CA Curious

There’s a Crackle in the Air

October 13, 2022

What does one do in the lobby?

Sixteen 6th graders and I found ourselves pondering this question recently. We were about to embark upon a tour of “The Playground”—the theater facility within Berger Hall—as part of a five-class rotation of the Arts Minors program. Seated on the lobby floor, my new friends rattled off responses:

Wait. Gather with friends. Study. Purchase a ticket. Read the program. Collaborate. Rehearse. Have refreshments. Enjoy intermission. View art. Celebrate.

They were right. On any given day, the lobby of Berger Hall serves these and many other functions.

I shared with the students one of my favorite things about this special space: the windows. Now, this may have something to do with the fact that I spend a large portion of my day at CA in an intentionally windowless world. Storytelling in the theater is dependent upon our ability to control light and, ultimately, what an audience sees and doesn’t see. But that’s not the real reason. I love looking through the glass of the lobby and seeing the upper school on one side and the Middle School on the other. I’m reminded that Berger Hall is a bridge between the two schools, and the Arts at CA provide each of us with the opportunity to connect.

As a faculty member entering his 25th year of teaching at CA and as the new chair of the Arts department, I can attest to the effectiveness of this beautiful bridge and its impact on students. One need only peek into the studios, practice rooms, and brave spaces around campus to witness its power—devoted faculty and curious young people engaging, questioning, risking all, shedding inhibitions, and revealing their authentic selves.

The energy is palpable, and this year, you can feel it crackle even more than usual. Why?

New Faculty

  • We’ve welcomed four passionate artist-educators into our vibrant Arts family: Alexa Velez (MS Dance), Dee Elmore (MS Digital Arts), Kirsten Thompson (Tech Assistant), and Ty Van de Zande (MS Digital Arts).

New Program Offerings

  • After a brief pause, dance has returned to the Middle School, and we’re excited to see the discipline eventually grow to include upper school opportunities.
  • Additionally, we’ve introduced Digital Arts as an Arts Major option for 7th and 8th grades, while also creating a 7th grade section of Video Production.
  • In the Upper School, imaginative electives and independent studies continue to grow out of student interest and conversations with faculty. In fact, the Design Lab on the lower level of Berger Hall—currently home for the Teamship portion of our 9th grade Art & Design experience—is being reconfigured to house new technology for the 3D Game Design class!

Live Performances Return

  • While we were able to offer limited live performance opportunities for our students and the community last spring, we’re thrilled to return to a full concert/performance season this year. It all kicks off with Something Wicked, an immersive and interactive haunted theater experience featuring students in grades 6 through 12.
  • Performances will be offered Thursday, 10/27 through Saturday, 10/29 just in time for Halloween. Look for ticket information in next week’s CA Weekly!

Gradeless Framework Pilot

Under the thoughtful guidance of CA’s Dean of Faculty Martina Greene, the Arts department has made a
commitment to pilot a new gradeless framework for all Arts classes, emphasizing the importance of the following departmental beliefs:

  • Art making is essential to student learning and growth.
  • Our studios and classrooms are brave spaces where students discover techniques and skills to create original, exciting, and impactful works.
  • It’s in these spaces that the process of creating encourages play, curiosity, experimentation and risk-taking.

Moving forward, students will receive either a Pass or Fail at the end of marking periods. In addition to the P/F, teachers will provide students with feedback specific to their skill development and progress toward curricular goals.

Assignments will continue to be recorded in Blackbaud, and teacher feedback will address two areas: submission status and student progress.

  • Submission Status. Students submitting work on time receive a “1.” When work is not turned in, the student receives a “0.” Students will be encouraged to work with their teachers to resolve any missing assignments. As a department guideline, students will need to resolve all “0’s” by the end of the marking period to receive a Pass.
  • Student Progress. A rubric will be attached to the assignment. Students and parents will be able to access the rubric in the gradebook for individual feedback on assignment objectives, skills, etc.

As you access the gradebook in Blackbaud throughout the year, please remember that any numerical points and percentages seen (e.g., 1/1 100% or 0/1 0%) indicate submission status only. Notations of M or L for missing or late work may also appear. Teachers will communicate discipline-specific information as necessary, and students and parents are encouraged to reach out with questions or concerns.

No wonder there’s a crackle in the air! I hope you feel it the next time you enter Berger Hall, and I invite you to find your own way to contribute to its intensification. When you do visit, look for me in the lobby. I’ll be there looking for an opportunity to connect and dreaming of the next big adventure.

Written by Glen Matthews, Theater Teacher and Art Department Chair


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Stats and Storytelling

February 10, 2021

Some of the newest, most eye-catching student art at CA isn’t in Berger Hall; it’s in a math classroom (no, that’s not a typo).

The windows of classroom 128 in the Center for Math and Science—the last classroom in the math wing—are lined with transparent vinyl “stained-glass” suncatchers. When struck by sunlight, colorful railroad cars, peacocks, butterflies, lightning bolts, food pyramids, and abstract hearts throw their colors around the room to magical effect.
Make no mistake—these aren’t just eye- (and sun-) catching artwork. Produced by Upper School Statculus students, they are the latest student-generated data visualizations to grace the Center for Math and Science—every element a deliberate choice to draw the viewer in, to convey a compelling story behind the numbers.

Led by Upper School math department chair Craig Lazarski, Upper School math teacher Kristi Ramey, and art and design teacher Cayce Lee, Statculus offers a deep dive into the connection between calculus and statistics, with a hefty dose of visual arts mixed in. In class, students engage with real-world data to conduct sophisticated analysis, tease out important conclusions, and depict them in compelling and beautiful visualizations.

Those beautiful suncatchers? They reflect student learning in sampling methodologies and complex data analysis. Each represents an opinion data set collected from peers and faculty and parsed using analytical tools that students learned from class. In an array of carefully calculated designs, they offer insights into our community’s preferences—from favorite colors to superhero movies, Hogwarts’ houses sorting to family relationships, sleep habits to dietary choices, and more.

“Your first impression may not be that these are numbers that you’re looking at, but once you think about what you’re seeing, it becomes what Kristi calls a ‘gut-punch’; it communicates something important in a powerful way,” says Lazarski.

Point of Origin

And that, of course, is precisely the point. The ability to work with, interrogate, and powerfully communicate data is particularly timely in a world awash in statistical claims.
“The misunderstanding that people can ‘lie’ with statistics is one of the key reasons everyone should take statistics,” offers Ramey. “It’s not that the statistics are lying; it’s that you don’t know how to interpret the data or that the data is being visually misrepresented.”

Created by Ramey and Lazarski as the product of a 2018 Curriculum Innovation Grant, Statculus was conceived to expand CA’s statistics offerings to better meet the needs of our academically diverse student body.

“We had a wide spectrum of skill levels in a single statistics class—from students who were taking collegiate-level Calculus 3 to those who had recently completed Algebra 2,” explains Lazarski. “Rather than repeat material for students who had already taken calculus and try to bring students who hadn’t up to speed, we decided to offer a more specialized statistics for those students already versed in calculus.”

The result—Statculus—is something akin to a graduate-level statistics course, uniquely tailored to their students’ skills. (It doesn’t hurt that both Ramey and Lazarski are currently pursuing graduate degrees in statistics at NC State University and regularly incorporate material they encounter into their classes).

However, they are quick to point out that mathematics is only one part of the statistics puzzle; communication of the data is equally important. “Statistics is all about communicating. It’s what distinguishes statistics from its calculus lineage,” explains Ramey.

Getting an eye for visual learning

That’s why, in recent years, Statculus has evolved to include a significant and crucial data visualization component, courtesy of a collaboration with Upper School art and design teacher Cayce Lee, and facilitated by yet another professional development opportunity—this one from the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA).

The NCMA’s Fellowship for Collaborative Teaching pairs educators from various fields of study who are committed to using art to engage students in new ideas and deepen their problem-solving and critical thinking skills. On hearing of the opportunity, Lee immediately thought of partnering with Ramey, who had long expressed an interest in combining art and math in the classroom.

Selected for the fellowship, in the summer of 2019, Lee and Ramey joined ten fellow educators from across the state in a series of intensive seminars and workshops to design curricula that combined art with other disciplines in meaningful and engaging ways. As the first math-focused pair selected for the fellowship, Lee and Ramey broke new ground for the NCMA program, then in its fourth year, according to Jill Taylor, Director of School and Teacher Programs at NCMA.


For both, it was an eye-opening and fruitful experience, one that underscored not only the vital role of data visualization in statistics, but the importance of visual arts—of color and composition and narrative—in data visualization.

“With artful data visualization, statistics can achieve an emotional response from the audience,” offers Ramey. “Data visualization allows us to provide a point of view along with communicating data. Instead of ‘here’s a pie chart,’ it’s ‘oh my gosh, that was really impactful, and I now see it differently.’”

Clarity of vision

With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting students’ opportunities to work together in large groups, Lazarski, Lee, and Ramey had to rethink the scope, scale, and purpose of this year’s Statculus data visualization project.

“Last year, we focused on developing students’ communication skills, and their grade was mostly derived from their presentations. Virtual and hybrid learning made that next to impossible, so this year, we leveraged a partner art project to provide that opportunity for them,” says Lazarski.

As the suncatcher project was conceived, students were granted control over the data they would collect and analyze, as well as the designs that their suncatcher would use to visualize their results. Students collected and analyzed the data outside of class and then used weekly Flex Days to collaborate and develop their data-driven artwork.

To prepare, Lee introduced students to artworks that incorporated data in thought-provoking ways, such as Timo Aho and Pekka Niittyvirta’s light-painted series on sea-level rise, Mike Knuepfel’s sculptural interpretation of keyboard letter usage, and Blake Fall-Conrony’s Minimum Wage Machine, which provides a tangible sense of how much work is required to earn so little.

It had an impact.

“Usually, when we ask students to take data and do something more with it, what results is a bigger bar graph,” smiles Lazarski. “But our students, inspired by what Cayce had shared, really ran with the suncatcher project. They put careful consideration into the questions they would ask and the best way to produce them as impactful visuals.”

“I have always thought that math is beautiful, but I was excited to present it beautifully!” reflects Shannon Jenkins ’21. “I think my favorite part of the project may have been measuring out the angles that my partner, Sanjana Chillarege, and I used. We had to constantly adapt our methods to make sure that our proportions were accurate.”

“When we first were assigned the project, I was a little overwhelmed—I had no idea how to approach it,” says Samantha Lattanze ’21. “Working through the project step-by-step helped me enjoy the process and provided me with a new lens on math.”

For the teachers, too, it was a rewarding experience. “It’s been fantastic to see students in a different context than the art studio,” offers Lee. “Getting to revisit a key lesson I teach during the ninth-grade art and design class—that visual communication is the most universal form of communication—with real-world applications is particularly rewarding.”

Beyond the classroom

And it is perhaps that real-world application that best prepares Statculus students for what comes next—helping them to better grasp the material by getting truly-hands on, encouraging them to delve into areas of knowledge that they might not have sought to explore, all while honing communications skills that will serve them long after their time at CA.

“Almost every field is about collecting information and analyzing it in today’s world,” says Ramey. “Either you’ll have to interpret data analytics or interpret data yourself. Those communication skills are key in a world increasingly driven by data analysis.”

Lazarski agrees, “Every year, I get emails from young alumni who say, ‘I’m so glad that I took statistics at CA; I use it so much in college, and I wouldn’t have gotten so far without taking it in high school.’”

Across campus, CA students are taking note of the increased visibility of statistics thanks to the installation of Statculus students’ data visualization pieces. “Students in other classes have been intrigued by the suncatchers,” says Lazarski.

“After taking part in the surveys, they have been fascinated by how the results were presented and the notion that meaningful data could be visualized in a non-traditional way. And that you can have fun and make an impact in the process.”

Data Art

This year’s sun catcher project is not the first data visualization project to adorn the Center for Math and Science. Through Lee and Ramey’s NCMA fellowship, last year’s Statculus students were invited to visit the North Carolina Museum of Art and leverage the museum’s collection as data points for a data visualization project.


Breaking into teams, students analyzed the museum’s vast collections based on artists’ gender, nationality, media used, and composition. With data sets in hand, and in consultation with RTI researcher and data visualization expert Simon King via Zoom (before it was the cornerstone of meetings in 2020), students worked with Lazarski, Lee, and Ramey to design an art installation that would shed light on the strengths and shortcomings of the museum’s holdings while engaging viewers to learn more.

Inspired by Florence Nightingale’s pioneering data visualization work, Diagrams of the Causes of Mortality, which used a coxcomb—a more sophisticated form of a pie chart in which the slices are subdivided and vary in radius in proportion to the data set—and utilizing the cutting-edge tools of the CMS Makerspace and know-how of design, programming, and robotics teacher Betsy MacDonald, the students created three-dimensional coxcomb spheres that are suspended in the Center for Math and Science’s atrium lobby.

Each sphere—crafted from a Wiffle ball, wedges of plexiglass, and transparent vinyl appliques—is mounted on spindles that allow them to rotate. Putting the data in motion seeks to engage viewers, allowing them to see the relationships between the complex layers of data in greater detail.

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager


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Varsity robotics claims first tournament win in program history

March 2, 2020

During CA varsity robotics’ best performance in their seven-year history, the Chargers went 18-0 to claim their first-ever FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) tournament.

In the qualifying rounds, where 3-bot alliances are randomly created, CA’s robot charged off to a 12-0 record. It was not a breeze, though, as there were two matches that on paper looked like they would favor the opponent. However, CA’s extremely reliable bot consistently performed the scoring elements, including a climb at the end of the game where the bot does a robot version of a chin-up on a moveable beam. This proved to be crucial to the teams’ success because, in 18 matches, Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe (yes, that’s the robot’s name) successfully climbed 17 times. After match one, the win gave them the #3 rank, and they vacillated between 2nd and 3rd for a few matches. It wasn’t until their fifth victory that the team secured the #1 spot and never relinquished it — despite some heat from a fellow Cary team, Cortechs Robotics, who also went undefeated. The scoring system in FRC rewards winning alliances two ranking points per win, and an additional ranking point, if two robots are a able to climb and balance the moveable beam. The Chargers were able to secure that extra ranking point five times in the qualifying matches, while Cortechs’ alliances earned three ranking points only twice. That was the difference in the Chargers being ranked #1 with the Cortechs’ at #2.

At the end of the qualifying matches (where the alliances had been randomly assigned), there is an Alliance Selection process where the top 8 seeds get to choose who they want on their alliance for the rest of the tournament. As the number 1 seed, the Chargers got first choice and it was a no-brainer to go with the only other undefeated team, especially since their strategies were very complementary and had collaborated well in a qualifying match when they had the first successful balanced climb of the tournament and achieved (at the time) the highest score of the day. With Carrobotics (out of Chapel Hill) as the third bot to round out the alliance, they headed in the quarter-finals. In playoffs, alliances must win two matches to move on. If you’ve done the math, it only took two matches in each of the quarters, semis, and finals to be declared the winner of the Wake District FRC event. Win a win, comes a blue banner, and CA was finally able to bring home that elusive blue banner. They were also recognized as having the best autonomous program for consistency and reliability.

Please join me in congratulating the Chargers for their first-ever appearance on the #1 seed, highest seed they have ever captained, first-ever undefeated tournament, and first-ever tournament win. This puts them in an excellent position to play in the State Championship, as they currently have 78 district points. District points are awarded at the first two tournaments that teams attend, so it’s a cumulative process. However, with such a strong showing and an extremely reliable bot, the Chargers will likely qualify. Their next tournament is March 21-22 at Guilford HS, with the NC Championship on April 4-5 at Campbell University.

If you want to see more statistics or replays from the event, visit https://www.thebluealliance.com/team/5160/2020

Thank you to all the parents for their continued support, to the awesome kids, and to their other coaches Rachel Atay and Scott Allred.

Go Chargers!

Betsy MacDonald – US Design, Programming, and Robotics

Written by Betsy McDonald, US Design, Programming, and Robotics

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