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Teachers are the Difference

At Seven Hills, our teachers are experts at their craft, creating lessons and projects that inspire and empower students. Teachers guide students to become self-assured academics in first grade; simulate business consulting as fifth graders; begin learning quantum physics as eighth graders; and debate the best path for democracy as Upper School students. 

Our teachers create a welcoming environment for students to test the limits, try new things, and achieve more than they ever believed possible. Seven Hills teachers are the difference.

Laura OGrady

Collaborative critical thinking problems are at the heart of Lotspeich fifth grade teacher Laura OGrady’s approach to math within her classroom. Rather than students making their way through a workbook, students are presented with different scenarios – whether it’s serving as business consultants, designing a map for a hiking trail, or figuring out the optimal diameter for a giant sun blocker – and within these scenarios, students apply increasingly complex mathematical skills to address challenges. This type of work goes beyond just memorizing procedures because students are making decisions and seeking efficient ways to solve problems in different contexts while learning from each other’s different approaches. 
“At the beginning of the year, we jump right in with the ‘Tax Collector’ scenario. Students are reviewing their understanding of factors, multiples, prime numbers, and square numbers to try to maximize the amount of money they get to keep. Students experiment with different combinations, making discoveries along the way, searching for patterns, and communicating their new understanding. 
At the end of last year, we did a theme park design simulation. As part of the design process, students used geometry and scaling to create an attraction in a specific footprint that also needed to meet a number of criteria. They were also using calculations with elapsed time to maximize the number of passengers who could enjoy their ride,” OGrady said.

Students are learning more than mathematical procedures in OGrady’s class, they’re analyzing the best use of their application. OGrady, who teaches both math and social studies, said, “Students develop strong analytical skills to better understand our global, data-driven world. Alongside our math lessons, we also learn how to be analytical thinkers during social studies lessons. Students learn the importance of evidence and considering multiple viewpoints, as different people may not experience the same event in the same way. By analyzing history, we’re building empathy and understanding how the past continues to impact and shape our world. For both math and social studies, I want students to be critical, compassionate thinkers; for students to look for and understand complexity, to seek and value a variety of viewpoints and perspectives, that’s my goal.”

Katie Swinford

Studying Latin in Middle and Upper School world language and history teacher Katie Swinford’s class is akin to studying the human condition.

“Humanity, like our wants, needs, and goals, hasn’t changed too much in the last couple thousand years. Students learn more about the timelessness of the human condition and everything it means. For example, students research the Roman Empire’s expansion and compare its effects with modern-day immigration and border laws,” Swinford said. 

Swinford uses imaginative projects to immerse her students in ancient Rome while showcasing Latin’s beauty and long-lasting impact. During Latin IV Honors, students research senate identities from 63 B.C.E. and live tweet their reactions to the Cicero’s speech as if they were his contemporaries. 

In ninth grade world history, students take on ancient Athenian personas from ancient Greece and role-play different political factions while trying to design a democratic system. 

“We pretend we don’t know how the history played out, for instance, what works and what doesn’t work. The students make the case for their different proposals and we, as a class, vote for the best plan. 

“Students, in both history and Latin classes, are learning and sharpening their analytical skills, how to read a document and figure out its potential bias, form their own opinion, and debate it. They’re reading texts and discussing an author’s intent and how different events may be
covered by different authors.

“I love my job because the kids are interested and willing to go the extra mile, and parents want to support their kids however they can. This gives me the freedom to create the best lessons I can and because of that, my curriculum evolves every year to meet the needs and talents of my
students,” Swinford said.

Amy Kuhlhavik

With a self-described “ever-evolving” teaching style, Doherty Unit I teacher Amy Kulhavik fully embraces the concept of adapting to meet the needs of each student. There are two undeniable constants in her class: first, education is an adventure meant to be an enjoyable challenge, and second, students will know they are seen and respected as individuals.

“I believe that once you know your students, you can find creative ways to reach and teach whatever the concept is in a way that makes sense to each of them. For example, in language arts, a workshop approach in both reading and writing allows students to read and write about topics that interest them. I then teach the strategies, skills, and tools within those chosen books or storylines. This way, the students and I are collaborating and conferring about their learning using text and media important to or chosen by them,” Kulhavik said.

Her favorite unit is when Unit I turns their classrooms into Camp Learns-A-Lot, complete with desk tents, a campfire, and twinkling lights so students can read by lantern light under the night stars. 

During their stay at Camp Learns-A-Lot, all core curriculum revolves around their camping theme.

“We discuss homophones while reading the book ‘Dear Deer’ by Gene Barretta, research skunks and write about something that ‘stinks’ or has ‘stunk’ in each student’s life, and create small, stable tents using just toothpicks and marshmallows for a STEAM activity. We wrap up the week by bringing in sleeping bags and favorite stuffed animals for reading, enjoying a camp-themed lunch around a real fire, and learning how to leave our camp clean and picked up for the next group of visitors for camping etiquette! It’s a week full of fun, adventurous learning for all,” Kulhavik said.

Her inventive methods create many opportunities for students to achieve their own “aha” moments. Students are comfortable trying new things and testing their academic prowess because Kulhavik takes the time to get to know every single student as an individual.

Students know as soon as they step into Amy’s classroom, they are going to be encouraged, supported, and challenged

“When my students leave first grade, my goal is that they are confident learners who are willing to take risks because they feel comfortable and safe in a classroom environment,” Kulhavik said.

Ken Revell

Students in Middle School science teacher Ken Revell’s class become scientists in their own right thanks to Revell’s expansive hands-on approach.

“Every topic we study is going to be demonstrated through some kind of activity or lab. It gives students actual tactile experience, gets them engaged with equipment, and allows them to see how things play out in the real world. The nice thing about the real world is it tends to be messier, leading to a clearer picture of how things can happen. Instead of learning by reading about an experiment or theory, we’re recreating them within the classroom for students to understand how many things can influence results. It pushes them to consider different ideas and concepts, instead of relying solely on their reading where every factor is nice and perfect.

“I teach my classes in a hands-on way because the more active and engaged the learner, the higher the level of skill retention. Teaching others creates the highest level of retention and this relationship is at the heart of the STEAM Fair.

“The event is designed so that eighth graders lead Lower School students through activities related to an array of scientific concepts. This gives Middle Schoolers the chance to teach the fundamentals of each topic, which enhances their own understanding.

Eighth grade science has evolved so that it focuses on the topics that get less attention, like nuclear physics and chemistry, for example. The course has been adjusted to fill in some of the gaps in traditional science education. It is not just a prep course for Upper School science,” Revell said.

One topic that especially challenges students’ perspectives about the world around them is the photoelectric effect. Einstein won the Noble Prize in physics for describing light as a particle rather than a wave, as it had been previously thought of.

“I love teaching about light. First, I teach it as a wave and we go through why it must behave as a wave. After students understand this concept, we then perform the demo for the photoelectric effect, which understandably confuses everyone since light doesn’t behave like they had just learned that it should. I use light’s ability to act as a wave and a particle to show the duality present in quantum mechanics. It’s a nice introduction to the weirdness of the world, and why it’s important to keep questioning the world around you.

My only goal is to help students get to a point of appreciating how fascinating and interesting science can be. Have I increased my students’ appreciation for the subject? Have I given them a chance to be passionate about it and find it engaging and enjoyable? As Maya Angelou said, ‘people will never forget how you make them feel,’” Revell said.