Van Andel Education Institute (VAEI) has a mission: to advance and promote science education and increase the number of students who choose to pursue careers in science or science-related fields.
On Wednesday, April 20, the pursuit of this mission was on display. A group of 17 middle school students completed their final step in the three-year Out-of-School Time Cohort Program by presenting their investigations to friends, family, and Institute staff.
The cohort program provides a unique opportunity for West Michigan’s youth to be engaged in science and develop skills that they may not have the opportunity to at school. Thanks in part to the generous support from the Rottman Family Charitable Foundation and its Executive Director, Doug Rottman. Every child is able to participate in the cohort program free of charge.
Throughout the program, students have the opportunity to learn firsthand about the practices involved in science. Students are provided materials and tools to think and act like scientists, including VAEI’s newest product, NexGen Inquiry®. This web-based platform supports students as they plan, implement, and evaluate their investigations using the VAEI developed Community of Practice model.
The third year cohort organizes all of their investigations around one common question, “How does our health depend on genetic diversity?” This year, the students pursued answers to this question by breaking into five investigation teams; C. elegans, microbiology, fish and growth physiology, Daphnia I and Daphnia II. The work these sixth and seventh grade students did throughout the year is nothing short of extraordinary.
Students’ investigations ranged from measuring the effect of sleeping pills on the heart rate of Daphnia’s, while others looked at how alcohol and adrenaline affect the growth rate of Wisconsin Fast Plants. One young girl even looked to see how the soda, Dr. Pepper, affects the tail wags of a guppy (as you might have guessed, the amount of tail wagging per minute increased).
The Education Institute is proud to see another class graduate from the three year program. It is heartwarming and inspiring to see young minds at work, developing critical thinking skills, while maintaining their curiosity for the world, and hopefully, for science.