Rick Hansen Secondary School (Abbotsford): Interdisciplinary Projects

Group photo at Blusson

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! 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. 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!

Follow-up Projects: Working With Ambassadors

In the weeks that followed students worked alongside Rick Hansen Ambassadors with disabilities on a group project to gain a more in-depth understanding of disability.

“Working with a Rick Hansen Ambassador gave us information from someone with personal experience rather than a hypothetical situation,” says student Caitlin Shaw. “ Working on issues, that are actually experienced around the world and even in our country while doing a project in the classroom is a more involving experience and encourages some to take an interest in learning.”

Ambassadors also enjoyed the experience. “I enjoy sharing my experiences with young people,” says Ambassador Cyndy McLean. “ It is a great opportunity as these students could be the next SCI specialists, researchers, product designers, etc. It is exciting to hopefully encourage their interest and enthusiasm for this area.”

Life-Changing and Inspirational

When Principal David de Wit visited a class working on the project every group of grade nine students called him over to talk about their project, their Ambassador and their understanding of spinal cord injuries. “I was blown away at the level of engagement this project provided,” says David. “As a principal, you are always looking for ways to provide greater connections with the content and its application in the real world. This cross curricular, project based learning experience has provided just that.”

Perhaps the highest praise came from one student who described the opportunity to learn in this dynamic and different way as “life-changing and very inspirational”.

What is one thing you are going to do/use from the field trip?

"I am going to get to know a person for them and not see them differently just because they have a disability."

"I’m going to use the advice Rick Hansen gave us, which was never give up/keep trying. Those words will help me with everything I do."
The Rick Hansen Foundation School Program works with schools across Canada to increase understanding of disability. If your school is interested in partnering with us to develop a similar learning opportunity for your students please contact schools@rickhansen.com. You may also wish to explore our Abilities In Motion materials, which incorporate project-based learning and live presentations from Rick Hansen Ambassadors to teach about disability, access and inclusion.http://www.rickhansen.com/Our-Work/School-Program/Abilities-In-Motion/RHSS-Abbotsford