Grade 9 students from Rick Hansen Secondary School in Abbotsford recently took part in an exciting new initiative in partnership with the Rick Hansen Foundation: a cross-curricular, project-based learning experience to explore disability. Projects included a visit to the Rick Hansen Institute, a presentation from Rick Hansen, an innovation challenge, and an opportunity to be mentored by a Rick Hansen Ambassador. Students said the opportunity to learn in a dynamic and different way was “life-changing and very inspirational”.
A New Learning Environment
Rick Hansen Secondary School is BC’s first science and business school. Its new instructional model uses problem-based learning to focus on career opportunities in business, science and medicine. Sixty grade 9 students, the school’s first year of students to be fully immersed into this transformed learning environment, worked on interdisciplinary projects to gain insight into the question: “How has Rick Hansen changed attitudes towards disabilities?”
Visit to Blusson Spinal Cord Centre
The project kicked off with a visit to the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre in Vancouver for an educational day of tours, presentations, and hands-on activities.
Tova Plashkes, the National Clinical Liaison at the Rick Hansen Institute, introduced students to spinal cord injury (SCI) research. This was followed by an exciting tour of the Centre’s research facilities. Students saw demonstrations of leading-edge rehabilitative technology such as the Lokomat® treadmill training system and the Ekso Bionics robotic exoskeleton. They explored the Access Lab, which includes a fully accessible kitchen, and the Physical Activity Research Centre, an accessible gym.
PARC (the Physical Activity Research Centre) proved to be a crowd favourite!
What is it Like to Have a Disability?
Rick Hansen Ambassador, Robb Dunfield, offered students a glimpse into the personal side of disability. He shared his inspirational story of how he defied his prognosis after being paralyzed from the neck down; despite being told he would be confined to a hospital bed his entire life he now lives a full and meaningful life.
The Innovation Challenge
Students were then presented with a challenge: to design a means of transport to allow a person with a mobility challenge to participate in an activity or sport of their choice. Students worked in groups to develop and present their design in front of an audience of peers, teachers, and a team from the Rick Hansen Foundation. The students did a terrific job taking what they had learned in the morning and applying that knowledge in creating their innovative designs.
Robb Dunfield and Rick Hansen with Group 7 and their winning design: an all-terrain wheelchair, with a safety harness, LED lights, a GPS, solar panels, and a back-up system.
The Man in Motion
The moment students were waiting for. Rick Hansen, the Man in Motion himself, spoke and answered questions about his injury, what it was like planning and going on the World Tour, as well as overcoming obstacles and how we can work together to make a difference.
Teacher Jessica Thiessen reflects, “[Robb and Rick’s presentation] definitely changed students’ views on the abilities that people with disabilities have.” A great end to a great day!