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2014 LabVenture! Annual Impact Report

In 2014, GMRI’s LabVenture! program served 67% of the grade cohort across Maine, welcoming 8,729 middle school students and their teachers from 100 schools, as well as an intrepid crew of 185 students from Gloucester, MA. Students’ imaginations were captivated the moment the colorful LabVenture! bus pulls up to their school. Providing free roundtrip transportation helps break down barriers to access, ensuring that all Maine students can participate, regardless of location or school budgets. We are grateful to all our supporters and partners who help us open the doors of science for thousands of kids each year.

“An Experience I Will Never Forget”

Students teamed up to assume the roles of scientists and fishermen at a series of multimedia-enabled lab stations as they worked to unravel a science mystery. They squealed with laughter as they handled live lobsters, peered studiously through microscopes, pointed out lobsters and fish interacting in our large benthic tank, and strategized together to succeed during virtual fishing trips.

A pinnacle experience like LabVenture! that captures the imagination and cultivates science literacy has continued impact beyond that day’s adventures. 

Several students sought out extracurricular methods of extending their learning beyond the classroom. We were excited this year to welcome a dozen middle school children to a Sea State lecture on the invasion of green crabs, a non-native species here in the Gulf of Maine. We believe one of the children developed a fascination for marine science when they participated in LabVenture!, and encouraged his friends and their families to learn more. This kind of engagement, where students begin to grow and explore on their own, is an integral part of long-term motivation and interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Two college students who were among the first students to participate in LabVenture! reached out this year to reconnect: a local sophomore as an intern with our finance department and a freshman at Georgetown University researching “discourse communities” which convene various stakeholders around contentious issues to build consensus and understanding. Their fond memories and passion for our work (ten years later!) demonstrates that, in addition to science content and STEM engagement, LabVenture! can have lasting impact on the next generation’s view of the world.

LabVenture! 2014 by the Numbers

38Generous sponsors
8,729Fifth and sixth grade students served statewide
185Students visiting from Gloucester, MA
100Schools attending (See who participated)
214LV sessions
428Teachers visiting and engaged
450Deeper Learning activity packets distributed
18,389Miles traveled in total to and from LabVenture! - the equivalent of driving roundtrip from our lab to Key West, FL five times!
51,360Digital artifacts uploaded to student personal sites

LabVenture! Builds Student Motivation and Aspirations in STEM

LabVenture! engaged students in complex scenarios that concentrated on science practices rather than on specific “right” answers. The work was stimulating and imaginative, with lots of teamwork, interaction, and divergent thinking. Students experienced what it’s like to work collaboratively and articulate their own conclusions, rather than memorize and recite facts. LabVenture! shows kids a whole new world of investigation and inquiry.

Take Miller Elementary School for example: their 5th grade classes have come to our lab every year since 2007. As an under-resourced school with nearly half of all students scoring below proficient on standardized science tests, LabVenture! gives them a unique chance to inspire student interest and motivation in science.

Carol Lariviere, their teacher, shared how the program impacted her students with LabVenture! staff after this year’s trip:

The thinking that Carol noticed in her students is pivotal to rigorous learning in science, technology, engineering and math. Critical thinking and creative problem solving are essential 21st century skills that ripple throughout a student’s education. Reasoning with evidence gives students the ability to weigh many sources and varieties of information and build a logical conclusion. In fact, Carol’s students showed a 36% increase in their confidence in using data to answer a question. Miller Elementary students, and the thousands of other 5th and 6th graders that visit LabVenture! each year, are building a solid foundation of these skills through LabVenture!.

It is cases like these that demonstrate the impact and power of LabVenture!. Students began to see themselves as scientists and as individuals who can actively contribute to the STEM field. This effect makes a difference throughout their learning; they remember what it means to be curious, what it takes to experiment, and what it feels like to be active explorers of the unknown.

New Models of Evaluation and Collecting Feedback

We know from the thousands of thank you notes that we get from students and teachers that LabVenture! sparks student engagement in STEM. Our evaluation efforts look to quantify exactly how the program changes student perceptions and confidence in science. Throughout the year, our educators asked students a series of questions about their confidence in experimenting, their interest in science or science careers, and their enjoyment of collaboration. We were encouraged to hear one student reflect on his experience this way:

Our staff also worked with an independent evaluator to develop a new observation tool for teachers to provide feedback and input during the visit. The tool will shed light on student learning at each station, and offer teachers the opportunity to step back and reflect on how their students learn and how they might incorporate collaborative and authentic learning back in the classroom. The evaluator interviewed several teachers extensively to uncover what would be the best support for them and for students. We will be refining this new tool over the course of the year.