Upper School News

The Beauty and Joy of a Giant Six-foot Compass
Rachel Freeman, communications/website manager


One of the goals Andrew Alexander has for himself when he teaches his upper-school mathematics courses is to bring joy into the classroom. In Andrew’s Math 1 course, demonstrating the joy and beauty of math is fundamental to students’ understanding of and appreciation for math.

“Math 1 is the first class in our integrated math curriculum,” Andrew said. “The most important thing we are trying to accomplish is debunking the notion that math is about memorizing formulas and being careful with pedantic little details. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Math is about beauty and joy and wonder in this abstract system.”

To launch the geometry unit in his class, Andrew came up with a creative way to infuse joy and wonder into the learning, even though the class takes place on Zoom (“Even in remote learning, we can experience a lot of joy in math,” he said). Using I-Lab tools, building materials, and a little help from I-Lab shop manager George Jemmott, Andrew constructed a six-foot tall compass and an accompanying 12-foot long straight edge.

“The idea came to me one day as I was making lunch,” Andrew shared. “I thought I should make a giant compass and straightedge because it’s cool and fun. My class has been joking that it’s a socially distanced compass, since it’s six-feet long.” 

Andrew began the unit by reading Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet, “Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare,” which speaks to the beauty of math.

“Many of us know visual beauty; that’s the default type of beauty we think about when we think about beauty,” Andrew said to his class. “But there are other kinds. There’s gustatory beauty, there’s musical beauty, there’s literary beauty, and so forth. This sonnet is another type of beauty: mathematical beauty.” 

Following this introduction, Andrew placed his camera on a ladder and proceeded to show students how he uses the compass and straightedge to draw circles and other geometric shapes. Students enthusiastically encouraged him to continue drawing circles. Occasionally, Andrew was interrupted by an oncoming car as he was drawing these circles in the middle of his quiet street. 

"The fun aspect of this demonstration was that we were not only dealing with lines and circles, but also with art, beauty, and excitement," said ninth-graders Ellie K. "I loved seeing the happiness in Andrew and my classmates as he ran from the computer to the compass and back again. This activity was
 something I had never witnessed before. Even with experience watching teachers at previous schools draw circles on the whiteboard, this demonstration drew me in and kept me engaged. 

“The whole thing was just so weird and novel,” Andrew said. “Yes, I could do these same constructions on normal paper with a normal-sized compass, but I wanted students to realize that you only need these two tools—regardless of their size—to build intricate, increasingly complicated shapes.”

It is clear by the students’ laughter and engagement that Andrew met his goal. 

"In my first few months at Nueva—and especially reinforced in this demonstration—I have been taught to find beauty and joy in my learning and avoid the conventional, easy path," Ellie shared. "It is more common to use a handheld compass to create constructions rather than a six-foot tall one. However, I do not think I would have seen the delight in geometry or been as inspired to draw shapes of my own if we chose to use the small compass.

“I try to instill in my students a sense of wonder for the natural world, even when that natural world is a world of abstractions,” Andrew added. “I want to instill in them a sense of joy and a sense of playfulness. This class was one of the highlights for me of a strange year.”  



Read More

An Inside Look at the New Nueva Art Collection

Upper school student council arts representative Tomo recently launched the Nueva Art Collection, a place to share, explore, and document all of the artistic talent and creativity of the Nueva community. Judith Worrall caught up with him about the creation of this virtual art gallery.  

Students Explore the Power of Poetry to Illuminate Environmental Issues 

Over the past semester, students in English 10 have been immersed in a unit focused on eco-poetry. Throughout the year, teachers and students investigate a variety of issues brought on by colonialism, post-colonialism, and globalization.

“Poetry is political and subversive. It has the power to spark conversation, inspire change, and make a profound impact,” said Amber Carpenter, upper school English teacher. 

Acts of Kindness Connect Upper School Community

"You are a motivator, a positive force, and an inspiration to us all. Thank you for setting the bar so high and for bringing such HOPE and deep empathy to this community.”

Imagine receiving this appreciation message . . . how would you feel? Valued? Appreciated? Loved? All of the above? The special sentiments above were written during Kindness Week, a tradition that Director of Social Justice and Equity Alegria Barclay started four years ago with the help of then Kindness Club President Anna Sandell ’18.

Upper School Students Explore the Ripple Effects of Dr. King's Legacy

On the morning of Thursday, Jan. 21, Nyle Fort spoke to upper school students about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, what it means to be an activist, and how young people can get involved in social movements. 

The organizer, minister, and scholar helped set the tone for the rest of the day’s programming, designed to explore Dr. King’s conception of justice and introduce Nueva students to young social justice activists. 

Catching Up with . . . the Peer Consulting Team

We recently interviewed Sean Schochet, upper school Science of Mind teacher, and the peer consulting team in the high school to hear about the warmth, friendship and support this outstanding group of young people offer Nueva high school and middle school students.

Catching Up with . . . Brian Cropper

Joyful and vigorous study is at the heart of the Nueva experience. We sat down with 12th grade dean, upper school history teacher, and Nueva alumnus ’05 Brian Cropper for a conversation about the inspiration for his newest class and his role as 12th grade dean. Brian also shares how his students and colleagues inspire him every day.

The Beauty and Joy of a Giant Six-foot Compass

One of the goals Andrew Alexander has for himself when he teaches his upper-school mathematics courses is to bring joy into the classroom. To launch the geometry unit in his Math 1 class, Andrew came up with a creative way to infuse joy and wonder into the learning: he constructed a six-foot tall compass and an accompanying 12-foot long straight edge.

The Power of Student Agency

The invitation for Wednesday’s roundtable event “Divestment: The Million Dollar Question” noted, “In response to student activism, the Nueva Endowment Committee is considering the divestment of its holdings in fossil fuel companies for the first time.”

This was very exciting news for students because for at least the past four-to-five years, the student-run Nueva Divestment Team has been working to convince the Nueva Endowment Committee of the need to divest.