VAEI releases web platform for science education


Van Andel Institute hopes NexGen Inquiry can help advance science education nationally. Courtesy VAI

Van Andel Education Institute hopes a new interactive, web-based instructional tool will empower teachers and engage students in science and engineering investigations.

VAEI announced earlier this month the release of an organizer platform known as NexGen Inquiry, which is the product of more than a decade of work with students and science educators at the institute’s Science Academy.

The platform

Launched in advance of the 2015-16 academic year, the instructional support tool was designed by teachers to help engage students to think and act like scientists. NexGen Inquiry provides an interactive teaching and learning platform supporting existing curriculum, integrated professional development, teacher community and a resource library.

Incorporating VAEI’s Community of Scientific Practice model, NexGen Inquiry focuses on hands-on learning and inquiry-based science investigations. The cloud-based tool allows teachers to organize student-centered scientific inquiry and engineering design investigations, while focusing on concepts such as questions, predictions, observations, explanations and evaluations.

Jessica O’Donnell, a fifth grade teacher at Spring Lake Intermediate School, said the Community of Scientific Practice opened her eyes to real, hands-on science and has taken science instruction methods to the next level.

“I am excited to incorporate the NexGen Inquiry teaching and learning platform with my fifth grade class this year as we increase technology access for our students,” said O’Donnell.

The features

NexGen Inquiry includes three main interactive features: the teacher classroom, which allows educators to manage student, small group and class projects using web-based student journals; the teacher community, with built-in forums to ask questions and connect with other colleagues; and the resource library, which provides access to support materials and investigation templates.

Educators can try the NexGen Inquiry platform for a free trial period of 90 days, before paying an annual subscription of approximately $48 for full access to the teacher classroom and student journal applications for one educator and an entire classroom.

The impact

While designed to meet the growing need for enhanced tools, resources and teacher professional development in science education, NexGen Inquiry is also intended as a national outreach to advance science education and increase the number of students choosing careers in science-related fields.

Jim Nicolette, associate director of VAEI’s Science Academy, said the organization is very excited to take the success of its face-to-face professional development and extend its reach to teachers across the country.

“The beauty of the online professional development offered within NexGen Inquiry is the opportunity for teachers to learn, enhance, strengthen and apply the best practices of inquiry-based teaching and learning,” said Nicolette.

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