Today’s students are the future of human health


New therapies for cancer and other human diseases begin as ideas — ideas conceived by research scientists with creative minds, problem-solving skills, and a deep, resonant understanding of the scientific process.

These important skills are often learned in classrooms, by young students who are unafraid to ask questions, work collaboratively and be thoroughly engaged in the process of discovery.

Unfortunately, American students are lagging behind in the very field that can change the course of human health; they are increasingly under-informed about the sciences and underprepared to step into science-related professions.

In 2013, only 36 percent of U.S. high school students were ready for college-level science, according to The National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit focused on improving student performance in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.

Reform is critical. To improve STEM skills in America, we must continue to nurture students who are interested in science and are passionate about applying their interests to benefit the greater good. Mentorship and process-based learning are inherent in the very nature of careers in the sciences. Bringing this approach into the classroom can revolutionize the way science is taught and have a profound effect.

The inquiry model

Inquiry-based learning is an educational model showing great promise in both engaging students in the scientific process and allowing teachers greater flexibility in how they engage students.

Van Andel Education Institute’s core principles are centered on inquiry-based learning. Our Science Academy programs for elementary, middle and high school students, as well as our curriculum for Van Andel Institute Graduate School, are all formed from an inquiry-based model.

Inquiry-based science education is closely connected to the scientific practices and mirrors the way professional scientists work in the laboratory. Instead of memorizing facts and figures in a textbook, inquiry-based learning allows students to explore the natural world by asking questions and developing and testing hypotheses.

Students and teachers involved in this model use hands-on activities and experiments to construct basic scientific knowledge and discover their own insights into their world. The model is designed around three dimensions: Habits of Mind, a Socially and Language Rich Environment, and the QPOE2 investigation organizer. The QPOE2 dimension highlights the scientific process of asking a Question, making a Prediction, collecting data through Observation, developing an Explanation consisting of a claim supported by evidence and sound reasoning, and ongoing Evaluation to refine and improve the process.

The inquiry-based model creates an environment where students can make their own discoveries, collaborate and explore the creative nature of science. By seeking answers to questions through investigations, students learn basic science principals and discover a style of learning that is pro-active and collaborative.


If our nation is to remain competitive in the global marketplace of ideas, sweeping science education reform is needed in order to prepare students with 21st century skills. Students need challenging, creative learning techniques that allow them to be dynamic problem solvers, and teachers need resources that are affordable and easy to implement.

Van Andel Education Institute’s NexGen Inquiry online learning portal provides teachers and students with a collaborative, cloud-based education tool that can change the science education paradigm. NexGen Inquiry gives students and teachers from across the globe the opportunity to experience the inquiry model that has been tested and implemented with great success in more than 27 school districts in West Michigan. Since NexGen Inquiry’s rollout in July, educators in 43 states and countries such as Australia, Canada, India, Puerto Rico and Singapore have begun using the inquiry-based model.

NexGen Inquiry provides access to learning tools and innovative technology that can reawaken students’ natural curiosity and help them develop a lifelong passion for science. The scientists of the future and the discoveries they might one day find depend on us to change a failing system and help awaken young minds’ natural love of learning.

If we are to live in a future filled with innovation, health and well-being, we must invest in the next generation’s vision, creativity and brilliance.

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

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