Institute is building a national footprint through technology


Visit Van Andel Institute on Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile and you’ll see plenty of evidence of our sense of history.

That is especially true for me and my wife, Carol, when we view the in-lobby portraits of my parents, Jay and Betty, who founded the Institute in 1996. Alongside these portraits are quotes — personal mission statements, if you will — reminding us that my father’s passion was for biomedical research and my mother’s was for science education. An educator herself, she understood the importance of kindling the love of discovery in young minds, and because of this passion Van Andel Education Institute was born.

Today VAEI is comprised of two entities: the Science Academy for both elementary and high school students and their teachers, and Van Andel Institute Graduate School. While students have always been the focal point of our work, our ability to teach the teacher through professional development programs has emerged as another exciting way to change the paradigm of science education.

Why is there a need for sweeping change in the field of science education? The case for change is clear: the below-average performance of U.S. students in the Program for International Student Assessment for countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Yet at the same time, jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — in the U.S. are expected to grow at a higher rate than non-STEM jobs through 2018, resulting in 2.4 million unfilled job vacancies in the most influential occupations, according to Adecco Staffing Solutions Inc.

Teachers recognize that one key to solving the problem lies in technology, yet only 2 percent of U.S. science teachers in grades 6-12 believe they have the effective digital instructional tools they need, according to a 2014 survey conducted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Teachers seek and need technology that improves their classroom, adds capabilities to enhance their existing curriculum, acknowledges their commitment to their students and science, and is universally accessible.

VAEI has developed an approach to learning science that we call QPOE2  — Question, Prediction, Observation, Explanation and Evaluation. QPOE2  is student-centered and enables students to think and act like scientists. But it’s not just the students who learn in our laboratory classrooms; the teachers also become immersed in the model.

This fall, we will launch a program to share this approach with teachers across the nation. NexGen Inquiry is a cloud-based science investigation platform that fosters better teacher and student communication, expands teacher professional development, and provides a support and resource community. Designed by teachers for teachers, our NexGen Inquiry solution provides teachers a virtual classroom with guided electronic student lab journals supporting an inquiry-based approach to their existing curriculum.

We have been building a regional science teacher community at our Science Academy in Grand Rapids for the past decade. In that time we have served more than 700 teachers, taught more than 2,000 students in our hands-on laboratories and inspired more than 50,000 students through our teacher community. Building on the great success of these programs regionally, we are excited about the prospects of extending these best practices on the national stage. The impact could be tremendous!

David Van Andel is president and CEO of Van Andel Institute.

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