Innovation Lab Video

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.

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The Strength of Community

According to research, the effects of creating strong community for our students is positive and far reaching, but for some reason this gets complicated for many large schools.  Within Innovation Lab our philosophy and our scheduling make it a bit easier.  For the past couple of weeks our teachers focused on reacquainting our juniors and introducing our sophomores to our educational beliefs.  Students also learned how to work more effectively as a cohesive unit in STEM and Humanities.  Most tenth graders met for the first time; our juniors melded from two cohorts into one.  


Now that students established a rhythm with their classmates, it was time that we come together as an Innovation Lab community.  We had noticed that within Design Studio, even after several weeks of sitting in the same space, sophs and juniors were not commingling much.  The hub of Innovation Lab, this common area last year held a certain life force that you could feel but could not explain.  This year it seemed we had lost our mojo.  


At our last teacher meeting we decided to take action.  We felt part of the change stemmed from an improper introduction among our two grade levels. To remedy this situation a pizza mixer was planned and executed yesterday in the GHS Media Center.  It included pairing younger and older students strategically into buddy groups, fun brain teaser games, cookie prizes donated by Doc Goldin, “people” bingo, and (of course) Pizza Post pizza.  


When third lunch wave began our junior students stood around in clumps waiting as timid sophomores entered the room.  I have to admit I was worried when our biggest boys seemed more interested in the pizza boxes than in finding their younger “buddies.”  Courtney Hawes had a stroke of brilliance.  “No one eats pizza,” she declared, “until you find your buddy.”  That certainly got the ball rolling.  


Within minutes of getting pizza and finding seats, our juniors became the leaders that we trained them to be.  As I walked around the room I overheard them prompting conversation, offering advice, making connections, and just having fun.  By the time the brain teasers rolled out and the cookie bags popped open, Innovation Lab was no longer two cohorts but one community.  


The power of this community transcends the warm fuzzy feeling you get inside when you belong.  It moves mountains for us every day.  It gives me, a veteran teacher, the strength to listen–really listen–as younger colleagues offer constructive criticism about a Humanities project I created after several weeks of toil.  It moves Mike Belanger to help Courtney Hawes teach our Eleventh Grade Humanities class when I need to be at home nursing a sick infant.  The students enjoyed having him there so much that if I were a teacher with less self esteem I may have quit my job.  It urged Flora, one of my students, to offer her aid unsolicited when I struggled to help another student download her “noodletools” bibliography onto Googledocs.  

Community means we are all in this together.  Because of this no one is afraid to take chances.  Everyone knows there will be someone on whom to lean when it becomes necessary.  

It remains to be seen whether or not our pizza mixer will truly change the culture in Design Studio.  We teachers are optimistic.  If it does not work, we will meet and create a new strategy.  If that fails we will try another.  It is not only students who benefit from our belief in growth mindset.  The InLab community is all the safety net we need to keep moving forward.



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Learning to Juggle


Me and my marotte

Mrs. Miles would hold discussions on the ethical decisions that Beowulf would make when hunting down Grendel, Chaucer’s commentary on his view of his “modern day” Britain, and would have us try to apply Swift’s solutions with a “Modest Proposal” to current issues. She would hold two great exhibitions each year, a Medieval Banquet in the late fall and a Victorian Tea in the late spring. We would dress up and many of us would fall into roles, read stories written in the style of Chaucer at the Banquet, or poetry heavy laden with Keats’ imagery and emotion at the Tea. She assigned me and two friends to role of the Lord’s fools which, I admit, was probably to let us be silly without us getting in everyone else’s way. What she did was release the Jabberwocky.




I really didn’t know what to expect here… but neither did anyone else 

My fellow jesters scripted several skits, taught ourselves improv, memorized a few historical poems (Including the Jabberwocky, which I still remember today, slithy toves and all), and I even taught myself to juggle. Simply because that what what a medieval jester did. For not one minute did we step out of character the entire night, including when we were forced to serve the guests the “rat-tail soup” (which was leek soup and quite good… and we got everyone to have some). The preparations that went into that exhibition stick with me and those friends to this day (The other two are married to each other now). What I never realized was that they were “presentations of learning”. Many years later, I would sit in Innovation Lab and see the students excel beyond our subtle prompts and minimal direct instruction and it reminded me of this wonderful women who inspired me to step beyond the curriculum to make something academic into something wonderful.




Design Studio in full swing

I now am learning to juggle again. Not for the purpose of keeping three object cycling through predicable projectile motion, but rather I’m trying to toss in curriculum content, projects and demonstration of mastery. The ever inquisitive juniors are exploring ethical impact on civic responsibility and the ability to make decisions that will last beyond the immediate problem, and the dynamic energy of the sophomores is directed toward learning on how to work together and dig through media to try to discern facts about current day issues. The excitement of their learning is mixed with the frustration of problem solving as they sort their way through these wonderful projects that will lead to a public exhibition. But getting to that end goal is the where the magic happens.




Sofia uses a ratchet wrench for the first time to assemble the rolling stands for the 55 gallon water barrels 

I’m still throwing the proverbial balls into the air and hoping I catch them only to toss them back into the cycle. It’s Sunday night and I just returned from Home Depot with a jeep full of PVC and vinyl fencing that is to be joined with a large Amazon order of water distribution systems that will turn a part of STEM room into an indoor aeroponic garden. A project designed to balance the ethical responsibility that we have to feed the world with the viability of it with respect to energy, cost and space. I know the sophomores are starting their air, soil and water project and its representation of major environmental issues. And that is only in STEM. The Humanities projects are equally fascinating and I look forward to seeing those progress in the upcoming weeks. Its amazing to see how these projects all come together in the Innovation Lab experience and provide our students with new way to look at their education and providing them with fantastic opportunities. The students, as well as their teachers, will learn to juggle all of their hard work and enthusiasm, so as to make their time here, not only worthwhile, but also a show piece.





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Beginning with the End in Mind…


Conventional wisdom has it (and rightly so…) that if you want to be successful in any endeavor you must “begin with the end in mind.”  We intuitively understand that having a clear mental picture of what you are striving toward will maintain clarity of purpose and provide motivation, especially when the going gets rough.  If you read last week’s blog post, you already know that Innovation Lab began its 2016-2017 school year with the triumphant conclusion of five months of work by two students.  Sofia and Kathryn presented their documentary “Nanoporous Graphene: A Filter For the Future” (video below) to a packed house at the Bruce Museum Seaside Center.


The screening of the documentary was then followed by a Question and Answer Session (video below), during which Kathryn and Sofia fielded a variety of insightful and complex questions from the particularly engaged and curious audience.


Members of the press were also on hand to take photos and interview the filmmakers.  The result?  A front page article in the print version of the Greenwich Time, as well as several online articles, including these from the Greenwich Time, the Greenwich Sentinel, and the Associated Press.

For Sofia and Kathryn the day was a huge victory, a public exhibition of high caliber work that demonstrated their mastery of high level scientific research seeking to solve a global problem.  In the hours immediately before the screening, they were undoubtedly nervous. They wrestled with last minute technical glitches and experienced the frustration of not having time to squeeze in one last minor editing tweak.  But then the moment had arrived, the audience was ready and they went for it.  And scored big.

Personal victories aside, the work also serves as a powerful and tangible example of the “end” that Innovation Lab is going for each and every day.  Project-based learning at its finest weaves together deep purpose, complex conceptual knowledge, and professional skills – all of which are demonstrated publicly.  I hope that as our year progresses our students (both new and returning), faculty, parents, and community will look back to this beginning as a source of inspiration, an affirmation that our work has value and can truly have a profound impact.

I myself suspect that Kathryn and Sofia’s journey has in many ways only just begun.  Perhaps without realizing it, they have entered a completely different academic and intellectual world that seems quite thrilled to have them it.  My evidence for this belief?  An email the pair received in the days after the screening from Dr. Cohen-Tanugi, the MIT scientist whose work they detailed in their film, congratulating them on their stellar work, urging them to stay in touch, and which he signed using his first name, indicating a level of collegiality and respect for them that I find very telling.




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Sustainable Learning

On their last day of summer, Kathryn and Sofia came to school to work on a project from a class they finished over two months ago. In February, they started researching methods of removing the salt from saltwater. When they didn’t have the nanoporous graphene to build a prototype (MIT doesn’t have theirs yet, either), they decided to create a documentary about how the process works. Now, they are ready to present their summary on Sunday at 2 PM at Bruce Museum’s Seaside Center. Kathryn and Sofia are still passionate about their work, even though their grade for it was set in June. “It doesn’t matter that I already got a grade for the class,” Sofia told me in between edits. “I put so much time into this research and I want to show people why it’s important.”

The next day, the new Innovation Lab sophomores competed in teams to design and build the tallest paper tower. It’s a task a first-grader can do, and that’s the point: when the academic difficulty of the task is removed, you can more effectively assess the ability to work as a group. We stressed process over product; learning about iteration and team communication is more valuable than victory from a taped-together tower. Arguably, the teams with nothing to show learned the most about prototyping. After time expired and the class record was no longer up for grabs, another group kept going. They ended up with the tallest two-sheet tower I’ve ever seen (106 cm). 

The juxtaposition of these two experiences is fascinating. Rewards of grades or a prize dwarfed by personal satisfaction. Isn’t that a more sustainable way to learn?

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After exiting security at the Milwaukee airport a few years ago, I was tickled pink by the sign: Recombobulation Area. What a wonderful idea to set aside a space – and time – to gather your things together, reduce confusion, and reorient yourself. If only…

If only the end of the academic year had a place or a space or time set aside, but the frenetic pace and inherent juggling makes it virtually impossible to step away from the conveyor belt. Last minute submissions of late work, extra help sessions, exam grading, recommendation requests, and deadlines make most teachers feel like they are running the gauntlet rather than wrapping up the year.

If only the Innovation Lab were immune to such things! We, too, have juggled and fretted and raced and assessed. Each of us has stacks of papers that we carry around like an albatross. But this post is not a litany of things yet to do;  as a community, we have so much to celebrate. Last week’s Presentations of Learning were powerful reminders that our students are reflective learners who are eager to continue to grow, and have internalized the language of learning. They embody the famous John Dewey quotation, “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” It will become a hallmark of our culture.

This week celebrates more than one type of performance assessment embedded in our culture with the culmination of the National History Day competition. We couldn’t be more proud of all of our students’ work this year, and the opportunity to exhibit their scholarship to a global audience is unparalleled. “This contest represents the national finals for affiliate level contests held in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Central America, China, Korea, and South Asia. Each year, more than 600,000 students around the world. ‘Less than 1% of all entries make it to the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest,” said National History Day® Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn. “The level of research and presentation of the students at this level is astounding. They truly represent the best and brightest minds of the next generation.’” Flora, Katherine, Juliana, and Nicole were consummate professionals and inspirational ambassadors for our program and state; they earned both 6th Overall and Outstanding Entry for Connecticut out of more than 600,000 students worldwide!


Back at home, students had the challenging opportunity to demonstrate their growth and skill development through department-standard exams. There is value in learning how to demonstrate knowledge and understanding, and just as we taught students how to reflect and talk about their growth, we helped them develop the skills to write about their knowledge through exams. Our 10th grade scholars have learned to demonstrate success in a wide variety of performance assessments, and it’s a skill that will enable them to be successful beyond our community. In the days leading up to each task, you could hear the buzz of shared knowledge and that special language of review: redux reaction! unseen passage analysis! Trickle-down economics! logarithms! The shared experience of reviewing and taking exams bonds students; exams are just one more way that they are able to exhibit their learning.


As our inaugural year winds down, we, teachers, reflect on our experience as well. The year-end is always a bittersweet time; I never feel as if I have done enough, helped enough, challenged and taught and championed and supported enough. I am often reminded of Maya Angelou’s famous line: “When we cast our bread upon the waters, we can presume that someone downstream whose face we will never know will benefit from our action.”

If only we knew the impact.

But this year, we have a remarkable opportunity for which I am grateful… we will join our students further down the river, and we will continue together again next year. That is enough.


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Light Bulbs

“Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending on the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.” –Kenneth Burke on intellectual exchange, 1941

Whenever I teach writing, I use Burke’s dinner party metaphor to help students understand that their ideas, arguments, and research are part of a larger conversation. Although I should probably update the metaphor to somehow reference Snapchat or Facebook, something about his description–whether it’s his use of the second-person or how he captures something so profound and universal in such a short passage–just gets me.

Now that the first year of Innovation Lab is drawing to a close, I thought I’d offer my own Kenneth Burke-style reflection on the creative process. Over the past two years, we’ve worked hard to bring our vision to life, and now that it’s June, it feels somewhat bittersweet. As most of my students know–okay, as all of my students know, considering how often I talk about it–I’m a writer. And when I finish a book, there’s always part of me that feels sad. My characters go off on their own, no longer subject to the whims of my fingertips. The story starts to feel somewhere between a dream and a memory, fiercely true, but fleeting nonetheless. Worst of all, a new villain presents itself, this time in the form of a blank page.

But this process–the closing of one chapter and the beginning of a new one–is fundamental to creativity and a huge part of what we do in Innovation Lab. Our students have embarked on many creative journeys throughout the year. Some have brought them to a new plateau of intellectual understanding. Others have helped them discover a passion or interest they didn’t know they had before. Still others have forced them to turn around, take the long trek down the mountain and start over.

But every journey in Innovation Lab has started with a single idea, that “light bulb” moment that can illuminate a subject, the world, and even parts of yourself.

Below is a piece about what happens when that light suddenly gets turned on, including the obstacles, the triumphs, and the bittersweet realization that every journey must come to an end before a new one can begin.

You have an idea. A light bulb appears above your head, the same kind you’d see in a cartoon. You let it hang there for a bit while you watch TV, read a book, try to figure out how to put together that desk you bought from IKEA. A few hours later, when the lightbulb has grown even brighter, you realize you can no longer ignore it.

You turn the TV off, close the book, let the half-finished desk sit in the corner of the room like a discarded creation of Dr. Frankenstein. You talk to your friends, enlist their help, discuss plans to bring your idea to life. They tell you it will never work. One friend says she saw an article about something similar in the New York Times. Another asks you when you’re going to finally put that desk together.

You ignore them. You focus on those other voices, the people who raised their eyebrows a bit in curiosity, the teacher who told you to keep going, your grandmother who said you’re going to be famous someday–even though she’s been saying that since you were still in diapers.

Hours turn into days, days into weeks, and before you know it, you’ve been working on bringing your vision to life for almost a year. The bulb has dimmed, grown brighter, almost broken, then become a full scale chandelier, the kind you’d see in Versailles, or Windsor, or one of those other palaces you’ve never been to.

The day comes. You’re finally ready to bring your vision to life, to take the light bulb out of the proverbial thought bubble.

And once you do, the world suddenly looks different, just a little bit brighter, just a little more whole. After you reprimand yourself for using too many metaphors about light, you give in–cliches are cliches for a reason–and let yourself bask in the glow of success.

Later, you take a seat on your couch, think back over the year; the false starts, failures, successes beyond anything you ever dreamed possible. The half-finished desk calls to you. You kneel down beside it, take out the manual and try to figure out which piece is A-1, if E-7 is really necessary, and why you ever decided to buy your desk from IKEA in the first place. But with the desk just a few steps away from catalogue-perfection, that light bulb goes off again. Without thinking, you drop the screwdriver and close the manual. Furniture can wait. But light bulbs… Light bulbs burn out.

I’m so proud of my students and colleagues for all of their hard work in Innovation Lab’s inaugural year! Can’t wait to see what “light bulb” moments come to InLab students next year!

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Final Exams and PoLs

Last week, a brilliant math student asked me, “Am I going to have to explain this for the final? Because I can do it, but I don’t think I could explain it.”

She asked because, for honors midterms in January, I replaced the open-ended section with an oral exam. Students prepared to explain two different types of functions. At their scheduled time we flipped a coin to choose their topic. Terrified, nervous, or confident, they presented for a minimum of fifteen minutes to a panel of two teachers and one student. I let students choose what specifically they wanted to discuss, but they needed to be ready to answer any question related to their mathematical function.

A typical Algebra 2 exam may require students to [heavy math warning] find the vertical asymptote of a rational function. I suggested students be ready to explain why a rational function has a vertical asymptote. And their answer must not be parroting a rule or definition. To be more clear, imagine I asked you to explain to me why balloons float. You might respond that helium is lighter than air. My questions during the oral exam forced students to explain the equivalent of why helium is lighter than air. It takes more time and a deeper understanding to answer a theoretical math question like this. We allowed our students both.

I am disappointed that I cannot offer an oral portion of the exam during next week’s final exams. The presentation they will do, however, is a worthy substitute. These Presentations of Learning (PoLs) are a way for our students to reflect on their year by giving specific examples from STEM and Humanities projects as proof that they are working towards meeting the core values of GHS’ Vision of the Graduate. We also will ask for areas in which they want to improve next year. This reflection and goal-setting is the basis for their work in the fall. We are starting small; the audience is just the panel of teachers. However, we expect PoLs to grow every year into something akin to those at High Tech High and other interdisciplinary programs.

The math exam will largely be a traditional math exam. The A+ student from last week will memorize how to solve all of the problems, but there is evidence to suggest she will quickly forget most of it. In a study featured in the documentary our school has screened three times, Most Likely to Succeed, a top-rated east coast school gave their usual final exams and students averaged a B+. Three months later, on a simplified version, the average dropped to an F. In a similar study, Dartmouth College gave students who scored a 5 on their AP Psychology exams at the beginning of their college Psych course and only 10% passed.

We are a project-based, interdisciplinary program within a high school that, for our courses, requires final exams. We can count Presentations of Learning as a percentage of them. While I am excited to hear students’ triumphs, I most look forward to hearing about their goals for next year. We will expect students to remember them three months from now.

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Watching Learning Happen

I sit quietly Friday morning, watching the aftermath of a “knowledge dump” (That’s what I’m going to call it) session on radiation. The white board was full of information of nuclear radiation equations, particle penetration and energy levels, and general characteristics of the three major forms of radiation. Afters months working on STEM projects, preparing for Presentations of Learning, and finishing up their sophomore research papers before the end of the year, the students are “eating up” their self-directed learning modules on nuclear energy and spending time teaching each other trigonometry.

We, the teachers, have become resources; students set their own schedules, optimize the time they need to spend on each topic and project. They willingly help each other, sharing their strengths with their peers, and using “little tricks” to remember steps or to solve problems. It really is fascinating to see the learning environment that has been fully established over the year. The growth of the students has been amazing, from the first time they picked up a temperature probe in September, to their final National History Day projects in May (Go WASPs!!!).

This week they had a little break, as they got to go to the Bruce Museum to see the Electricity and Electric Paris exhibits, and had a fun ice cream social with the current and upcoming Innovation Lab students. I am excited to watch next year’s progress…wait… I am supposed to be teaching…but then again, how is that different?

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STEM Project Exhibitions – Eureka, it really IS battery power (and solar power, and hydropower, and…..)

As we approach the end of the school year, Innovation Lab students are busy putting the finishing touches on the final STEM Project of the year – the Eureka! It’s Battery Power Project!!!.  For this project, students were expected to design and build a device incorporating electric power that is portable, sustainable, and meets a need.  In a twist that “upped” the challenge factor, students not only had to design the actual output for the project, they were also asked to plan a unique exhibition of their work.  Exhibition audience, format, timing, and scheduling were all up to the students.  Brian and I just provided logistics support and, where necessary, signed paperwork.  We are thrilled to report that both the devices themselves and the venues in which the students have showcased their efforts were diverse, creative, and impressive!  Please see below for details and links for each of these 14 amazing projects!!!!  This blog is long – but it is TOTALLY worth the effort, so don’t miss out on any of it…..

#1 – The Electric Go-Cart

Dylan, Alex K., Grant and Tyler have been on a quest – a quest to build a solar power rechargeable electric go-cart.  Like all good quests, this one will probably need multiple volumes to come to its dramatic and satisfying conclusion.  For their exhibition they created a documentary detailing their work thus far (see below), and will be consulting with the tech-engineering class to help problem solve the remaining issues.

#2 – The Solar-Powered Tyke Car

Siobhan, Ziare, Destene, and Grayson rehabilitated an old broken down tyke car, including a complete re-wire, AND made it solar powered by constructing a solar power charging station for the car’s batteries.  In addition to meeting the need for fun, this group used their project as a kid-friendly way to educate young students about sustainable energy and solar power.  To prepare they had to take a complex project and explain it at two levels – in a technical description directed at an adult audience and in educational materials directed to an elementary audience (which you can read here).  As their culminating exhibition, they took a road trip to Whitby School and demonstrated their project to an elementary level class, including test drives!  Everyone had a blast!!  You can read more about it in this Greenwich Free Press article.

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The Solar Powered Tyke Car group visits Whitby School!


#3 – The Atmospheric Water Generator

Kai, Jari, Molly, and Jovanni are trying to help solve a major public health issue – availability of potable water in developing nations.  Their idea?  A personal atmospheric water generator that harnesses solar energy to power a dehumidifier (to condense water from the atmosphere) and provide water filtration to ensure the water is safe to drink.  Initial research and design attempts served to clarify how humid the atmosphere would need to be and how much power would be required to condense a given volume of water on an average day.  The group also conducted tests to analyze the extent of water filtration likely necessary to make that water “clean” enough to drink.  Turns out there are A LOT of technical challenges to be resolved to bring their concept to fruition.  Thus, the team has enlisted the help of engineers and designers at MIT’s D-Lab. Via email communication and an upcoming Skype session with these experts, the team hopes to brainstorm ideas to overcome obstacles.  Have a look at the technical proposal they forwarded to the D-Lab here.

#4 – The Nanoporous Graphene Desalination Membrane Documentary

Sofia, Kathryn, and Rob also opted for a project centered on water availability, and began diving into desalination (pun intended!).  They were inspired by the work of Dr. David Cohen-Tanugi on nanoporous graphene as a reverse osmosis membrane and decided to make a documentary about him and his work.  They reached out to Dr. Cohen-Tanugi, who has generously offered his time and expertise via emails and Skype interviews.  Based upon these communications, and close reading of his MIT dissertation as well as several peer-reviewed scientific journal articles on the subject (e.g. this article published in Nature Magazine) the group has crafted a documentary script stunning in its level of technical detail and accuracy.  Based upon the quality of their work, the group has been invited to screen their finished documentary as part of Bruce Museum’s Sunday Science at the Seaside Center – so be on the lookout for that event tentatively scheduled for September 4th!  As a stunning example of the real-world professionalism promoted by Innovation Lab – the three also have a signed technology licensing agreement with MIT granting them permission to use data and figures from Dr. Cohen-Tanugi’s dissertation in their documentary!

#5 – Hydropower!!!

Katherine, Nicole, Angelina, and Flora aimed to construct small modular hydropower devices that can recharge standard rechargeable batteries, and then install them in our campus waterfall.  They tested three different waterwheel prototypes, but found that none of their initial designs would generate the current and voltage necessary to recharge a standard rechargeable battery.  The have presented all of their work in exquisite detail on their very own hydropower website.  Please visit it today and offer your comments!!  Of special note, the stunning photograph that serves as the site’s banner was taken by Nicole at our waterfall (look for the rainbow…).


The hydropower team in action.


#6 – The Piezoelectric Power Proposal

Chloe prepared a proposal for installation of piezoelectric tiles in high foot-traffic areas of Greenwich High School with the dual purpose aim of providing an energy-offset for the building as a whole, as well a providing an entertaining, high-visibility format to educate students and staff about issues of sustainable energy.  After meeting with Headmaster Chris Winters about her proposal, she is in the process of contacting Pavegen to get a formal price quote for the proposed project.

#7 – “Solar Smoothies”

Rylie, Julia, Jane, Fjolla, and Sofi sold “Solar Smoothies!”  They built a solar power charging station / food preparation cart that uses sustainable energy to power two smoothie blenders.   They made and sold their own signature recipe smoothies to InLab parents and students at our Innovation Lab Community gathering earlier this month, and then to Greenwich High students in general in the student center during lunch block.  The smoothies got rave reviews and were so popular they sold out in under 30 minutes!!!!


Building and exhibiting the “Solar Smoothies” cart


#8 – The Miniature Vertical Axis Windmill

Alex S. has been creating prototype after prototype of a small scale vertical axis windmill with the intent of manufacturing a portable device that can be attached to the frame of a bicycle or the window of a car, so that users can charge their cell phones or other small electronics while travelling from place to place.  After designing and testing two different 3D printed designs, and a third wood and metal design, Alex realized that he had not properly accounted for Bernouilli’s principle in his designs, and that therefore his speed of rotation and power output were sub-optimal.  For his exhibition, he will be conferencing with some AP Physics students to problem-solve and plan the next prototype iteration.


Alex’s tests of his three prototypes.


#9 – STEM Stories (A Personal Narrative)

Juliana began her journey trying to make a backpack that harnesses solar energy to filter water and charge a cell phone, then shifted focus to solar powered decorative lawn lights.  Along the way she learned some fundamental truths about the nature of STEM including: 1) things seldom if ever turn out the way you pictured them at the outset, 2) progress is a meandering journey, not a straight shot, and 3) frequently you can learn more from what doesn’t work than what does.  Leveraging her strong literary bent, Juliana has opted to chronicle her experiences in a personal narrative.  Keep an eye out for her beautiful writing soon to be available on her blog.

#10 – The Solar-Powered Robot (Its name is Frónt)

Calvin, Kevin, and Andrew are trying to help out the GHS Robotics Team by building a portable solar charging station that can recharge both the nickel-metal hydride battery that powers the team’s robot (whose name is Frónt) and the lithium-ion battery of the Android platform phone that serves as the remote control for the robot.  Stepping down the voltage from the charging station to what the phone can handle has been a real engineering challenge, requiring the gentlemen to design, solder, and test their own circuits to provide just the right amount of resistance.  Check out the Instructables post that served as the group’s exhibition!  They are also planning to show their progress to the GHS Robotics Team for feedback.


Planning and building for the solar-powered robot.


#11 – A Better Solar-Powered Cell Phone Charger

Tess and Riley have proven the old adage “if you want something done right, do it yourself”!  They built their own compact solar-charger for cell phones.  Their version – which they soldered, wired, sewed, and tested themselves – is cheaper, lighter, and works BETTER (provides more current and a faster charging time) than a commercially available version they used for comparison.  For their exhibition, they demo-ed their product (and gave out lollipops!) to enthusiastic students.


Solar-powered cell phone charger is a real draw!


#12 – The Solar-Powered Grill (Burgers Anyone?)

Emily, Pierce, Carly, and Sam wanted to make burgers at the beach using a solar-powered electric grill.  To get there they learned solar panel wiring, soldering, battery-pack design, grill wiring, 3D printing, and more.  Although they aren’t ready to BBQ just yet – you can learn more about their journey from the photo book they created chronicling their efforts.  Their book, as well as several prototypes and other artifacts from the project, will be on display at Bruce Museum as of July in a fitting supplement to the museum’s current Electricity exhibit (more science puns!).


CEPS in action!


#13 – The Battery Board (Patent Pending)

(Dr. G is a licensed Patent Agent so that could actually happen….)

James and Joey melded their passion for skateboarding with practicality, completely redesigning a standard skateboard to harness the energy of the rotation of the wheels to charge a rechargeable battery, which is then wired to a USB port, so that you can plug in and charge your cell phone or Jambox speaker.  If you were able to join us for our Innovation Lab Community Get Together a few weeks ago, then you probably got to see James and Joey exhibit their work in progress.  If you missed it, don’t worry!  Joey and James’ YouTube video contains their thoughts on project, as well as the comments and feedback of some community members.


#14 – The Solar-Powered Raspberry Pi

Anselmo, Richie, and Owen brought together their diverse talents in technology, coding, and building to craft a portable solar-charging station for a Raspberry Pi.  Now this small portable coding platform is even easier to use!!  Check out their Reddit post that includes detailed instructions for how you can make your own, including a complete parts list and a a downloadable STL file for their 3D printed battery holster.  The team then exhibited their work to a Greenwich High School coding class.  Feedback from the coding class and in comments on their Reddit post have been extremely positive – with ongoing design revisions being debated.  My favorite comment on the Reddit page: “Wish I had your skills in high school!”


Solar powered Raspberry Pi


WOW!!  Thanks for hanging in there ’til the end.  Brian and I are SO excited about what Innovation Lab students were able to accomplish in the course of this project, and we hope you have been as well.  Stay tuned for more exciting STEM project work in 2016-2017!!!


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