A Peek Inside Our Whittle World: An Upper School Whittle X-Day in Action

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No matter how engaging a teacher or lesson plan may be, learning will always be more meaningful, and therefore “stickier,” when experienced beyond the classroom. The is the fundamental idea underlying X-Day at Whittle: a weekly experience (each Wednesday) in which students turn facts and skills into knowledge by connecting them to vivid and meaningful experiences that place them at the center of their learning. Curated by the faculty, X-Day is reserved for work that cannot be contained by the regular schedule or even by the walls of the school – and provides opportunities for our students and teachers to take advantage of the extraordinary resources of a city like Washington, DC.

This month, 10th Grade STEM teacher Dr. Bala Selvakumar collaborated with an investigator at National Human Genome Research Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, to design a visit for Whittle 10th graders that would bring to life a complex story that they had been examining closely during this project cycle: the interplay of the science of genetics, bioethics, a novel and controversial gene editing technology known as CRISPR, and a fast-developing international debate about its use. The visit, Dr. Selvakumar said, demonstrated the power of “seeing physical and biological representations of that story in context.”

Over the course of the visit, the students visited a lab, witnessed a demonstration of how CRISPR works using a model organism (zebrafish), and heard expert perspectives on the ongoing international conversation regarding gene editing. Students are now drawing upon this experience to develop projects focused on any aspect of CRISPR that fascinates them – some writing papers, producing videos, or developing models. One group is seeking to engage Lower School students on the issue by creating a boardgame.

As the inaugural year of Whittle’s Washington, DC campus progresses, the faculty continues to expand the ways in which classes spend X-Days exploring the City as a Classroom – finding more partners, such as the Smithsonian and the Phillips Collection, to help our students develop more enduring knowledge and deeper perspectives.

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Learn more about our educational philosophy and approach to learning. Attend a Whittle DC Campus event.