It’s almost summer. The air is warm, the sun is shining and students are looking toward the end of the school year. While summer is a time for fun, friends and long days, it’s also a time when students can explore their interests and discover new worlds. This summer, Van Andel Education Institute (VAEI) is unveiling a unique summer opportunity for 4th through 7th grade students in the Grand Rapids area. The Institute will offer two week-long half-day camps where students can explore the life sciences in a way that’s hands-on, interactive and adventurous.
When Lisa Neeb, VAEI’s instructional specialist, began designing VAEI’s summer camp she wanted to create activities that would engage students with an immersive, collaborative experience focused on creativity and exploring the natural world.
“We wanted to design an experience that lets students explore and be inspired by new ideas and scientific concepts they’ve never thought of before,” Neeb said. “It’s going to be a place where students can think and work like scientists, ask their own questions, design their own experiments and discover their own answers.”
Understanding how animals live
The first camp offering, Animal Survivor: Pill Bugs, Newts and Geckos, Oh My! is geared toward 4th and 5th graders, and gives students the chance to study animal behavior, observe physical traits and discover what factors help animals survive in their environment. The students in this program can get up close and personal with a variety of animal species, and study first-hand how different life forms use biological survival modes to solve problems and thrive.
“During Animal Survivor we are going to look at how animals use structural and physical adaptation to survive in their environments,” Neeb said. “Each day will focus on a different organism we have at the Education Institute. Students will get to know invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles, and really explore how these animals survive”
Saving the planet
The camp for 6th and 7th graders, Environmental Forensics: What’s in the Water? is focused on understanding and developing solutions for complex issues such as oil spills, chemical contamination and other threats to the environment. Through hands-on observation, investigation and experiments, students can work collaboratively with peers to develop answers to real-life problems.
“It’s my hope that students who participate in the environmental forensics camp will learn that there are often multiple solutions to a single problem, and that in order to find the best solution you have to work collaboratively and think critically with your peers,” Neeb said.
No grades, just inspiration
Rather than tests and grades, the summer camps are focused on developing supportive learning relationships, building friendships, having fun and showing students that doing science can be creative and exciting.
“The camp is all about students experiencing the things they read about in books and letting them take an active role in the learning process,” Neeb said. “We really want students to be inspired by science and the natural world and, hopefully, they will take what they love learning about here and keep building on that initial spark of inspiration.”