Category: Innovations in Education Grant

A Therapy Dog for AHS

Meet Willy, the new Arlington High School (AHS) therapy dog. Andrea Razi, AHS Intervention Coordinator and Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) shares how Willy will support and comfort students under a wide variety of situations.


Workshops for educators and social workers will enhance well-being, social-emotional skills, mindfulness, and help build a positive and supportive school climate.

Read Around the World

All Ottoson students participate in a community challenge to read one book from each continent during the school year. 

Colors of STEM

A rotating exhibit at Brackett fosters diversity awareness about prominent American people of color in the fields of STEM.

The Challenge:  Good, but Limiting Technology

Carrying out highly detailed and accurate investigations of physics, chemistry and biology can be a challenge when you’re tied down to a computer lab station connection in a classroom. For several years, Arlington High School science students have had access to several Vernier digital probes connected to computers, however, these connections put significant constraints on students’ ability to conduct lab experiments “in the field.”

How AEF Helped:  New Technology Changes the Landscape

Through an Innovations in Education grant, the Arlington High School science department purchased 10 LabQuest Mini digital probes so now students’ lab experiments and data collection are no longer tethered to classroom desktops. The new probes run off of USB power and allow data to be saved directly to a portable laptop.  This means that students can use an interface they are already familiar and comfortable with, but now they can take the probes anywhere to conduct experiments outside the classroom, saving the results for later analysis and documentation.

Impact:  Science Experiments Can Occur Anywhere

With the use of the new LabQuest Mini digital probes, students can experiment and collect data virtually anywhere. Previously, when students launched water bottle rockets on the athletic field, they were forced to use video and clinometers to infer launch velocities, based on altitude. With the new LabQuest Mini digital probes, students are able to take the probes to the athletic field and measure launch velocities directly. Similarly, student will be able to take the probes around the high school building to study the acoustics of its hallways and stairwells.  With the new digital probes, science experiments are no longer limited to science classrooms.

“The students have been using the new interface for the digital probes in all of our labs: it has made setting up the lab material much easier and more straightforward. I have also been experimenting with using lab equipment outside the classroom, and have plans to go even further and farther.”   

John Macuk

– AHS, Science teacher

The Challenge: Attending to Students’ Mental Health

While it seems to be common knowledge that stress levels, related anxiety and depression, and substance use among teenagers are at all time highs, there remains a culture of secrecy, shame and embarrassment around these issues. In the past, Arlington High School has offered mental health awareness assemblies and events for students, but the staff recognized an increasing need to expand this programming.

How AEF Helped: An Expanded Vision

In 2017, in an effort to increase awareness and decrease the stigma associated with mental health, Arlington High School had an entire school day — Wellness Day — devoted to students’ wellness. An overriding goal of Wellness Day is to promote balance, wellness and self care among students and staff with an emphasis on the notion that if we care for ourselves we are less likely to suffer deeply from anxiety or depression.

In 2018, thanks to an Innovations in Education grant, the high school was able to broaden its Wellness Day vision by adding new creative programming for students as well as for staff. Through the expanded capacity for programming that the grant provided, students were able to choose four different workshops to participate in during the school day. Staff members had the chance to attend two workshops of their choosing in addition to running or supporting a self care workshop for the other two blocks.

Impact:  Expanded Ongoing Mental Health Awareness

Students enjoyed the activities of Wellness Day, from time spent with therapy dogs to taking a group hike along the bike path to learning a new hobby from a teacher. They saw performances by the Improbable Players, a troupe the uses theater to address addiction and alcoholism, followed by Q&A sessions.  According to the high school Intervention Coordinator, after Wellness Day there is an influx of new faces asking for help. In addition to the increased awareness that services exist, students report that knowing they are not the only ones struggling makes it easier to ask for help.

“The best thing about Wellness Day for me as a social worker is that I can get a message to the entire student body…There are students who make it through AHS without knowing there are social workers around to help if needed.  This event always increases awareness about services available at AHS.”

Andrea Razi, Social Worker and Intervention Coordinator, AHS Guidance Department

Wellness Day encourages students and staff alike to recognize the importance of mental health and the powerful impact of self care. And, thanks to that AEF Innovations in Education grant, AHS Wellness Day 2019 is already in the planning stages.

Story Box Library

A district-wide library of 20 hands-on, multi-sensory stories gives teachers and related service providers important tools to help visually impaired students.  Each Story Box includes real-life items that students can feel, touch and smell, bringing greater meaning to each story.

“Picture book illustrations bring meaning to the words.  Students who are visually impaired miss this important part of the literacy experience.  Story Boxes make illustrations accessible to these students.”

Kara Olivere, Arlington Public Schools Teacher for Visually Impaired Students

The Challenge: Missing out on Visual Cues

From infancy, children learn through observation.  But visually impaired children have greatly reduced opportunities for incidental learning. Consider the sheer volume of information a sighted child is exposed to about words, their function, and how the world works on a simple trip to the grocery store. A visually impaired child misses all this information about labeling, organization, multiple purposes of words, money…the list is long. Visually impaired children need directed, hands-on time with everyday items to learn the basic concepts that come easily to their sighted peers.

How AEF Helped:  ’Illustrating’ Stories with Real-Life Objects

Story Boxes are hands-on, multi-sensory literacy activities for students with visual impairments. Written in large print and braille, the stories use real-life items to illustrate objects or concepts that are important to a story.

Consider a Story Box story about going to the doctor. Doctor’s visits can be scary for children, especially for children with visual impairments who do not have a visual preview of the types of instruments that will be used. The story is written clearly, explaining the steps of a routine physical, the instruments used, and the sensations associated with them. The items in the Story Box might include rubber gloves, stethoscope, band aids, ‘johnny’ and a thermometer. As the student listens to the story, he is encouraged to explore the items with his hands and use them on his body like a doctor might.

Impact:  Enhanced Student Understanding

Multi-sensory learning, using multiple senses to access information, works with our biology to enhance learning. These stories bring the richness of pictures to children who cannot see them. Enjoyed by not only visually impaired students, but also by special needs and typically developing students, Story Boxes invite children to touch, smell, move, taste, look and learn.

Each story is also written in braille. Braille literacy is strongly correlated with employment, yet only 10% of the blind population are braille readers.

Thermal Imaging

Through the use of thermal imaging adapters, 8th graders at Ottoson Middle School visualize heat as well as observe the flow of thermal energy in a fun and engaging way.

“The thermal imaging cameras are a big hit with the students and really bring the curriculum to life. The technology is so fun and visually compelling that sometimes students have a hard time sharing with their science partners.”

Susan Stewart, Ottoson Middle School, 8th Grade Science

The Challenge:  Visualizing Intangible Scientific Concepts

How do you teach students intangible scientific concepts?  Though many scientific concepts can be taught through hands-on experimentation, the topics of thermal imaging and heat transfer are more challenging.  Historically, this has been a challenging unit for students, as the flow of thermal energy is not directly visible, but rather must be evaluated by indirect means with a slow and limited technology (primarily measuring with thermometers). The concepts are not as tangible as in other units, making it difficult for students to explore and observe the processes independently.

How AEF Helped:  Bringing Thermal Imaging to Life

What if students could observe and experiment with heat transfer through hands-on experimentation just like electricity or physics?  What if students were so engaged that they forgot they were learning? Through an Innovations in Education grant, 8th graders at Ottoson Middle School turn daily technology devices like iPads and cell phones into thermal imaging observation tools.  With the purchase of a set of thermal imaging adapters, the devices display thermal images using a free, manufacturer-developed app.

Students are now able to visualize heat sinks, heat sources and observe the flow of thermal energy in real time in a medium that is compelling and accessible.

Impact:  Engaging, Hands-On Learning

This technology allows the 8th grade Science teachers to expand and enrich the current curriculum and allow more independent, inquiry-based activities to complement traditional instruction. Students are able to observe and experiment with heat transfer through conduction, convection and radiation, and are able to observe good conductors and good insulators during lab activities.

Students get first-hand knowledge of thermal energy by observing every-day classroom objects such as lights (radiation), handprints (heat transfer), metal wires (conduction), hands under fabric (insulation) and even heating pipes through a wall.

The cameras are also used during the insulator device design challenge to identify whether the student devices are working as good insulators as well as whether heat leakage is occurring.

The Colors of STEM

This rotating poster exhibit highlights and educates students about prominent Americans of color who have made significant contributions to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The exhibit celebrates diversity in STEM, represents the underrepresented and provides role models for all students.

“The goal of the project was really to celebrate the diversity that has taken place in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math in the US…and to provide role models for students, ALL students.”

Nancy Chew, Parent and Grant Co-Author

The Inspiration: A Time to Shed Some Light

After their child endured several race-related incidents at school, two Brackett parents decided that the best way to confront the hurt and shock these incidents created was to channel their energy into something positive. Ultimately, they created The Colors of STEM project in order to open students’ eyes to the broad impact that American people of color have had in STEM fields. Furthermore, the project goals include teaching tolerance at an early age by connecting with elementary school-aged students.

How AEF Helped: Broadening the Vision

The co-creators of The Colors of STEM knew their message would be relevant beyond Brackett School so they approached AEF in order to reach a wider audience within the Arlington Public Schools. It is rare for parents to apply for AEF grants so the AEF Board was particularly excited to receive this grant and to guide the applicants through the process. The grant was appealing to AEF because the goals of the project are well-aligned with the Arlington Public Schools’ Safe and Supportive School initiative, and AEF strongly supported broadening the grant to reach beyond Brackett school. Eventually, the poster exhibit will be shared with other schools in the district.

Impact: Teaching Tolerance and Inspiring Young Minds

Thus far, two of the posters have been created and put on display at Brackett School. The posters are on a wall opposite the library so every student has the opportunity to see, and perhaps stop and study, the posters as they visit the library. Thanks to the Friends of the Brackett Library, new books about the individuals on the posters are available for students to check out as well.

The first poster highlights Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.  Tyson is half Puerto Rican and half African-American. The second poster portrays Steve Chen a Taiwanese-American computer scientist who is one of the co-founders of YouTube. The next poster will feature Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician who worked for NASA. Each of the posters is specifically designed to be very engaging and accessible to the elementary students. Once the exhibit is complete, The Colors of STEM will have the opportunity to breed tolerance and inspire students across the school district.