”We’ve had students complain they’ve never gone to Orthopaedic Hospital, located right next door, while having gone to Orthopaedic Hospital School for four years.”

”We want students to know this project is a big deal.”

”Ultimately, I want students to learn about their community and do something that has meaning to their lives.”

Three teachers, Mr. Morales, Ms. Plazola, and Mr. Wodehouse from Orthopaedic Medical Magnet High School courageously embarked on a task that had not been done before at Ortho: plan an interdisciplinary project unit together and launch the unit with a bang.

We’ve all been there–a new project is introduced to students through a handout. “Class, we are starting a project today” was not how the team wanted to launch this project. This team wanted to make the launch a memorable event to pique the students’ interest and level of inquiry, as well have students learn about real and relevant health issues in their community in an authentic way.

The teachers did just that.

The team, in partnership with the LA Area Chamber of Commerce, Orthopaedic Institute for Children (OIC), and St. John’s Community Health Clinic, planned a project launch event at OIC, which began with breakfast (a highlight!) and included guest speakers. The Vice President of OIC and St. John’s community health organizers spoke on topics such as healthcare access, healthcare for transgender and homeless populations and mental and behavioral health stigmas. Students used their cellphones to participate in a texting poll on as their “exit ticket.” “Yes, we are actually telling you to take your phones out,” Ms. Plazola told the surprised students. Over 150 students, all 10th graders, participated in the launch and left excited about the project they would embark on in their World History and English courses.

Here are some of the lessons we learned:

  • Focus the launch on the central theme of the project The launch excited the students, but afterwards, students asked what the project was actually about. The launch consisted of many parts: multiple guest speakers, a plethora of topics, and getting 150 students to the hospital. We learned that it was probably easy for students to lose sight of the project itself. For next time, we’ve resolved to keep the message of the launch event clear and ensure students have more opportunities to make connections. Furthermore, the teachers felt that contextualizing the topics more beforehand in class would have better prepared students for the launch event.
  • Incorporate more student interaction, process time, and reflection Apply the same principles that one would use in planning classroom instruction to the event. Essentially, even the launch event is about student learning; are the students engaged? How can we check for understanding? What questions will spur inquiry and reflection?
  • Launch the project in a special and meaningful way and the project will be special and meaningful for students  Giving students a shared experience that keeps them wondering after the event is a genuine marker of a successful launch. After the event, students kept asking their teachers when their project was going to start and the teachers shared that class discussions were much more dynamic. Also, a memorable launch event conveys the teachers’ investment and commitment to the project. When projects are launched with a bang, it sends the message to students that the journey they are about to start is a big deal and worth their investment, as well.

Ultimately, the teachers undertook a collaborative planning process (with industry partners!) that allowed for thoughtful planning and reflection. It showed how powerful this process could be in contributing to and elevating learning for all involved, including themselves.