Bias-Busting Obstacles
Redwood Coast Montessori: Eureka, CA | Designing Teachers: Jay Scrivner & Hart Ford

In the Bias Busting Obstacles project secondary students learn how human brains and historical context predispose us to be biased against those who are different– and how, through reflection, education, and activism, we can elect to change. Their learning culminates in an exhibition, for which students design, build, and curate a bias-busting obstacle course.  The goal of the obstacle course is to allow participants to experience the impact of a memorial in tandem with the inherent engagement of an obstacle course.

Watch the short video on the left to hear students reflecting on their learning throughout the project.

Academic Skills and Content:

  • How is the brain a system of interacting subsystems? (Brain anatomy, neuron anatomy, action potential – textile neuron model, dissection of sheep brain at HSU)
  • How do environmental conditions affect our nervous system? (neurotransmitters, effects of drugs / toxins on the nervous system, effect of stress on the nervous system – earthworm lab)
  • How can we use the model of input / process / output to understand how our brains gather information from the environment, process that information through our affective filters, and then respond with a behavior? (mirroring emotion lab)
  • How has discrimination played out in American history?
  • How does a group develop its sense of identify — and distance itself from the out group?
  • What methods can scientists use to understand social dynamics?

Final Product: Interactive exhibits for families and lower elementary students

Suggested Duration: 9 weeks



Created with the support of the California Department of Education California Career Pathways Trust

Final Products: What the Students Made
Final Products: What the Students Made

Students created interactive exhibits about the neuroscience and social conditioning of bias, and what can be done to disrupt it.

You can see a ten second “360 degree” view of exhibition night to the left of this text.

Core Practice 1: Voice and Choice
Core Practice 1: Voice and Choice

Student voice and choice are integral to the Bias-Busting Obstacles project because the project addresses multiple disciplines across grade levels.  The students, therefore, need multiple entry points in order to successfully create the project’s final product, an interactive obstacle course. Honoring student voice and allowing students to make choices about the topic, exhibit design, and other elements of the project enable those multiple entry points.

In this project, students are allowed to work in groups or as individuals. The configuration of student groups is determined throughout the course of the project, as students progress in their science and humanities classes over the semester. See the “Confronting Bias PBL Template” resource below for an example of how students are directed to develop their voice so that they can make informed choices.

Voice and choice are also driving forces in helping students refine their project and improve their exhibition. See the “Iterative Brainstorm: Whole Group Problem Solving” resource below for one example of how the project enables students to identify issues and work to solve them.

Core Practice 2: Reflective Practice Through Critique
Core Practice 2: Reflective Practice Through Critique

Students engage in multiple rounds of critique throughout the Bias-Busting Obstacles project, in the form of feedback within the whole group, individually with teachers, and in pairs with other students. Critique is focused either around specific questions (ie: How will you lead your audience from one idea to another?) or around general glows and grows.

After the exhibition, student groups pair up and interview one another. They reflect on their growth both personally and academically. In order to foster collegial relationships between students, this final reflection is in the form of a conversation rather than a writing assignment. The student reflections are used to write short letters to families. See the resources below for two sample “Family Reflection Letters” as well as two other resources related to student critique in the project.

Core Practice 3: Cross-Curricular Integration
Core Practice 3: Cross-Curricular Integration

Discrimination and bias are interdisciplinary, complex issues, impacted by the biology of how human brains work and by the history of the United States. In the Bias-Busting Obstacles project, science and the humanities are, therefore, similarly integrated. In order to make the learning relevant and applicable to the project, it is imperative that teachers engaging in this project are explicit with students about how what they are learning in the different disciplines is related to the project.

In this project, students work in their separate humanities and science classes on collaboratively-developed curriculum but also have the opportunity to engage in some activities together as combined humanities-science classes. See the “What Shapes a Person” resource below for an example of an activity within the project that combines the humanities and science classes. The combined classes help students activate prior knowledge about a topic and provide background information on a key concept from one of the two disciplines.

More Interdisciplinary PBL Essentials: