Juniors Alex, Ben, Nina, and Sophie created an informational video about InLab [here]. Enjoy!
Juniors Alex, Ben, Nina, and Sophie created an informational video about InLab [here]. Enjoy!
After the Bruce Museum exhibition last year, I looked forward to the second time around and what new knowledge, creativity, and struggles my classmates and I would receive. However, I had no idea just how taxing the process would end up being, and additionally, how much the stress was worth for our final product.
The Humanities Bruce Museum project for sophomores versus juniors has a stark contrast. While the tenth graders are asked to do an individual art piece, the juniors are put into groups to research the United States’ government response to various crises. My group decided to research the Japanese-American internment camps that took place during World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the deciding factor for Japanese-Americans to be sent to “relocation centers,” as they were called, simply because of the fear perpetuated as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Although there was no evidence to prove that Japanese-Americans were a threat to American society, FDR signed Executive Order 9066 which stated that all Japanese-Americans, citizen or non-citizen, where to be sent to the internment camps to keep these “enemy aliens” as they were called under the supervision and away from others. Even after the financial reparations offered almost 40 years later by the Civil Liberties Act, a law created by the legislative branch, the internment camps left scars on the people that were forced inside.
After officially choosing our topic for the Bruce Museum, we were asked to create a rough prototype made out of paper of what we wanted our future project to look like. When we presented our idea to the class, we were met with many critiques that ended up improving our final product. Our original vision was too focused on meeting the literal requirements of the assignment rather than being an original art piece. We had to get creative, and through further discussion with the group, we mapped out a new idea. We would build a model of a camp inspired by our research and the infamous Manzanar Internment Camp which kept the most Japanese-American internees. We would build a model barrack using foam board and acrylic, put sand at the bottom of the box the barrack would be placed in to represent the rural locations of the camps, and build a fence out of chicken wire standing on a wooden sandbox. Within the barrack, we would include a timeline of significant events that took place during this crisis. Outside of the barrack, we would add faceless figures to represent the 1942 Lordsburg shootings, where a guard shot two Japanese-Americans because he believed that they were attempting to escape.
After weeks of extensive research, we gathered all of our materials with the help of our teachers and were eager to build. The group five split up, with two of the members tackling the barrack, and the other three figuring out the fence and sandbox.
As with any project, we faced many challenges along the way. The most prominent regarded the sandbox. We initially planned to pour a substantial amount of sand inside of the sandbox for a more realistic touch. However, we did not know how we would get this in and out of the museum without making a mess. Therefore, we came up with the solution to super glue the bottom of the box, pour a minimal amount of sand inside, and dump out any excess in the STEM courtyard. This was an amazing compromise and looked magnificent under the museum lights.
We also struggled with time management. While the building process felt like it lasted for months, it actually started about a week and a half before the exhibition. Nobody was spared from the persistent feeling of stress that made its way into every InLab classroom. It was imperative that we used our time wisely if we were to present a final product to the public. The aspects of our projects that affected our time management the most were the creation of the notecards and painting details on the barracks. Since class time was mostly focused on building, the note cards had to become homework for each individual member to complete. We found ourselves constantly changing the format and wording so that it could be ideal for the audience to read through quickly and effectively. When it came to painting, though acrylic paint does not take long to dry, the process requires a lot of patience. If we rushed through any detail, it would show. We attempted to organize our time by setting goals for ourselves at the beginning and end of Humanities classes. We would meet and go over what was expected of us by the end of that workday and anything that was for homework.
Though the process of this project was lengthy and strenuous, everything managed to come together in the end. There are so many things that would not have been completed without each group member’s help. We all contributed to this project in some way, shape, or form for the art piece to be the best it could be.
As for our Bruce STEM project, we were assigned to create a piece reflecting on the history of space travel related to orbital mechanics. I researched the Voyager Probes, two research space-crafts launched in August and September 1977, designed to take advantage of a rare alignment of the planets in our Solar System that takes place every 176 years. The probes flew by various planets using not just fuel but the gravity of each planet they passed, taking thousands of photos and collecting information regarding the chemical composition of their surfaces. Inspired by the story behind the probes, I decided to create a standing model out of the hardboard of their path through the solar system and highlighted ten key events related to their journey.
Unlike our Humanities projects, the STEM project was individual. If any setbacks were to occur, the only person I could blame was myself. I knew I had to manage my time wisely, so before anything else, I did extensive research on the probes and organized the information into the text that would end up going on the model. This ended up coming to my advantage so that once midterms had ended, I could completely focus on building the model. About a week and a half before the Bruce Museum, on the same day my Humanities group began to build, I started the physical aspect of my project.
While organization was my strong suit for the STEM project, I struggled with making the model visually pleasing and more of an art piece. I initially just planned to paint the board black and add a couple of starts to create a space-like background. However, I soon realized that it looked bland. To compensate for this, I drilled holes into the board that would later act as stars once I put lights behind it. I also added a galaxy design using white, purple, and blue paint. This helped attract more people to my project and added some personal flair.
While I wasn’t close to my project for most of the night, I did have some people come up to me interested in the background of my model and the process I went through creating it. It was incredibly rewarding to have my model in the Bruce Museum along with my Humanities.
It’s sad to know that I won’t be a part of another Bruce Museum exhibition next year. However, the exciting process, the appetite for learning, and the bursting creativity of my classmates will always stay with me.
Now, on to National History Day…
Read more about the Upcoming Exhibition at the Bruce Museum on February 5th at 6:30-8:30pm and our only Open House for Interested Parents/Students January 29th, 6-7pm.
One of the most exciting parts of Innovation Lab – and the most stressful – is the exhibition. The first exhibition is often a revelation for students because they realize what it means to have a real, live audience for their work. We are so fortunate to have this opportunity built into our program. Last year was my first year with InLab, and I experienced the firsts alongside my students. This year, I found I had the same sense of urgency and anticipation as the kids, even though I knew what to expect.
Our December exhibition, originally slated to be a documentary film screening for tenth grade only, evolved into a major Humanities Showcase incorporating all four cohorts, two of which (ninth and tenth grade) are new to Innovation Lab and had never been a part of an exhibition before. Here’s the rundown:
Freshmen: Berlin Memorial Park & Passion Projects
InLab ninth graders became historians, artists, and urban planners to create a memorial park in Berlin. In teams, they researched, curated, designed, and presented monuments to explain what Germany’s journey from Unification to World War to Partition to Reunification. Beautiful, moving designs provoked thoughtful questions from guests throughout the evening.
Passion projects included a homemade guitar, repurposed fashion, scientific examination of the chocolate chip cookie, game designs, and much more. Students were impressed by the work of their peers and inspired to go right back into the “lab” and get to work on another project.
Sophomores: The Teen Agenda, A Documentary Film
The sophomore humanities class collaborated on a single-issue documentary film. Students studied history and the methods of persuasion that make a compelling argument. They then identified a common local concern and spent the first quarter researching and developing their argument. The result is The Teen Agenda, a film that explores students’ need for teen spaces in Greenwich. The film was received with great enthusiasm by guests, several of whom are bringing it to their own community organizations as they work to meet the needs of local teens. Guests included interviewees who have already begun to incorporate the tenth graders’ ideas and questions into their planning.
Juniors: In the Pursuit of Change: PSA
Media messages are fleeting, so 11th graders explored how short public service announcements can inspire action to improve a 21st-century problem. Students researched their selected topic, investigated the current role of government in ameliorating the issue, and used rhetorical devices, ethos, pathos, and logos, to persuade the viewer in a call to action. Tough topics demand clear, strong voices to address them, and that’s what we got!
Seniors: Social Science Research Works in Progress
Even half-way through their projects, seniors impressed with their enthusiasm and presentation skills. It was a treat to see the continuum of learning from ninth to twelfth grade. Seniors displayed projects in-process through their first-semester social science research projects with a focus on bias and uncovering the truth.
Exhausting and Exhilarating
On the way to completing their first projects, our ninth and tenth graders did just what we expected: they stumbled, they ran into walls, they got bored, and they got frustrated. Then, they recalibrated and developed stamina, they reflected and asked to start again, they made honest assessments of the project results but, more important, of their own learning. In a future post, we’ll highlight some of the reflection comments from our students, but for now…here are a few images from behind the scenes and at the big event.
And a link to the coverage by the Greenwich Time.
Innovation Lab welcomes another year as a program that offers rigor, choice, and real world connections to our students.
As many of you already know, Christina Shaw, former Humanities teacher and program associate of Innovation Lab, will now serve GHS as the interim Cantor House administrator. She will still be involved in our program as the administrator representing InLab at the high school.
Assuming the role of program associate is Courtney Hawes. She will continue teaching English as part of our Humanities faculty.
Courtney Hawes: English, Humanities 9; Humanities 11; Design Studio 11
Courtney Hawes is a twenty-three year veteran of teaching, both in the United States and Europe. After twelve years teaching in Connecticut, she embarked on the adventure of teaching and administration abroad, first in Switzerland and then in England. Six years later, she returned and became a founding teacher for Innovation Lab at Greenwich High School.
Courtney earned her B.S. in Secondary English Education and her M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Connecticut. She was the Greenwich Teacher of the Year in 2003, a former board member of the CCTE, a State of Connecticut Mentor, Coach, and Assessor for the BEST program, a National Writing Project Fellow and CFG Trainer and Coach. While she has taught every grade level from 6-12, she cites her work with Innovation Lab as the most exciting endeavor of her professional career. With Innovation Lab, she has presented at High Tech High Deeper Learning conferences and for NEASC.
We are thrilled to introduce Kathy Mendez as our newest faculty member. She is a distinguished veteran teacher of the Social Studies department and will now work with Courtney Hawes as part of the Humanities team.
Kathy Mendez: Social Studies, Humanities 9
I am honored to be joining the Innovation Lab team this fall as the social studies cohort for the inaugural 9th grade Humanities class with the amazing Ms. Hawes as my English partner. Intellectually curious from an early age, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. As a Michigan native and lifelong Cubs fan, I could often be found playing “school” with my little brother; we would do science experiments after watching Mr. Wizard’s World and act out scenes from my favorites films, musicals, and books like Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, and The Princess Bride. I also loved to listen to stories from my grandfather, who was a D-Day veteran at Omaha Beach. This is what shaped my love of the arts, history, philosophy, and fascination with human behavior, storytelling, and ingenuity. A few years after meeting my soulmate in the University of Michigan Marching Band (Go Blue!) and graduating with a B.A. in History and minor in Psychology, my husband and I moved to Connecticut, where I was fortunate enough to find this dream job working at Greenwich High School. Over the past eleven years, I have had the privilege to teach Global Studies, Civics, and Advanced Placement Psychology. Honest to goodness, I feel like I’ve won the lottery by getting to work and learn alongside such talented, intelligent, and creative women and men each day. I’m excited to see our students flourish in InLab as they investigate, innovate, collaborate, and change the world!
Below you will find short statements about the rest of our current Innovation Lab faculty.
Brian Walach: Math, STEM 11 and Design Studio 12
Brian Walach is mathematics and STEM teacher at Greenwich High School. He has taught a variety of math classes for the past seven years and is a founding member of GHS’ Innovation Lab, launched in 2014. Since then, Brian has co-taught and co-planned interdisciplinary STEM courses with science teachers, including Environmental Chemistry/Algebra 2 and Precalculus/Physics. His favorite project was building t-shirt cannons with students to study vectors, parametric equations, quadratics, and the physics of projectile motion.
Brian earned undergraduate degrees in Mathematics and History and a Master of Arts and Teaching at Quinnipiac University (‘10, ‘11). He holds a dual-certification in math and history and is pursuing his Sixth-Year certificate with a cohort of Greenwich teachers through Mercy College. Brian’s most valuable professional development includes conferences at High Tech High School in San Diego, CA and two visits to NCTM yearly meetings. An avid international traveler, he has long-term goals of visiting at least one new country per year and earning a private pilot license.
Michael Belanger: Social Studies, Humanities 10; Design Studio 9 and 12
Michael Belanger has taught social studies at Greenwich High School for eight years. He was one of five teachers chosen to plan the pilot year of Innovation Lab and continues to teach Humanities in the program. He has visited innovative schools all around the country, including High Tech High in San Diego and the iSchool in New York City. As part of Innovation Lab, he has participated in the design of multiple projects that focus on building choice and purpose into a traditional American history curriculum, including muckraker documentaries to teach the changes of Progressive Era, modernist art to illustrate the conflicts of 1920s, and children’s books as a vehicle to explore the seismic shifts of the 1960s.
Michael has a BA in History from Fordham University, an MS in Secondary Education from University of Bridgeport, and an MA in American Studies from Fairfield University. Because he loves school so much, he is currently finishing up his MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University. His debut novel, The History of Jane Doe, is being published in June 2018 by Dial Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Jessica von Brachel: English 10 Humanities; Design Studio 9 and 10
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 a member of Innovation Lab as a partner of Mr. Belanger in Humanities, and a Design Studio instructor for both the ninth and tenth grades. I enjoy sharing my love of language, storytelling, and community with our learners and 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 and Design Studio 10
I am super excited to be a part of the Innovation Lab this year. I have been teaching mathematics at GHS for 15 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 STEM 11; STEM 10; Design Studio 11
When 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! 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 Studies, Social Science Research 12; Humanities 11
I’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 the 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.
– 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: Physics/Chemistry, Science Research 12
I have a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from SUNY at Buffalo and a master’s degree in chemistry from Saint Joseph College. I worked as a senior methods development chemist for ten years. After a career as 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.
The Innovation Lab teachers love reading! We will join you in reading the summer reading, and we can’t wait to find out what you think!
All Innovation Lab students will read two books for summer reading – one assigned grade level text listed below and a self-selected text. For your free choice, we recommend choosing from past Greenwich Reads Together books or from a list of age-appropriate, award-winning books. ( Questions? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
InLab Freshmen: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
InLab 113A Of Mice and Men and Code Girls by Liza Mundy
InLab Sophomores: Code Girls by Liza Mundy (2018 Greenwich Reads Together Selection)
InLab Juniors: Code Girls by Liza Mundy (2018 Greenwich Reads Together Selection)
InLab Seniors: follow the summer reading directions for AP or Shapers or for the wider GHS.
Read widely. Read well. Enjoy!
You must take notes on both books. The notes should help you remember your books so that you can successfully write about and discuss them when school begins. They must be your own notes, not printed information from the Internet.
→ Your notes should include:
Need inspiration? Here are some suggestions…
Check out these possible selection sources:
On the heels of an exciting and professional exhibition at the Bruce Museum in February, InLab students worked hard to prepare their National History Day work for a Parent Showcase on March 15th in the GHS Media Center, and half of the juniors and sophomores elected to compete in the Fairfield County Regional NHD competition on Saturday, March 17th. There were even four seniors who elected to compete independently of their classes!
This year’s theme, Conflict and Compromise in History, afforded students many creative avenues of exploration. Students are allowed to choose the format for presenting their research–documentary, exhibit, website, performance or paper–and we had nearly every style represented.
We are thrilled to share that Innovation Lab swept the group performance category with first, second, and third place honorees! We are equally proud that our students placed first in individual performance, second in group exhibit, and third in individual documentary! All of our students shared their work and participated in a rigorous interview about their scholarship and creative choices. Congratulations to all of our competitors who spent the better part of a Saturday at Sacred Heart University showcasing their work!
“The Real Cost of Nuclear Energy” A documentary by Charles Achoa, Julian Ribushofski, Tyler Rozmus
“The Forgotten Inferno: The UpStairs Lounge 1973” An exhibit by Lucas Brien, Aditya Malhotra, Evan Pey, Isabella Sampedro
“Making W.A.V.E.S in World War II” An exhibit by Alexandra Cid, Ridge Muskus, Jessica Neri, Jessica Toscano
“The NACGN and ANA Merger: Conflict and Compromise” A documentary by Kathryn Papas
“The 38th Parallel in Cold War Korea” An exhibit by Mark Lorenz and James Mair
“Conflict in the Vietnam War, Compromise in Humanity” An exhibit by Iven Zegers and Will Taki
“The Battle Without Guns: The Story of the Miracle on Ice” An exhibit by Max Leite and Preston Bitteker
“The Columbine Shooting: Conflict and Compromise Over Gun Control” An exhibit by Kaija Tschakert
“Did Cold War Technology Help or Hurt the World?” An exhibit by Daniel Thivierge
3rd Place Individual Documentary: “The Space Race: How Conflict on Earth Compromised the Dominion of Space” by Liam Brinton
2nd Place Group Exhibition: “Greenwich Women Face the Great War” by Sophia Fernandez & Sydney Harris
1st Place Group Performance: “Barbara McClintock: Jumping Over Conflict and Creating Compromise to Expand the Knowledge of the Genome” by Flora Dieveich, Sofia Dodaro, Katherine Hurst, Nicole Wood
2nd Place Group Performance: “Society’s Compromise is a Whole New Crime: The Rape of Recy Taylor” by Sophie Anderlind, Jody Bell, Nina Hirai
3rd Place Group Performance: “The Questions We Didn’t Ask, The Stories They Didn’t Tell: How Equality and Identity Were Compromised Under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Ari Ceppi & Gracie McCooe
1st Place Individual Performance: “The Pentagon Papers: An Inner Conflict, An External Compromise in American Values” by Emma Olmsted
When you’re a student, the rare day off during the week is glorious and second to only a surprise snow day. The day before feels like a Friday; you get to sleep in and usually you spend most of the day hanging out with your friends or binge-watching Netflix. On Election Day, however, eleven juniors and seniors spent their free day traveling from Greenwich to Boston and back. In the Lyft on the way back to South Station, I asked Jess, Nina, and Sophie if our visit was worth the travel time. Their shouts of “are you kidding?” and “uh, yeah!” were both affirming to me and startling to our driver. So what was worth it?
I am fortunate to know a biomedical engineer named Josiah at Emulate, a company that makes organs-on-a-chip. When I was in Boston visiting last year, Josiah gave me an impromptu tour of Emulate’s space. It was cool – a large, open office with a lab running parallel in an innovation park along the seaport. Josiah and a team of colleagues agreed to host a visit from eleven of our juniors and seniors interested in biomedical engineering. The team gave an engaging presentation about their company and their technology. We met two of the five dogs on staff. The CTO even stopped in for a quick pep talk. And then?
We put on gowns, hairnets, gloves, and booties and entered a pressurized air chamber to blast away any dust we might still have on us. The scientists and engineers showed us the chips and let us practice injecting dye into them. They showed students what experiments they were running, how they interpreted the results, and took questions about the process. In addition to high-level questions about the company’s technology, students also asked about what colleges the employees went to, their internships, and what they needed to do to work at a company like Emulate. Students learned as much from these conversations as they did from the visit.
Perhaps the most powerful part of the visit happened at the end. We de-gowned and headed into the company’s flex space – students know a Design Studio when they see one – and the seniors pitched their science project ideas to the scientists and engineers. All of the employees gave their input on each pitch. They also made it clear that they want to hear back from our students later in the year and would be happy to be available for questions along the way. This is both generous and a unique opportunity for the five seniors who were there.
And for the juniors? Grahame said his favorite part of the trip was “talking to engineers who had already graduated college and working in careers what I want to.” Nina? “Wearing the suits! But also, actually going into the lab and experiencing what they experience on a daily basis.” Jess said “it’s the whole interactive experience that I enjoyed. It was unexpected, but really cool to see inside.”
Before we visited the lab, Ben and I took the students to Brattle Book Shop, a used book store a block or so from the Boston Common. I thought it would be a quick stop on the way to lunch, but we ended up running late because our students spent an hour browsing.
Grahame bought a handful of books about the American Revolution. Adi and Sophie were in awe of the rare book section upstairs. Rich loved how small some of them were. I bought cookbooks. On the train home, we compared our haul and talked about the trip. Ben even struck up a cafe-car conversation with a professor at Brown wearing a Star Trek t-shirt. He listened to our description of the lab and offered contact information for our senior research students. Sofia and Flora wrote him letters last week.
Thank you to Emulate for providing photos of our visit:
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.
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!
“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.
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.
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.
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.