We’re excited to share this short video about Innovation Lab students and their projects. Thank you to Fjolla, Kathryn, Emily, and Alex for narrating and to all students for their hard work this year.
Saying thanks often isn’t enough to show gratitude, a few words cannot prove that you are grateful for what you have. It’s not in the words we say, but in the actions we take to show that we are thankful. This week being Thanksgiving week, it’s especially important to be grateful to those that make our lives better. Being grateful doesn’t only better the lives of those who we are thanking, but it benefits the person who is saying thanks. If you take a few moments every day to sit down and write three things you’re thankful for, it’ll make each day seem better. Practicing being grateful is important because it encourages us to appreciate people in our lives more. Before I go to sleep, I try to think of some of the things I’m thankful for. Even if I don’t write it down, just reflecting on the people who…
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Innovation Lab is a project based learning program that was created to help students succeed and learn based on interest. Students are able to share their learning in a way that interests them, which will give student the opportunity to explore their passions and connect them with school. Innovation Lab isn’t just about making projects, we also take trips to different places to better understand topics taught in class and spark creative ideas. Below is a photo of my class and I on a recent trip to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, where we viewed and learned about art from the 1920s to benefit our learning.
Trip to MoMA in NYC class photo.
Within a couple months, both my parents and I can see the progress I have made since last year. I have accomplished and learned so much in such little time. While getting good grades, learning no longer feels like…
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Last Monday, Innovation Lab sophomores attended our second annual trip to the Modern Museum of Art in New York City. Below is Sydney’s reflection on the experience.
Our second quarter project is a collaboration of STEM and Humanities. This individual project will display modern art as a way to communicate social commentary. In order to grab ideas and inspirati…
Source: Woven Chronicle
This past Friday marked the end of the first quarter. The sophomore class finished up their intellect themed projects. The Humanities muckrakers project and documentaries were finished and the STEM room was abuzz with the breakdown of Air, Soil and Water projects. The juniors were finishing an organized election debate, and their aeroponics project journals are all updated for grading. But the projects aren’t really over. As the sophomores tour the MOMA today and the juniors switch into their civics curriculum the first quarter projects will live on. The interviewing and documentary skills of being a muckraker will carry into their interdisciplinary modernism project and some air, soil, and water projects will continue on, simply for the sake of continuing to produce data and food in some cases. Some students found cases to further develop their explorations in the realm of oil spill recovery, and ocean acidification. The focus on the elections will carry the juniors into the government “machine” in the coming weeks. The aeroponics projects are still on pace to have a harvest before the holiday break, and may go even beyond.
The projects that we see have so much effort put into them that they tend to take on a life of their own. They don’t end with the confines of a grading structure. The skills carry forward, the documentaries live on, and the plants must be kept alive for as long as we can. The marking period often ends with students cleaning out their binders full of notes and only referring back to them for midterm exams. Not here. Skills are reused, research is appended, and essays may be revised for a future publication. No project really ends here. They may lie dormant, but often things are brought up and reanimated into a new form. So while the sophomores use chemistry in their modernism project and the juniors build machines, their first quarter projects live on (some quite literally) to make an impact somewhere else besides in a grade book.
Wednesday morning, around 9:30 AM, the entirety of Innovation Lab along with anyone in Greenwich High School interested in hearing Emily St. John Mandel speak about her book, Station Eleven, made their way down to the Performing Arts Center. There we got the news that Mandel was running late due to some unexpected transportation issues. We later found out that her driver had made an illegal turn in front of a police officer, who subsequently arrested the driver for an outstanding warrant. Her driver was thus taken away in handcuffs, and sadly Emily was not able to speak at the high school. Luckily, she did make it to the Greenwich Library that night where Ms. Mistretta, an English teacher at the high school, interviewed her about her newest novel, Station Eleven. That night, I, along with four other students and a room full of Station Eleven enthusiasts listened to her talk about her writing process, her decision-making process, and more. It was a great experience and peek behind the scenes of an author’s thought process.
Every single year, Greenwich Reads Together chooses a book for the community to read. This year’s reading was Station Eleven. Along with the reading of that book comes an essay contest. For Station Eleven we wrote a personal essay on what non-technological item we would bring in a post-apocalyptic world. Judges selected three high school entries (two honorable mentions and a winner) and two middle school entries (one honorable mention and a winner). I was lucky enough to be one of the high school honorable mentions, a great honor. For those of you who have not read the book, Station Eleven takes place in a post-pandemic and post-society environment and focuses on Kirsten, a member of the traveling symphony. The traveling symphony consists of musicians and actors who travel the new world performing Shakespeare and playing music.
The following is the essay prompt and my response to it:
In Station Eleven Kirsten Raymonde carries Arthur’s glass paperweight that Tanya gave to her the night before the pandemic wipes out most of the world’s population. In a similar crisis, what one non-technological object that means the most to you would you keep and how would it ensure your physical or psychological or emotional survival? In your response, please draw parallels to Station Eleven.
There is no one around; all that surrounds me is vast raw wilderness. White pearly mountains watch over me and the elegant creature grazing only yards away. A cold breeze blows past my bearded cheeks and makes my uncombed hair dance. The rumbling in my stomach reminds me what I set out for. I clasp the .22 rifle tight. I breathe in slowly through my nose and then back out through my mouth, leaving a cloud of vapor drifting off until it vanishes into nothingness. I smile. The simple beauty of the landscape around me still makes my heart flood with joy. The smile widens at the thought of being here, living and breathing nature, and escaping society’s crushing trap of conformity. I need to hold back laughter when I think about how I will never again suffer from the disease of materialism. I aim the gun and peer through the sights. I breathe in again slowly. Air feeding through my nostrils sounds loud and clear. Hold. Patience. Wait. Fire.
I wake up out of my daydream realizing that I have been staring out the window for minutes on end, with my copy of Into the Wild in hand. A purple pen marks the page where I left off. This book that has become so precious to me over the last weeks is my number one choice to bring with me to any post-societal environment or survival situation.
After his graduation in 1990, Christopher McCandless set out on a lone journey across the United States. After two years of traveling the roads at the age of 24, Chris, by then known as Alexander Supertramp, set out on his final journey, an “odyssey” if you will, to Alaska. He planned on “living off the land” for some time. His provisions were minimal consisting of only “a ten-pound bag of rice” with “no ax, no bug dope, no snowshoes, no compass” (Krakauer). He would spend his final 118 days in the Alaskan wilderness until he died of starvation in “the magic bus.” Although McCandless’ story is one of a quest for greatness and proving himself much more than mere survival, it does reveal the morals and thoughts of a man who thrives and achieves greatness with the absence of modern day technology and the conformity and stability that modern society brings; neither of which are available in the post-pandemic world that Emily St. John Mandel brings to life between the front and back covers of Station Eleven. Into the Wild is the real world example of Station Eleven .
Coming out on the other side of a pandemic or any other survival situation depends on much more than mere physical necessities like water, food, and shelter. Psychological and emotional fortitude separate the survivors from the ones that crumble. Keeping our humanity and taking in the joys of life that are “placed all around us… in everything and anything we might experience” (Krakauer) sit at the center of thriving in a world without modern day society. A moral that for me is contained within the words of McCandless’ story.
It surprises me every single time how simply beautiful McCandless dream was. Through the reading of the book and the multiple re-viewings of the movie that came out in 2007, I have fallen in love with the ideals that he sought. To “move around, [to] be nomadic, [to] make each day a new horizon” (Krakauer), which Mandel emphasizes in the world of Station Eleven. Being able to see the world, meet people, bring joy to them, learn from them. Kirsten, who start to travel with the Traveling Symphony at a young ago, is the perfect example. She sees both the horrors and beautiful parts of the world. She learns about the instincts of survival and human nature. In an interview with a local newspaper, she talks about how “some places, you pass through once and never return, because you can tell something’s very wrong. Everyone’s afraid, or it seems like some people have enough to eat and other people are starving… the place is either lawless or in the grip of something, a cult of some kind… they’ve slid into disarray” (Mandel 114). Seeing all these places and meeting new people is one of the reasons why Kirsten survives and thrives in the new world. She learns from her experiences and different encounters, allowing her to grow. Into the Wild reminds me to do the same. Even without its necessity for survival, I am already yearning to travel and see the world, making Into the Wild the motivation I need to do just that in Mandel’s post-pandemic society, thus bringing Into the Wild ensuring my survival.
Chris McCandless thrived with nothing more than a hunting rifle, some rice, the clothes in his body, and books. And I am yearning to set out on a similar adventure. To break away from the confines of society. That yearning becomes significant if I were placed in the new world of Station Eleven. An internal drive to be better, which stems from McCandless’ story. It creates a similar mindset that Jeevan, one of the pandemic’s survivors falls into during his time on the road. His mind got to “whispering the same two words over and over: ‘Keep walking. Keep walking. Keep walking” (Mandel), an internal motivation that ultimately leads to his survival and thriving in the new world. That is what Into the Wild means to me. It is about the will to keep going and fight until you achieve what you set out to do. To be different and stronger than everyone says you can be. To crush limits and expectations. Qualities that will ensure my emotional, psychological and therefore physical survival.
Painted on the front caravan of the Traveling Symphony are the words, “Survival is insufficient” (Mandel) a powerful phrase. Living in the new world is not only about survival. It is about thriving even without modern-day technology and civilization. Into the Wild embodies those ideals. It will empower me with the motivation and morals I need to “make everyday a new horizon” (Krakauer) even in a post-pandemic society like Station Eleven.
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I always have been, and I always will be, bad at math. This is what I told myself so many times last year, even though my struggles in Honors Geometry were largely attributed to the fact that I was lazy and did not pay attention in math during 8th grade. It’s okay that I’m bad at math, I told myself, because I’m pretty good at English. This way of thinking actually did hurt me in the beginning of Innovation Lab, because when we started learning graphing and regressions, my immediate thought was that I was doomed, my previous mistakes had finally caught up with me, my math grade would be terrible and maybe Community College wouldn’t be so bad. This was an example of a fixed mindset. I assumed that I wasn’t prepared to do the math, and it wasn’t even worth trying, and I felt a lot like the man in the photo below. On…
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This week, we’d like to share excerpts from our students’ blogs and some photos from class. We encourage you to follow the links to their full post and leave them a comment. The list of sophomore and junior blogs can be found here.
Jody B. on Growth Mindset:
The current academic procedure does not call for improvement, it calls for “mastery” on a specific topic. My generation was taught on a systematic approach to teaching children as much as they can, as fast as they can. After a unit has passed and a grade has been placed on a unit test, regardless of the final grade and the extent of knowledge, the student must press on to keep up with the class. Furthermore, in terms of the grading process, I maintain a fixed mindset. If I receive a bad grade, my thought is not what I did wrong, but what other assignments will be used to improve my average.
This is the problem.
Isabella on being an outsider in the art community:
Within the art community, everyone seems to have a distinctive art style and they know what path they want to take with their art. I have yet to fully grasp my style, I don’t understand what genre of art I prefer either. I used to feel as though I was just cherry-picking the features from art I liked and including it in my own. In the art community, so many people are trying to improve and equally as many are trying to teach others how to do so. It’s a community that runs on the philosophy that everyone can create art and everyone can be included, yet I still felt like an outsider.
Nicole W. on Bernoulli’s equation:
After deriving Bernoulli’s equation, applying what I know about kinetic energy, potential energy, Newton’s equations, Work, Conservation of Energy I wondered how can this apply the real world?
As I was reading past the assigned text to understand Bernoulli’s equation, I was able to discover how Bernoulli’s equation is applied to the everyday world by reading more of “Openstax College Physics”.
What I found most interesting was how the equation applied to what happens when a speeding car passes a truck on the highway, how an airplane flies, and how a sailboat sails into the wind.
Shiv V. on building towers from paper and pasta:
It took three days of hands-on projects and an abnormally large amount of effort to come to the realization that building towers, is never simply just building towers. While I was aware that certain elements of resilience, cooperation, and logic were needed to successfully complete the tasks, it did not occur to me that certain dynamics and principles that went into specifically building the towers could be applied to future academic work in Innovation Lab.
Alex C., “Outsiders”:
It amuses me how whenever your label is changed in high school it makes you a whole new person though most people never notice it. Looking at all these other tables with groups of friends laughing loudly, sometimes to the point of tears, I start thinking what other people have observed me laughing while with my friends. Perhaps I am not the only outside observer, who knows.
Kathryn P.’s reflection on learning:
In a traditional classroom, students can zone out a teacher’s lecturing if they are tired that day. On the other hand, in Innovation Lab, a student is responsible for finding answers to problems as they arise during the process of completing projects. Teachers play a different role in the classroom, as they are more advisers than lecturers. This way, students are in charge of their own learning. I find that I am more engaged with my learning and more curious about different subjects we are studying.
At 7:32 this morning, I emailed Pierce, a junior, this photo of his project:
Pierce, 7:38: NOOOOOO
Me, 9:29: Google what the issue is with droopy plants?
Pierce, 10:34: It was not enough watering. Found the problem with the sprinklers. Will explain when I next see you.
Not the type of conversation you might expect between a teacher and Honors Precalculus student. Wait, Precalculus?
I described our first STEM project – DIY Aeroponics – to visitors from St. Joseph High School (Trumbull, CT) on Thursday morning. Aeroponic growing is a method of suspending plants in the air and spraying them with a nutrient-rich solution in lieu of planting them in soil. This method is already economically advantageous enough that there are hydroponic farms sprouting up around the United States. We decided to try small-scale aeroponics with our students. The visiting assistant principal was interested, but skeptical. She described her own math classes, which weren’t much different than the ones she observes as an admin at her school. “I always asked when I was ever going to use this, and I still don’t know.”
In mid-August, I started growing tomatoes in my 900 square-foot apartment. On the upstairs floor of the loft, there is an awkward space where a tenant might put a desk. Instead, I have a 27-gallon reservoir pumping filtered tap water through sprinklers which spray the root systems of my plants, which started from seeds and the tallest parts of which are two feet tall.
I’ve spent time collecting data about my plants and looking for patterns. Much like good writing, pattern recognition is easily identifiable in students, but hard for them to improve. Data on its own is difficult to interpet; instead, we often graph it and look for a relationship. Talented math students can easily differentiate one curve from another, even if parts may seem similar.
When I researched how to grow tomatoes indoors, I paid particular attention to what I needed to do to the water. Different plants grow in different soil, so the water additives need to mimic the nutrients your plants would absorb outside. If the pH of the water indoors fluctuates too much, the plants cannot absorb the potassium, nitrates, and other ions from the reservoir.
In the 24 hours after my first few weekly water changes, I found that the pH was rising well above the 6.5 maximum recommended for tomatoes. Why? It seems that the ten gallons I was using should have been twenty. Here’s a more recent graph:
It took twice as long for me to hit 6.5 and it stabilized shortly after. Still high, but better. My hypothesis is that pH correlates directly to how much nutrient solution is in the water; as the plants absorb what they need, the pH rises. I could verify this by testing the levels of, for example, potassium ions in the water. I also might need to just add more plant food.
Those “natural exponent” graphs and those crazy A, B, and C values? Weeks of required material in Precalculus. So are trigonometric graphs:
The temperature of the water in the reservoir rises and falls with the temperature of my apartment. However, temperature should decrease exponentially, like your coffee: quickly at first, and then more slowly as it approaches room temperature. So why isn’t it? I still haven’t figure this out yet.
The visiting team from Trumbull told us that they were impressed with the way our students articulated the purpose of their work. They asked where we came up with the ideas for these projects. We get this question often.
Part of it is interest; honestly, Dana and I thought it would be fun to try and that we would find math in the physics of fluid dynamics (how fluids move) and optics (the study of light). I thought other data would come from tracking the height of the plants or the pattern at which the leaves grow. Based on the data presented here, there are even better options.
I began growing tomatoes inside as work. I’ve since grown quite attached to them and I care enough to figure out how they work. If Pierce is any indication, the students will, too.
More photos of my aeroponic tomato plants:
We are all familiar with the race – the rat race, the treadmill, the conveyor belt, the carousel – of life. Whichever metaphor fits best, we often find ourselves scrambling to get to the next activity, the next hurdle, or the next milestone. We pay lip service to the phrases so recognizable that they can seem cliche: finding work/life balance or stopping to smell the roses. These days it can be difficult to find a rose garden. Life can be exhausting to adults and students alike.
But sometimes these metaphors don’t just reflect life, they create it. If you feel like it’s a rat race, it can become one. And what’s more, it can be contagious in a small community. Sometimes students exude stress and the residue is left behind on tables, in discussions and in the air. The effects can be palpable or subtle and pervasive. For some, it ramps up the anxiety, while others buckle down, and still others can be paralyzed and unable to accomplish their goals.
One month into the year, students have brushed off the cobwebs from their summer inertia and have re-established habits for success. Or at least they should have. Sometimes the first few weeks end up cementing habits that need to be broken. But most of the sophomores and juniors are now immersed in the rigor and are in the process of internalizing the standards and expectations of the program.
But what about the stress? In InLab, we talk about productive stress and unproductive stress. The former can provide focus and drive, the latter can derail. It looks like a productivity bell curve and according to what is known as “The Yerkes-Dodson law,” performance increases with physiological or mental arousal (stress) but only up to a point. When the level of stress becomes too high, performance decreases.
In an article in The Harvard Business Review, author Francesca Gino writes, “There’s more [to the productivity curve]: The shape of the curve varies based on the complexity and familiarity of the task. Different tasks require different levels of arousal for optimal performance, research has found. For example, difficult or unfamiliar tasks require lower levels of arousal to facilitate concentration; by contrast, you may better perform tasks demanding stamina or persistence with higher levels of arousal to induce and increase motivation.”
Perhaps the familiarity of the program is why some of our productive juniors feel that they are managing their stress more effectively this year, while some of the sophomores are still riding the excitement of the novelty of InLab. But all students can get mired in unproductive stress at some point.
Research shows that there are as many recommendations for managing stress as there are types of stressed students. The first quarter of the year is an optimal time to experiment with management techniques so that you can implement and repeat the successful ones. While we do explicitly talk about and teach effective mindsets and management, students can stack the deck in their favor by practicing some good habits.
Here’s a list of some of the advice that has helped students in the past:
Establishing Routines and Maintaining Flexibility: Good habits take practice and repetition, and establishing effective routines can help. Where, when, and how you manage and complete your work can bolster your success. There are many aspects of your work production that are within your control, but you also need to be flexible and to embrace unexpected opportunities and challenges.
Monotasking and Chunking: Sometimes InLab can seem like it has a new language, but monotasking is the opposite of multitasking. Effective multitasking is a myth. You do not perform better at the last minute, in the middle of the night, under duress, or while multitasking. Try serial monotasking: have clear one-at-a-time steps to completing taskings and chunk work into manageable sizes. From the time you allot to the deadlines you impose, create smaller pieces to accomplish more. As Lao Tzu said, it begins with a single step.
Make Stress Work for You: Sometimes the most stressful situations are the ones we impose on ourselves when we are motivated by fear. Remember that you need to create several prototypes before you follow through on your design. In all things, there are enormous benefits to drafting or prototyping; it’s good to risk being wrong.
Be Kind to Yourself and Others: I have been known to ask students why they can be so kind to their friends and not to themselves. Exercise empathy and compassion with yourself. Learning new things and in a new way can be challenging, and sometimes growth is uncomfortable. Be gentle with yourself. But remember to be compassionate and empathetic with your classmates as well. Be mindful of how you make suggestions and keep the collaboration cooperative instead of competitive.
Mindfulness and Redirection: Taking time out to pause and be present can help to circumvent the deleterious effects of stress. I would encourage to try it in 3 step: awareness of the stress, determining the meaning behind why you feel stressed, then redirecting the stress response to improve productivity behind that meaning. Even the blog the juniors wrote the other week can help; in your mind revisit your sanctuary and practice those breathing techniques.
After a full year of Innovation Lab, it is apparent that the classic metaphor no longer applies; the rat race might not become a cake walk, but then again, I don’t think it should. Perhaps it’s time to have students define their own metaphor to capture the meaningful work – intellectually, emotionally, academically, personally, meaningful work – that we do every day.
A few years back, a colleague and I had the idea to explore local issues through the lens of history. The plan was to comb through Greenwich archives and offer insight into the major issues facing the town by bringing the past to light. We had a brainstorming session, came up with a bunch of ideas for articles, then, as often happens with big undertakings, our determination wavered. I ended up writing one of the articles, a piece about race in Greenwich based on research from Greenwich Library’s Oral History Project (which you can read here) and then shelved the idea.
But ideas don’t ever really disappear—they disperse, spread out, bounce around your head until something brand new takes shape. From my brief foray as Town Historian (self-appointed), I learned a valuable lesson about the power of local history. There’s something exciting about tackling issues in your own backyard. With so many news outlets, it’s hard to find a truly original story. But ironically, when you limit your parameters—use a microscope, not a telescope—an entirely new realm of possibilities emerges.
For their project on the Progressive Era, students in Innovation Lab are doing their own version of “muckraking,” a term coined by Theodore Roosevelt for the journalists who worked tirelessly to expose the major issues facing America at the turn of the twentieth century. These brave journalists tackled issues ranging from the unsanitary conditions of our meat factories to the corrupt business practices of monopolies.
Students have looked to local newspapers for inspiration and found some of the most pressing issues facing Greenwich. After choosing their topics, students have researched their issues, met a real live muckraker (check out the article Leslie Yager wrote after her visit to our class), contacted experts to interview, learned how to use software to make their documentary, and of course, studied the historical context of the muckrakers in order to understand how the reformers of the past confronted similar issues.
Students’ topics differ greatly, reflecting each group’s unique interests. One group is exposing the lack of regulations and oversight of local animal breeders. Another group has decided to tackle the achievement gap in Connecticut. Meanwhile, in the same classroom, other students are shining a light on wealth inequality, food insecurity, challenges facing local wildlife populations, drug abuse, and censorship in schools.
Each group is taking a microscope to their topic, seeking truth about America by closely examining one aspect of their local community. Although their topics may seem disconnected, they’re each united by the goal of the muckrakers—to investigate, educate, and persuade their audience. Luckily, they have the example of history to help them in their quest for answers.
Taking this time traveling approach to history has made me realize that sometimes the only way to see the past clearly is to look for parallels in our immediate surroundings. Only then does the past make sense; only then does the kaleidoscope of our history start to form a picture we recognize.