PORTLAND – As part of Commissioner Stephen Bowen’s school tour, he visited Fort Fairfield Elementary School students during their trip to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland last week.
Each year, GMRI’s LabVenture! program presents fifth and sixth graders with a new marine biology-related question that scientists need help answering.
Fort Fairfield students rotated through the institute’s lab stations to investigate their research question: why are there so many lobsters in the Gulf of Maine? In order to find out, students made use of GMRI’s standard marine biology equipment: microscopes, video cameras and real, live lobsters.
The institute’s educational programs offer interdisciplinary, student-centered learning environments that align with the Maine Department of Education’s goal that Maine students be able to learn anytime, anywhere. (See the Maine DOE’s strategic plan.)
Students used the scientific method to conduct research and manage their lobster data. “If they think about organizing the information, then they’re actually learning something,” said Alan Lishness, chief innovation officer for GMRI.
At other stations, students engaged in lobster tag and recapture exercises in addition to practicing economics basics to calculate how many lobster traps fishermen should use.
Since students contribute research towards the same types of questions scientists are answering, they should not expect to discover a “correct” answer—a concept Sarah Kirn, GMRI Vital Signs program manager, hopes participants learn. “It’s really important to understand the value of not finding something, too,” Kirn said.
Students’ lab images and data are compiled and presented in a colloquium at the session’s conclusion, allowing students to see the results of an entire afternoon spent thinking and acting like scientists. GMRI encourages students to become lifelong science learners at a young age, and the Maine Learning Technology Initiative was essential to the education program’s launch in 2006. LabVenture!, the first of the institute’s three academic programs, began after students gained access to MLTI laptops. “This program can’t be done without the technology,” Kirn said. Students’ MacBook experience allows them to enter the GMRI lab prepared to learn because they’re already familiar with technology.
GMRI and similar programs continue to drive Maine’s emergence as a science- and math-capable state.