Originally published on the GHS Beak and reprinted with permission.
Most Greenwich High School students have heard of Innovation Lab, but don’t actually know what it’s really all about. Innovation Lab is a program within the high school that teaches “alternative learning” or “project-based learning.” When I first heard of this concept, my brain conjured up images of uninvolved kids who didn’t want to do any work; drawing with crayons and watching Pixar movies. When my parents pitched the idea that I join the program for my sophomore year, I required more than a little convincing. All I knew about the program was that there was a stigma around it, and that it was probably a very bad idea.
Trying to keep an open mind, I did a shadow day in InLab when I was a freshman. When I had the program fully described to me, I realized that it was something I’d like to do. (Don’t you hate when you have to admit your parents were right?)
“Hands-on learning” involved exactly what I thought an education should look like. Instead of huge amounts of worksheets, repetition and nightly homework, we get quarter long projects, which we sink our time and effort into, with related homework and group work. InLab replaces a student’s four main classes: science, math, history, and English, while electives and languages are taken outside of the program.
“The GHS Innovation Lab is a flexible and personalized learning environment devoted to fostering creativity, curiosity, and purpose. Teachers blend core disciplines in a project-based approach, allowing students to explore their interests and harness their innovative potential” (www.ghsinnovationlab.com).
As a lab rat of Innovation Lab, which has only been active for two full years, I can confirm that this method works extremely well. I now have three topics in which I am both extremely passionate and knowledgeable: prescription opioid abuse, the war on drugs, and the Syrian refugee crisis. Completing projects like documentaries, art pieces, and inventions has given me the opportunity to dig into these issues and become a better writer, apply math and science to real life, and actually retain the things I learn. Gone for me are the days of handing in sloppy textbook work I complete in half an hour, or cramming for a test and immediately forgetting everything as soon as I hand it in.
I legitimately believe that I learned significantly more in my first year of Innovation Lab than I learned in my freshman year of standard education. All of the InLab teachers are excellent and very enthusiastic about the program. They push us when we need pushing and are always supportive and available to help and challenge us. I believe they’re among the best teachers in GHS and it’s great to know I will have these teachers for the next two years.
I intend to finish my high school career within the program, and hopefully it will continue to work for me. I realize that a newspaper article won’t cause anyone to spontaneously switch the way they approach their education for the next few years, but I will invite you to do a little more research and see if Innovation Lab might work for you. If the sound of hands-on learning appeals to you then who knows? You might just find yourself in a high school program that brings out the best in you.