Trash Talk and Hot Air

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James Flynn (right top) and Ted “The Man” Gilman (left top) from the Greenwich Audubon Society explain the different invertebrates the students will encounter in the river. 

A week and a half ago, the sophomore STEM class was knee-deep in data collection. Literally. We were all standing in the middle of the Mianus river looking for invertebrates to help measure the health of the Mianus River watershed area. The students had this opportunity to work with the Greenwich Audubon Society and contribute to the data records that the Audubon has been tracking over the years. This past week they have been working full tilt on a series of environmental issues projects where they are tracking small scale models of major global issues. Oceanic Garbage Patches, global climate change with polar ice melting, oil spills, and eutrophication to name a few.

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Testing the effects of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on ice melting. measuring temperature, relative humidity, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

Their math content has been focused on statistical analysis of data set and determining trends in the patterns of data using the mathematical functions the patterns look like. The students are in the midst of collecting the data to interpret those trends and come up with their interpretations of that data. The project set up has been challenging as students and their teachers have been scrambling to find the materials to put everything together.  We have plastics sitting in sea water, algae blooming in a pond water tank, oils spills in several containers, planter boxes and pots with fertilizers and plants set up to measure water runoff, and a sealed chamber with carbon dioxide periodically pumped in to measure ice melt rates. We are using a variety of probes that can measure several different ion concentrations in different substances, dissolved oxygen, soil moisture, atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide, pH, turbidity and even this temperature thing. The students have been evaluating this data in several setups and looking at their impacts. Hopefully they can draw some good conclusions, suggest further areas of research, or maybe even hint at solutions. Who knows? Its just exciting to see them working so hard on these ideas, and I am looking forward to them to be able to present their results to not only their junior peers who conducted similar research the year before, but also get feedback from professionals, that can help to direct them to refine their projects. I’m just hoping the ocean acidification project doesn’t accidentally delete the data from their seven day long test. I’m pretty sure they learned their lesson after a three day control test data set went missing. Fingers crossed!

 

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What Do You DO down there?

“You joined InLab? How is that?”

This is what I hear from students, teachers, and members of the community when I mention my new role in Innovation Lab. “Do you like it?” “What makes it any different from the other classes you teach?” “What are you actually doing down there?” So, for my first blog post, I thought it might be useful to reflect on my short experience as a new teacher in Innovation Lab.

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Riding the local bus. Our first field trip together. 

 

Officially I’m here to be a Humanities teacher, or perhaps facilitator is a better term. I’m partnered with Mike Belanger, and together we lead a double block that aims to pull our English and history content together through long-term, high stakes projects. To execute the projects well, the students must acquire, synthesize and apply their understanding of skills and content. We can differentiate with students to make their knowledge acquisition process most appropriate for their level of interest and ability. We can provide individualized support as they synthesize and evaluate what they have found. And we can question them appropriately to help them apply and express their understanding.

But what I’m really doing is learning, and it’s difficult. I am struggling to learn to let go and let the students make mistakes. Basically, for now, I fail in letting them fail. Intellectually I know that we learn from failure. Most would agree with the prevailing pedagogies that tell us that letting students fail is good practice. They’ll develop grit, they’ll get real-world experience. But how often do we feel that we have the time to let failure happen? What does it feel like to fail during an observation, or when you have a summative assessment coming up? To me, failure has always felt like a great concept, but not a realistic option in my classroom. Now, in InLab, I’m learning through my students, my colleagues and my own missteps that it is possible. InLab provides us with the space, the flexibility, and the mindset, to fail and to fail well.  I’m not comfortable with it, yet, but I’m learning quickly!

And that’s the thing. I’m learning as much as my students are. This is a new kind of learning curve. It’s not just the content; I have to make a serious shift in my habits and teaching methods. One of the best things about this situation is that because how we learn is such an integral and transparent part of the InLab philosophy, my students are one of my greatest resources. One student gets distracted from her work by articles about 21st-century learning, and another is willing to brainstorm new grading systems. We collaborate to find the best ways to learn.

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Preparing for our Greenwich Issues and Interviews field trip with Greenwich Oral History Project sources. 

 

Early in the year, our class went to Greenwich Avenue to interview experts on local issues. We had some incredible successes that day. Students interviewed the head of the Conservation Commission, the First Selectman, a local attorney, and a small business owner. We also had some groups who left empty-handed. In the end, they all understood why their days had worked, or not worked, for them. With this knowledge, they enter the interview portion of their current documentary project better prepared.

As we head towards the end of our first quarter, our tenth graders are in production mode on short documentary films that use their understanding of the Progressive Era, social issues, argumentation, storytelling, and persuasion to identify, research, and identify solutions for modern local issues. There are hours of conferencing and guidance, and hours of letting go. In a week they’ll be editing, and soon after they’ll screen their rough cuts in class. It’s hard to say what the results will be. I expect some will be successful, and others will not. But I know that the students will take what they learn from this experience, and apply it to the next project. I know that they will be able to assess their growth and learning, and that they’ll be able to set goals for their next project.

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Emma Olmstead with Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei

So, to answer your questions: How is InLab? It’s difficult, it’s engaging, it’s different, and it’s the same. Do you like it? I love it. What makes it any different from the other classes you teach? I have more flexibility, more permission to explore and make mistakes, and more time with each of my students. I’m in front of the room less, but at the table with students much more. I don’t have more time or less work but my practices have changed. What are you actually doing down there? Much of what my creative fellow teachers already do outside of InLab, but with the environment that allows us to take it even further. We encourage our students to drive their own learning, to express their learning in complex and meaningful ways, to focus on growth, and to find success in failure.

 

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Nina and Alex vlog about STEM

Over the last two weeks, we asked students to experiment with a different type of blog format when writing about their air launchers from STEM class. Nina and Alex chose to vlog about it and we were blown away when we saw it this morning. Please enjoy!

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Learning Projectile Motion through Air Launchers (Safely!)

August 31, 2017: The first day of class

What better way to study projectile motion in STEM 11 than to launch projectiles? It makes so much sense; in Physics, the first semester is devoted to the study of displacement, velocity, acceleration, forces, momentum, and impulse. In Precalculus, we cover vectors, parametric equations, vertical motion, and a million textbook force problems that have diagrams about Physics.  We decided to hinge the first quarter on the mission to make a t-shirt cannon that students would launch at school events. Getting to the math and Physics is easy, but what about making a safe air cannon?

Summer 2017: Prototyping
We began this summer making the same type of PVC cannons you see on YouTube (see here or here or here).  We’ll skip to the fun, finished launchers:


Success, right? T-shirt launched! Well, when we began researching the pressure ratings for PVC air chambers, we found that OSHA’s stance is pretty clear: do not use it for compressed air, ever, at any pressure. All pressure ratings on PVC are for liquids like water, not compressible fluids like air. These people on YouTube operate under the assumption that everything will probably be fine since everyone else does it that way. But there are plenty of stories online about PVC exploding and causing serious injury. We did not want to put ourselves or our students in any danger. So how could we still do the project, but do it safely?

It’s not the cheapest way to launch a tennis ball, but it’s the safest (we are thankful to the Greenwich Alliance for Education for making this R&D possible). This is the same stuff used for gas lines in homes and buildings. It’s rated to 48,000 PSI. The weakest point in the air chamber is the valve stem, which will leak around 140 PSI. The bike pump and air compressor we’re using to fill the chambers hits its max at 130 PSI. After the air is released, it pushes the ball through the PVC, which is perfectly safe to carry the projectile.

Fall 2017: Students’ first launch
Today, students will launch their small air-powered launchers for the first time. They will use the projectile motion equations seen in every Precalculus and Physics course:v motionv motionWe generated these equations during the first two weeks using student-gathered data from a video-recorded drop test.

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Data credit: Jess T., Jody B., Julian R., Santiago M.

Now, students will calculate how fast their air launcher can shoot a projectile using the same equation they generated before. We’ll look for relationships between pressure, velocity, distance, and eventually, angle of launch. But for now? Images from class today!

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Introducing Our New InLab Teachers

We are excited to share that we have expanded our physical space and our teaching staff! InLab has two new Cantor rooms, 516 and 520, a rehabilitated outdoor courtyard, and five additional faculty members.

Joining the 10th grade team of Michael Belanger (History/Design Studio) and Dana Schlosser (Chemistry/Design Studio) are Jessica von Brachel (English/Design Studio) and Lauren Moskovitz (Math).

Joining the 11th grade team of Christina Shaw (History/Program Associate), Courtney Hawes (English/Design Studio), and Brian Walach (Math/Design Studio) is Ben Gawle (Physics).

Founding teachers of the 12th grade team of Ric Felten (Science Research) and Joe Baske (Social Science Research) are supported by Design Studio 12 teachers, Courtney Hawes and Mike Belanger.

Learn more about our new teachers below!

Jessica von Brachel        English 10 Humanities jvbbiopic

Before I found my way into the best job I’ve ever held, I worked in a variety of fields in which the power of language and storytelling drove my work. What I lacked was a sense of community. Recognizing what I enjoyed doing and what I wanted to add to it led me, finally, to teaching high school English. Here at GHS I’ve had the opportunity to teach ninth grade English, Short Fiction, Film as Literature, and AP Language and Composition. It has been the most challenging and fulfilling work of my life. I am thrilled to be joining Innovation Lab as a partner with Mr. Belanger in Humanities.  I look forward to sharing my love of language, storytelling, and community with the sophomore class and to hearing what it is that drives and excites them. I look forward to finding meaning in our learning and to sharing our discoveries with the world outside of the classroom.

Lauren Moskovitz        Math 10 STEM

laurenbiopicI am super excited to join the Innovation Lab Team this coming 2017 – 18 school year.  I have been teaching mathematics at GHS for 14 years.  Over these years, I have been a part of several houses working with a diverse and talented team of teachers.  I have always strongly believed, from the very beginning days of my teaching career, that math and science shouldn’t be taught in isolation.  Without math how would we communicate the wonders of science?  Without science how would we continue to push the limits of mathematics?  STEM education connects our students’ worlds to their learning, which ultimately fosters deeper understandings.  This strong connection breeds ingenuity.  I am inspired to have this tremendous opportunity to collaborate with the Innovation Lab Team to bring science and math alive to my students.

Ben Gawle        Physics 11 STEM

bgawlebiopicWhen I graduated from Greenwich High School in 2005 I would not have believed I’d be returning to teach physics within the next decade (and neither would my physics teachers). I graduated from UConn with a degree in civil engineering, and after earning my certification, I went on to work at a small structural and forensic engineering firm in the city. Though climbing skyscrapers was fun, my real passion has always been for teaching and learning about science! I come from a family of mostly Connecticut teachers, so I guess you could say it’s in my blood.
While working at schools in New Canaan, I earned a Masters in physics education, and eventually returned home to Greenwich High School in 2016. It has been (and will continue to be) a great pleasure working with the team of professionals in the GHS Science Department, but I am also tremendously glad for this opportunity to branch out to the Innovation Lab next year! I look forward to exploring new ideas and inventing new ways to communicate my passion for science to InLab students this year and hopefully for many years to come.

Joseph Baske        Social Science Research 12

baskebiopicI’m so excited to have the opportunity to help guide the InLab seniors in their social science research class this coming year. In my 20+ years at GHS, I’ve taught everything from AP Euro and US history to Economics to ESL freshmen but always with an emphasis on project-based learning. I believe if my students leave with more questions than answers, I’ve done my job.

Outside the classroom, I passionately play and follow basketball, read history, and love to learn with my wonderful family who are all in the Greenwich schools.

My Favorites:

  • movies: Usual Suspects, Lego Movie
  • songs:  Dance Off, and Stop the World & Melt with You
  • books: Infinite Jest, Cultural Amnesia, Thinking Fast Thinking Slow, and From Dawn to Decadence
  • basketball moves: The Dirk and the Up & Under
  • food: steak and anything free or eaten with good friends tends to be delicious

I look forward to teaching and learning with InLab for many years to come.

Ric Felten        Science Research 12

Felten Bio PicI have a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from SUNY at Buffalo and a master’s degree in chemistry from Saint Joseph College.  After ten years as a senior methods development industrial chemist, I founded a laboratory specializing in scanning electron microscopy as well as x-ray and infrared spectroscopy.  I have taught chemistry and physics for the past ten years, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to apply my past experiences to the senior research being performed in the Innovation Lab.    

 

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Reflecting on Sophomore Year Through my PoL

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Originally posted on Jessica Neri :
On May 31 during Humanities class I had my oral Presentation of Learning. I talked about my Sophomore year and the times where I was successful, and areas where I could improve. The Greenwich Public School system…

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Experiential Learning: Outside the Proverbial Box

Aristotle wrote, ‘For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” A hallmark of Innovation Lab is the opportunity for students (and faculty) to experience and share learning within and beyond the traditional classroom. We toss around phrases like ‘real world problem solving’ every day, but this month we haven’t just been thinking outside the box, have been venturing outside of it as well.

At the beginning of the month, 11th graders traded in the big yellow school bus for a train ticket and headed to Wall Street for the day. For some, this was one of the first times taking a train or a subway into Manhattan without their parents. For most of us – including our fellow commuters – it was the first experience of chaperoning more than 30 teens through public transportation! The walking tours brought history and economics to life, and certainly the students learned from the experience in both academic and non-academic ways.

Juniors also took their academic learning on the road by teaching an interactive lesson from our Gender Issues unit to 9th grade social studies or 11th grade law, economics, or global issues classes. Groups presented a wide array of topics including, but not limited to: “Women in STEM: Looking at Inequality through an Economic Lens”, “Gender Bias in Custody Cases in Family Court”, “Marriage and Early Pregnancy: A Comparative Look at Niger and the United States”, “Parental Leave Inequality: U.S. vs. Europe” and the gender wage gap. InLab students are outstanding ambassadors representing our program in the wider GHS community.

Aristotle’s words aptly reflect students’ experiences leading up to the successful Arch Street Exhibition of Student Prototypes and Design, our second combined sophomore/junior exhibition of work. The projects celebrated the learning process and progress they made in STEM. Hearing the students share their reflections about their learning is a powerful experience. They were articulate in discussing the role of struggle and failure in progress, as many of the projects were still in development. Because the focus was on the experience of learning and solving problems, what might traditionally be deemed “mistakes” become valuable opportunities for growth. The students’ gratification and pride was palpable! Check out the article, photos, and video clips in the Greenwich Free Press.

Our busy month continues next week with a trip to the Stamford Courthouse to observe the legal process in action. We conclude May with, arguably, the highlight of the year: presentations of learning. Innovation Lab students prepare full-length summative Presentations of Learning each spring through which they reflect, both in writing and in panel discussions, on their growth and learning.  To prepare for their PoLs, students analyze the academic, personal, and interpersonal capacities articulated in the Greenwich Public Schools Vision of the Graduate to reflect upon areas of strength and areas for growth as demonstrated using specific examples from their project work in both STEM and Humanities courses. Our first June blog will share PoL highlights from sophomores and juniors.

So as we continue to step out of the classroom to learn and to share, we reflect on the value of living our learning.

 

“Don’t just learn, experience.

Don’t just read, absorb.

Don’t just change, transform.

Don’t just relate, advocate.

Don’t just promise, prove.

Don’t just criticize, encourage.

Don’t just think, ponder.

Don’t just take, give.

Don’t just see, feel.

Don’t just dream, do.

Don’t just hear, listen.

Don’t just talk, act.

Don’t just tell, show.

Don’t just exist, live.”

― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

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Vending Machine for a Cleaner Future

Ben’s thoughts on his group’s efforts to make a “Solar Powered Vending Machine.” To learn more about their progress, and about other Innovation Lab STEM Projects from this semester, join us for our Exhibition of Student Prototypes and Design tomorrow night, May 10, from 6:30-8:30 PM at the Arch Street Teen Center in Greenwich, CT!!

A Week in the Life of InLab

The focus for quarter four in STEM is a project titled: Eureka! It’s Battery Power. The goal of this project is to create or repurpose something so that it can be more sustainable and/or more portable. The project will most likely require the use of either a battery or a solar panel, which connects to redox reductions, a chemistry topic for this quarter. In a battery, many redox reductions are occurring when it is in use. As well, before we started the project we learned about circuits and electricity, which then helps us with wiring for our project.

For the project, my group has decided to take a vending machine and attach solar panels to it, allowing it to run on solar power, instead of on non-renewable resources. This will thus make it more sustainable, as solar power is a sustainable, renewable resource. Our eventual goal is to make the…

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Why are we doing this?

If you were a rich Greek in 100 B.C., it was not uncommon to pay a tutor to come to your villa and teach you math. When it cooled off later in the afternoon, you might gather with the other men in the center of town and talk. Among the academic topics they discussed were philosophy, politics, and math. The image of a Greek drawing circles in the sand is not so much a stereotype as what some people did with their free time.

Math was a hobby. Before the Greeks, people only used math when necessary. To count, to design, to build. The Greeks were by all accounts the first to write down the rules of math in an effort to generalize them. Look at a door frame. How do you know those are four right angles? I suppose you could hold a square block to the frame to check. How do you know your square is accurate? It could be a parallelogram, which also has four sides of equal length. How do you know your angles are right angles? The Greeks proved how to prove a square was, in fact, a square. (An easy way to check is to inscribe a circle in the square. The radius should bisect the sides.)

But once you prove why something you can obviously see is true, what comes next? Mathematicians whose names we know – Euclid, Pythagoreas, Archimedes – were among the most famous Greeks who extended math beyond the door frame. They helped develop trigonometry to study astronomy long before it was needed to steer ships and fly airplanes.

We do very little of this type of math in school. In the past, to study math was similar to that of philosophy; unsolved problems prompted study until a one found a logical argument in support of an answer. Math was regarded with the same mysticism and authority. Boiling it down to a series of problem sets somehow assessed by a timed test runs counterproductive to the Greek model of study, discussion, argument, and proof. If tests are the way we evaluate a student’s mathematical reasoning, we ignore thousands of years of history in favor of the last hundred.

While Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry largely have been warped because of their presence on standardized tests, there could be some flexibility in Precalculus. After a long week of trigonometric book problems, I am wondering whether the study of trigonometry could feasibly be framed in the same manner as a Greek discussion. Could we start with a unit circle and spend class in groups developing a set of rules and proofs? Could we emulate the Greek town center in a classroom? We wouldn’t “get through” as much. Assessment would look radically different. And while we still might not satisfy the annual “why are we doing this?”, perhaps students wouldn’t be bored enough to ask.

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Spring Fever…

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Between the return to Daylight Savings Time, the beautiful weather over Spring Break, and this week’s April showers (come on May flowers!!!), it truly feels that we are finally throwing of the mantle of Old Man Winter and emerging anew.  Admittedly our … Continue reading

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