GHS Innovation Lab November News

Fall 2020 - Deeper Learning in and for the real world.

Dear GHS InLab Students, Parents, Colleagues and Community Partners:


It's that special time of year when all of us in the Greenwich High School Innovation Lab (InLab) stop to reflect, give thanks, and celebrate the accomplishments of our amazingly resilient students. We continue to be inspired by their perseverance and grit in light of our new learning environment.


Recently, InLab Junior Angie Zarilli captured many feelings of our GHS students, faculty, and staff in her Design Studio Blog:


"Of course, I wish we could go back to “normal” but the truth is, if we are being rational, that is probably not the case. So, to make light of this, I will continue to pursue school just as passionately as I would during normal circumstances. It will definitely be more difficult but there is no easy way of getting around this pandemic. As much as I love short cuts, there are no short cuts in a pandemic and I will continue to do my part as long as it is needed."


In this Newsletter, we highlight and celebrate the work of our students and congratulate them on completing the first quarter in this new hybrid learning experience. We hope you enjoy!


Whether you are celebrating Shabbat, Dwali, Thanksgiving, or getting ready for the upcoming holiday season, we want to give special shout out to all of the families, administrators and support staff who have helped our students in this hybrid and remote-learning journey. We are so grateful we are for your support and wish you all the nourishing joy and relaxation the holidays provide.


With gratitude,


The GHS InLab Crew

Ben, Brian, Courtney, Kathy, Joe, Jess, Mike, and Rick

Our Design Studio 9-12 courses apply the Stanford d.School model of Design Thinking to solve real-world problems. The process highlights the importance of perspectives, research, collaboration, ingenuity in creating iterations, hands-on critical thinking, and growth mindset.

Check out our updated websites for Humanities 9-11, including Quarter 1 projects: 9th grade Germany Memorial Parks, 10th grade "Heroes of History", and 11th grade Public Service Announcements.


Humanities Homepage

Humanities 9

Humanities 10

Humanities 11

Humanities 9 is a freshman level course that explores literature and the social sciences through the lens of Global Studies. Innovation Lab’s project-based learning, interdisciplinary and co-taught approach allows students to engage creatively and to study concepts deeply. This fall, students explored complex themes of loss of innocence, human nature, and civility through the groundbreaking novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding and studied Enlightenment philosophies. Then, they were tasked with researching, curating, designing, and presenting a memorial park for Berlin to mark the triumphs and tragedies of German history from 1870-today. As a team of artists, authors, historians, and urban planners, students worked collaboratively, despite remote and hybrid learning constraints. Through the symbolism of this memorial park the world can learn the lessons of our past as we fight to find the light, even through the darkest of times. Below is a sampling of projects. Enjoy!


- Ms. Mendez & Ms. Hawes

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News From Mr. Belanger & Ms. von Brachel:


In this project, framed around the study of the Civil War and Reconstruction, students read about important individuals who fought for racial justice. Students then wrote an acrostic poem honoring their achievements and created a timeline of their life. Today, these posters stand as reminders of the importance of confidence, determination, persistence, and perseverance. We hope you find them as inspiring as our young scholars did when they created them.

Edward Brooke

Charles Ethan Porter

Hiram Revels

Sojourner Truth

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Juniors in the Humanities 11 class began the year by exploring ethical dilemmas, social justice and current events. Media consumption has been a common daily fixture, particularly in light of the 2020 Presidential Election. After studying rhetorical devices and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn as a lens to apply the art of social commentary, students chose a local issue, investigated the current role of government in ameliorating the problem. They wrote Op-Ed pieces on various dilemmas facing our communities and created a public service announcement in order to inspire change. Using ethos, pathos, and logos in order to demand a call to action, these tough topics reflect the strong and inspiring voices of our empathetic students! Check out their PSAs on the Google Slideshow below that cover the following topics:

  • The Opioid Crisis
  • Campaign Finance Reform
  • Voting rights
  • Elderly Abuse on the Rise
  • Immigration and Building1Community
  • SNAP Reform (Food Stamps)
  • The Digital Divide during Covid-19
  • Avoiding Scams
  • The Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning
  • Childhood Vaccinations
  • Why PBL Works
  • School Shootings in America
  • Transgender rights in the workplace
  • FEMA's response to Natural Disasters
  • Jennifer's Law for Domestic Violence Victims

Community Outreach

With the backdrop of the Covid pandemic, the ongoing protests sparked with the killing of George Floyd, the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, and the 2020 Presidential Elections, our students have been living through history.


As we began school in this new hybrid learning environment, our Civics students dove right in to the "State of Our Union" through the lens of social justice and increased their literacy around race, media bias, reform movements, and citizenship. After analyzing Bryan Stevenson's "Just Mercy" and watching the Ava DuVernay documentary "13th", students investigated the historical context of voting rights in America. They have uncovered the hard-hitting truths about systemic and institutional racism, ranging from topics like mass incarceration, eugenics, Redlining and segregated housing, healthcare, criminal justice reform, and the school-to-prison pipeline through the text "So You Want to Talk about Race?" by Ijeoma Oluo. Students also followed the 2020 Presidential and Congressional races quite closely, watching the historic debates and making predictions on the website 270toWin.


Political tensions continue across the country but we strive to create classroom environments where students are safe, strong, free, and make good choices. All views are respected and diversity is embraced. Students continue to become more informed, empathetic problem solvers and life-long learners with growth mindsets. As we move into Quarter 2, students will continue to apply the framework of United States Constitution and the question "What does it mean to be ethically responsible?" to guide their inquiry. We can't wait to see what the future holds for our students.

- Ms. Mendez and Ms. Hawes

Wow, what a great beginning to such a strange and challenging year. Our class quickly agreed that the course question, “How can we learn the truth?” It certainly resonates this year even more than usual.


After deciding that our working definition of learning would be “The gaining and communicating of understanding that changes behavior,” we dove right into of 1st quarter project on Race in America. Click here to read more about this project as well as the creative ways our students have "searched for truth" during such a contentious time.


I am proud of their persistent intellectual curiosity, seeking of feedback, and growing understanding of research and how to present it. There is always room for individual and collaborative growth and we will be focusing on building stronger narratives to improve communication of our research.


Quentin Compare clearly summed up the powerful collaborative and growth mindset of InLab that I see everyday: When working with others, I have found that being able to bounce ideas off each other and provide support to each other helps to boost the quality of work..the final product will be better!"


Looking forward to growing together throughout the year! - Mr. Baske

Divergent Thinking & Inquiring Minds


As a creative, reflective lesson, InLab students applied divergent thinking to find an image that reflects their research struggles. The prompt? “Searching for truth is like ___________________.” As Veronica Paez-Deggeller’s example proves, this chasing of the truth can be stated and illustrated in profound and entertaining ways.


The idea of "the truth" can vary depending on the circumstances. The truth may be close to you, or in a completely different realm of understanding. More importantly, there could be one singular truth, or more likely, multiple sides. If you continue chasing after a singular truth without letting yourself observe your environment or other sides, you'll never truly find, or catch, what you are looking for, and may end up tangled in a unique situation.

Time to Check in on STEM 11 with Mr. Walach & Mr. Gawle

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Students designed and completed a drop test during a remote Wednesday. Students needed to drop an object and measure its velocity and acceleration using a phone timer and rudimentary measuring techniques. Then, they measured how close they were to the known gravitational acceleration, -9.8 m/s2.
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Students are currently working on designing and building their own “Tensegrity Sculptures” at home. They are creating structures that support themselves using only the force of tension, and using it as an allegory for all the extra tension they’ve endured during the pandemic! Here is Angie’s progress on a table that will support itself and other things using only chains.
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(Above) Class notes on combined math and science topics: two-dimensional motion, gravity, quadratic equations, and kinematic equations.


Though the pandemic reduced the number of labs and projects we can do in STEM class, we’ve spent the time bringing together Physics and Precalculus to more closely align. Writing on separate tablets in a shared class notebook means students in the classroom and at home can engage in the same lessons in real-time and refer to the class notebook whenever they need to!

We are excited for more exploration in Quarter 2!


- Mr. Walach and Mr. Gawle

What have our 12th Graders been doing in Mr. Baxley's class?

All of the students in the Science Research class have finished the research and planning phases of their projects and have just started getting to work on executing each of their individual procedures. Some brief descriptions and pictures are below.


Click here to read more about these self-designed projects!


- Mr. Baxley

Graham Ornstein is working on cheaply reproducing a unique speaker called a rotary subwoofer. Normally these cost thousands of dollars, but Graham is trying to make one using cheaper parts and 3D printing some pieces. He plans to test out the levels and effect on a speaker system in the PAC when he’s done. Check out this prototype (picture at right)!


Martina Phelan is building runoff catching bags that contain white-rot fungus in an attempt to break down an herbicide called 2,4-D that is commonly used in lawn care. She hopes the white-rot fungus will reduce the levels of 2,4-D measurably in controlled samples and then suggest a cheap and effective design that organizations that may want to use to help reduce the herbicide in high runoff areas (like Greenwich Parks and Rec).


Francesco Violanti is planning on teaching himself CAD design and engineering skills through the process of making a prosthetic arm, hopefully using a volunteer from a local veterans organization. He plans to make sensors that read muscle contraction signals that will close individual fingers on the arm made from motors and 3D printed parts.

Jack McShea is building a vivarium for a crested gecko that is meant to be completely self-sustaining except for a food source. He plans to have all waste be remediated by bioactive soil and plants in the vivarium, having water cleaned and cycled in the tank, and hopefully even having enough plants to sustainably take in CO2 and put out enough O2 for the reptile’s survival. He will be comparing waste levels to the gecko living in a control tank with no bioactivity to remediate waste.

Our Greenwich High School Innovation Lab teachers are passionate about their content and implement cutting-edge learning strategies. Organized into two areas, Humanities and STEM, co-teaching is common and both areas are linked closely to a year-long thematic arc. Teachers also share responsibility for the Design Studio elective. Greenwich High School's Innovation Lab offers a project-based, interdisciplinary option for English and social studies (as Humanities) and/or STEM (science and math). Ninth, tenth and eleventh graders are eligible.

Click here to find out more about our program's philosophy and approach.

Humanities 9-11 and Humanities Design Studio

Michael Belanger, Humanities 10 & DS 10 (email)

Courtney Hawes, Humanities 9 & 11, and DS 12 (email)

Kathy Mendez, Humanities 9 &11 and DS 9 & DS 11(@edtechmama, email)

Jessica von Brachel, Humanities 10 & DS 10 (email)

STEM 11 and STEM Design Studio

12th Grade Research Courses

Joe Baske - Social Science Research 12 (email)

Rick Baxley - Science Research 12 (email)

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Program Administrator: Christina Shaw, Cantor Housemaster (email)

Program Associate: Courtney Hawes (email)

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Thanks to the Greenwich Alliance for Education for your continued support! A Reaching Out Grant from the Greenwich Alliance for Education supports materials, projects, and the continued professional development of best practices.

Questions? Comments?

Interested in learning more about GHS Innovation Lab and our PBL approach? Reach out to any of our InLab team members or students.