Research and Design Lab
The Upper Arlington High School Research and Design lab is a conceptual space to explore, prototype and design innovative approaches to teaching and learning. We began conceptualizing the lab during the 2015-2016 school year and due to a very generous donation from a local family and support from both the Upper Arlington Education Foundation and the Upper Arlington High School PTO, we have been able to invest time and resources into its development during the 2016-2017 school year.
RESEARCH AND DESIGN LAB BLOG
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The Real Way to Spread the Word to End the Word
“I looked over and saw one of my students on the playground with first grade boys anchored on each side,” Upper Arlington High School Intervention Specialist Kim Wilson said. “Those kids were looking up to my student and for one of the first times in his life, he got to be the ‘cool kid.’”
Of all of the moments I witnessed and comments I heard about the collaborative effort between Kim Wilson’s multiple disabilities class and Sally MacGregor-Martin’s 1st grade Greensview class, it was that comment that gripped me the most.
It was that one comment that produced a lump in my throat and a smile as long as the Iditarod race itself.
The events leading up to that comment started during winter break when Ms. Wilson approached Mrs. M&M with an idea. Trying to connect real world events and issues to the content and skills she needed to teach in her class, Wilson remembered a vacation to Alaska and her experience with dog sled tours. She knew dog sled races--in particular the Iditarod, a 1,000 mile race from Anchorage to Nome--happened to be a significant part of Alaskan culture, and she also knew she could connect elements of this race to a variety of subject areas: language arts, geography, weather, statistics, civics, physics, and technology.
The race itself seemed like a more interesting way to teach the curriculum she needed her students to master, and while it would have been powerful to do that on her own, Wilson wanted to make the project even more meaningful. So she reached out Mrs. M&M at Greensview, and the partnership started taking form.
One of Mrs. M&M’s daughters happened to be in Wilson’s class, so the significance of the collaboration went beyond older kids teaching younger kids. This collaboration gave first graders a chance to get to know Mrs. M&M’s daughter, and it allowed her daughter to develop a relationship with her mother’s students as well.
In preparation for their partnership, Mrs. M&M talked to her students about understanding, appreciating and working with people who think or move differently than they do. She also talked to them about the cultural history of the Iditarod, explaining that the 1,000 mile tradition was inspired by an actual journey and real deficit. Back in 1925, Alaskans living in Nome had a desperate need for medicine; however, due to the harsh weather conditions at the time, they had no ability to leave their home town and head to Anchorage so they could get it. Their only option was to employ the use of dog sleds, and so the “Great Serum Race” ensued. Similar to the way the 26.2 mile “marathon” race evolved from a real-live event, this original, harrowing journey inspired future Alaskans to schedule man-made journeys, offering determined and tough individuals both a challenge and a way to remember the past.
Wilson’s class also learned the history, but in addition to those details, they had to learn a variety of skills from how to teach an idea to students to how to use a Google doc. They also learned vocabulary words related to the unit, and they researched the different mushers so they could present them to the first graders.
In their first meeting, Wilson’s students taught the who-what-where-when-why-how vocabulary words to the first graders, and they taught the first graders how to do crossword puzzles to practice writing the words. This first interaction established Wilson's students as teachers, and it gave them the chance to start fostering a relationship with Mrs. M&M’s students.
Wilson’s class also had the chance to learn from others. In addition to looking at Wilson’s photographs, Frank Tuttle, who is both a UAHS physics teacher and a professional photographer, came into Wilson’s class to share his pictures from an Alaskan vacation. Students also watched documentary footage and read a book about the race.
Going beyond the logistics and the history, Wilson used the race as a lens to teach potential and kinetic energy. She had her students study dogs on the line as they were standing still, and then she had them look the dogs as they were moving. To further drive home why dog sleds have an easier time on ice than they do on other surfaces, Wilson created a lab where students pulled their own sleds, testing out friction on a variety of surfaces. Unfortunately, the Ohio winter weather didn’t gift us with a winter wonderland this February, so Wilson’s students couldn’t test out sleds on ice. They did, however, get the chance to see the way the surface makes pulling a sled easier or harder, by trying to do it on everything from grass to turf to carpet to tile floors to a cement parking lot.
They worked on fine motor skills by meeting with first graders and making blankets for the dogs. They worked on research skills by studying a musher, and they learned presentation skills by presenting that musher to Mrs. M&M’s first graders.
Once they finished their biographical studies and presentations, Wilson’s students helped Mrs. M&M’s students cast votes on which musher they wanted to follow. They taught first graders the process of an election and what it means to “vote.” When the first graders reflected on the experience, several of them said the voting--stickers and all--was the very best part of the project.
Once Mrs. M&M’s class identified Dallas as the musher, Wilson’s students learned to graph by tracking the number of dogs he had at various points in the race. They also learned technology skills by tracking the weather on the trail, the daily progress of each musher, and how many dogs those mushers had left. Mrs. M&M’s class checked this google doc daily so they could keep track of how the 8-10 day race was going, and on Wednesday, March 22, the two groups met to write congratulations cards to Dallas, the second place finisher in the race.
Dallas’s father won, and both Wilson’s students and Mrs. M&M’s students were excited to tell me all about it. As I circled the room and watched both groups in action, I had the opportunity to see colorful cards and a room speckled with laughter. I had the chance to hear what students loved most and I had the pleasure of watching a magical interaction unfold.
Bigger than all of that, I got to take a break from the rushing waves of students dashing through hallways and into rooms, and instead, revel in the pure of joy of kids of all ages hugging, cuddled together, reading, talking about mushers they wish they had been able to follow, beaming with pride over the one they choose. Kids--all kids--were energized, excited and engaged. All kids were included, valued and part of the celebration.
As I watched, I stood beside Karen Patterson, from the Growing Together Network. She and I were nodding our heads and smiling the entire time. And somewhere in the midst of it all, she turned to me and said something that will stay with me forever.
“If more people did this--if more classes had the chance to interact with students who are just a little bit different from them--we wouldn’t have a need for the ‘Spread the Word to End the Word’ campaign. Do you think those first graders are going to use the R word after the experience they’ve had?”
I gazed around at one of Wilson’s students standing in the center of four admiring first graders clinging to her legs, her arms, her back. I looked over at another student sitting on the floor, reading a book with a group of six and seven year-olds. And I looked at one more, sitting with his new friends, pointing at pictures and laughing.
“No,” I said, shaking my head, thinking back to all of the student pledge sheets speckled with promises, thinking back to the sea of t-shirts, the posters offering alternative words, the conversations I’ve had in my own classroom about why the r-word is inappropriate.
“No,” I said again. Looking at diversity in action, looking at kindness, looking at the very best of humanity.
“You’re right. There’s no way on earth.”
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