay structure, and how to find the action point to make it look like it’s moving. Then each group chose a story from the Gemara and planned how to put their own creative spin on it, while still staying true to the text. Over the course of the week, these middle school artists created clay figures, painted sets, recorded voice-overs, and learned how to use the stop-motion app, some for the first time. They shared their first cuts with one another, and engaged in peer-review sharing feedback to offer encouragement and to support each other in producing the strongest iterations of the films as final products.


Middle School students learned swing dancing with the 2019 US Open West Coast Swing Champion, line dancing and barn dancing with a World Champion and Hall of Fame inductee, and West African dancing with the artistic director, choreographer, and one of the founders of a West African Dance Company. Middle school students first explored the five elements of dance — body, action, space, time, and energy — by improvising and playing dance games. Over the course of the week, they learned with extraordinary guest experts and worked in groups to choreograph original pieces to music of their choosing. The students worked cooperatively and found ways to incorporate elements of dance they were learning into their choreography. Thank you to our guest experts Assane Konte, Steve Wilder, and Dawn Garrish for sharing their expertise.

Adventures in Nature

Middle schoolers hiked more than 30 miles in 3 states and Washington, D.C. as part of their nature-based Immersive Learning Week experience. Students and staff traversed the Catoctin Mountains, Rock Creek Park, the Billy Goat Trail in Great Falls, and Harper’s Ferry, where they climbed to a beautiful lookout and saw three states come together- West Virginia, VA, and MD. Throughout, they had opportunities to see wildlife such as vultures and hawks, enjoy bouldering and scrambling, learn how to make a fire (and then roast marshmallows!), and to connect with nature and one another.