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2015 LabVenture! Annual Impact Report

Ten years ago, GMRI opened the doors of our newly constructed research institute to 5th and 6th grade students from across the state for our LabVenture! program. We set out to connect students to science, to make it real and relevant, and to empower them with the skills and mindset of a scientist. Today, those 5th and 6th grade students are recent college graduates. Each year has been a whirlwind of activity and learning, with thousands of kids visiting our interactive learning center. On February 24, 2016, our 100,000th student participated in LabVenture!. The full list of schools that participated in 2015 can be found here.

We are grateful to all our supporters and partners who help us open the doors of science for Maine’s young learners. Over the years, LabVenture! has provided students with learning experiences rooted in compelling research and educational best practices. From Mystery of the X-Fish to Lobsters: Untold Tales to Complex Systems, students explore the world of science during their time at GMRI.

LabVenture!: A Learning Lab

LabVenture! is constantly evolving. Our staff combines their education and science training to ask questions, gather data, and make improvements to the program. This year, the LabVenture! team focused on improving student engagement, as self-reported at each of the four activity stations.

The station focusing on climate change and its impacts on plankton was the first item the LabVenture! team tackled. Interviews with students and observations of student behavior showed that students had many misconceptions about climate change, and that looking at dead plankton samples through a microscope wasn’t very engaging.

With data in hand, our staff prototyped activities for students to observe live plankton! Seeing that this was much more engaging for students, we then shifted the story line to address some of the misconceptions students had. Students learned how water conditions are changing due to climate change, impacting the plankton that live in our oceans. Focusing on copepods, an important species of plankton, students then drew conclusions about how a warming Gulf of Maine might impact copepods.

The revisions are definitely more engaging for students, and they leave the station with a better understanding of climate change and its impacts on copepods, a key source of food for many species in the Gulf of Maine.

Extending Learning Into the Classroom

In May 2015, we launched our first ever LabVenture! educator survey. Our goal was to collect feedback on the LabVenture! experience and extension activities, and to assess some of the program’s impacts. Of the 105 teachers who completed the survey, roughly half of them indicated that LabVenture! is part of a larger classroom unit for their students.

We asked teachers to share their observations about how students’ LabVenture! experience at GMRI impacted their experiences with science back in the classroom. The majority of teachers reported that after their LabVenture! visit, students showed an increased positive attitude towards science, an increased interest in science, and a better understanding of the nature of science than before.

Through the survey, our Summer Institute (a multi-day professional development workshop), and in conversations during LabVenture! sessions, many teachers shared stories of how they incorporate LabVenture! into a larger unit in their classroom. Here’s one story:

“An ongoing theme in 6th grade science is systems and what happens when a part of the system is missing or gone. LabVenture! Complex Systems was a great introduction to this concept. We studied the water cycle as a system and then looked more locally at how our watershed is a part of the Gulf of Maine watershed. As a culminating activity, each student group developed a poster of a system within the water cycle and presented to their classmates.

We are very grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the LabVenture! Summer Institute. It enabled us to prepare our students for their LabVenture! experience. We were then able to carry the concepts they learned through LabVenture! into our systems discussion throughout the year.”

– Lakes Region Middle School teachers Kathy Minigell and Kathleen Tragert

Read more about this story and others from classrooms across Maine.

Assessing Impact

Our staff continued to advance our evaluation efforts, including instituting the Dimensions of Success, a highly regarded tool in the field of informal learning in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). This tool enables us to track the quality of STEM learning opportunities in LabVenture! and pinpoint strengths and weaknesses.

With several team members trained in the Dimensions of Success, we can compare findings and collaborate to craft resulting improvements. We can test the effectiveness of these improvements, and design new content using the best practices laid out by this tool. We also have access to the network of trained observers around the region who can execute more objective, external observations as needed. All of these benefits will help us provide evidence of LabVenture!’s effectiveness in comparison to other informal STEM programs around the country. We are excited to begin analyzing the data we’ve collected as 2016 continues.