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Intersession Provides Upper School Students with an Experiential and Intellectual Feast
Rachel Freeman, communications/website manager


Intersession, from January 6 to January 10, is a time for our Upper School students to engage in hands-on, interactive seminars and activities that are often not found in a typical high school classroom. Students learn from real-world experts about an array of topics who share their passion, experience, and talents. 
Each year’s topics extend beyond the usual academic disciplines, and this year they range from cake decorating and leather dyeing, to boxing and yoga, to American criminal law and the theory of change. Below, we have spotlighted four Intersession opportunities our students took part in this week. 

Sleep and the Narcoleptic Chihuahua

Renowned scientist, professor, and director of the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, met with students during an activity session on Monday. Dr. Mignot is recognized as having discovered the cause of narcolepsy, and he shared with students the science of sleep, how he came to his discovery, and how dogs helped him solve this vexing condition. “The beauty of genetics,” Dr. Mignot shared, “is that when you find the gene, you know it’s the cause of the problem, which means you can treat the cause rather than the symptoms.”

Junior Claire G shared, “I chose this activity because I was curious about narcolepsy. I learned that narcolepsy is an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system attacks a chemical called hypocretin, which interferes with the patient’s sleep.”

Students also had an opportunity to meet Watson, a narcoleptic Chihuahua, who aptly demonstrated what narcolepsy looks like. Claire added, “The best part was that [Dr. Mignot] brought his Chihuahua with him, and we got to pet the Chihuahua.”

Cracking Math Puzzles

Imagine each of the planets in our solar system were evenly covered by a billion people. At any given moment, how many people would be living on the far side? (The far side is the part of the planet not visible from any other planet.)

This math puzzle, as well as others, were the challenge of students in the Cracking Math Puzzles seminar with mathematician Gary Antonick (notable for having written The New York Times column, “Number Play” for seven years). In addition to solving math puzzles, students explored how math puzzles are like jokes, the anatomy of a good puzzle, the likely brain regions involved in solving math puzzles, and how to tell the difference between a trap and a correct answer in a puzzle.

“I was drawn to this seminar because I like math and puzzles, and this course sounded like it combined these in a way I would enjoy,” freshman Nancy S. said. “I really liked how we looked at many different ways of thinking about and completing each puzzle; there is not always just one right answer. And I most enjoyed solving the puzzles with answers that were not easy to see at first, and required thinking outside the box.”

To solve these math puzzles, students tapped into their knowledge of algebra, combinatorics, number theory, and geometry. Think you can solve them? 

Movie Makeup

If you had walked by SM208 on Monday and Tuesday, it might have looked like a zombie apocalypse had begun. Students in the Movie Makeup seminar with professional makeup artist Elizabeth Fox learned how to turn themselves into lifelike zombies, as well as a variety of other makeup skills and techniques. 

One of the greatest things about working with makeup, she told her students, “is that it comes off and you can start all over!” Elizabeth offered sessions in burns, bruises, and scars; zombies; and movie character creation, which challenged students to make decisions about a specific character’s look and execute that look. 

Liz added, “I really want students to come away from this seminar knowing that makeup is an artistry full of creativity, options, and joy.”

(Photo by Willow Taylor C.Y., '21)

Sports Broadcasting

This week, students in the Sports Broadcasting intensive spent two full days learning the ins and outs of live sports broadcasting. Working with Sara Bennett from Media Center—a nonprofit agency which provides digital media resources and training to the public—students used the Media Center mobile TV production truck to experience every role on a live broadcasting team, from director and camera operator to graphics engineer, audio engineer, and play-by-play broadcaster. 

“I like to think of myself as more of a print journalist,” senior Isabel C., shared, “but after this session, I want to do more video media work. I really enjoyed working behind the scenes directing the shots, working the graphics, and moving the cameras. Seeing everything come together and being able to witness our work at the end of the day was really exhilarating.” 

(Photo by Willow Taylor C.Y., '21)

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