PL Magic: Greenwich High School Innovation Lab

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past fifteen years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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I raced from the airport to get to Greenwich High School in Greenwich, CT to see what magic looks like when students are invested in their prototypes. And I was not disappointed. I walked into the Design Lab, a retrofitted classroom with lab tables (and a lot of solar panels) with Dr. Sarah Goldin, the Science Teacher of Innovation Lab.

For Greenwich High School, that took the form of Innovation Lab, a program for sophomores that is wrapping up its inaugural year. The “school within a school” takes English, math, science, and social studies the extra mile through its hands-on learning approach, most recently engaging in a prototyping activity involving solar power.

Sarah explained that the solar panel challenge was to design something that was portable, sustainable, and meets a need. That were the given criteria but – to do that – students would have to wrestle with logarithms, exponentials, logistic curves, circuits, redox reactions and reactions to explain how a battery works.

Take a look at some of the prototypes around the room.

Greenwich High School Innovation Lab
Student prototypes.

Math teacher on the Greenwich Innovation Lab team Brian Walach offered the following insight: “The irony in using the word prototype is that it suggests that what we create can be easily copied. The majority of teachers – my old self included – worked hard to refine handouts to use yearly. We love tinkering until we get that lesson just right. But standardizing the experience strips it of the most important part: input and creativity of students. They are the ones inspired to make a Solar Smoothie or phone-charging skateboard. Our passions are not their passions. The space where they overlap, we hope, is our classroom.”

Greenwich High School Innovation Lab
A skateboard charger. (Photo: Greenwich HS)

There is magic in this space because of the passion and commitment of students AND teachers to fail forward, to learn through doing, and to be surrounded by people with the same mindset. That was on full display that afternoon. Can’t wait to see what the next challenge is …

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