LabVenture Returns to the Cohen Center for Interactive Learning
After a year of remote learning, we were thrilled to welcome students back to our lab in the fall of 2021.
As schools returned to in-person learning and navigated a new array of challenges, from frequent COVID exposures to unprecedented staffing shortages, educators and students alike were feeling exhausted and burnt out. In response, we focused on meeting schools where they needed us most. For some, this meant providing a safe space to be deeply immersed in hands-on learning. For others, we maintained virtual offerings so that students could continue to engage with us from afar. Our most popular virtual offering, Scientist To Go, provided students with the opportunity to connect directly with expert scientists from a diverse mix of backgrounds, areas of expertise, and levels of experience, showing students that anyone can be a scientist. Whether students joined us in our laboratory or remotely, we sought to revitalize a sense of excitement and wonder around science learning.
For many students, their 2021–2022 LabVenture visit was their first field trip in years! This made the experience especially meaningful as students moved through LabVenture’s learning progression to survey plankton samples, handle and measure live lobster, and digitally dissect black sea bass. From the moment students step foot in our lab, we strive to bring science to life and reinvigorate their confidence and curiosity around learning.
LabVenture at a Glance
Thousands of students passed through our Cohen Center doors to engage in hands-on learning.
Scientist To Go Participants
Over three hundred students joined us virtually to learn from real scientists with diverse backgrounds.
Our furthest visitors came from Caribou, a 600 mile round trip!
Students and educators from all 16 counties visited us this year.
Approximately 50% of the students who visited LabVenture were from low- to moderate-income households.
Throughout the school year, we received thoughtful feedback from students and educators sharing what LabVenture meant to them:
“This was a great experience for everyone. Because of COVID, we haven't had a field trip in years, so it just felt normal. Although this trip was definitely not just a normal field trip – this was an experience that we will all remember. I learned so much about the Gulf of Maine, black sea bass, and what's going on with the environment. My favorite part had to be looking at plankton under the microscope. I learned more about the Gulf of Maine on this trip than I could have in the classroom.”
— Chasen, Benton Elementary School
“I had so much fun and would do it again in a heartbeat. I think my favorite part of the trip was when we looked at plankton through the microscope. I am so grateful for this trip and glad I can bring this information back to my school. I think this trip will make me better at reading data and charts.”
– Mia, Gardiner Regional Middle School
“Our trip to GMRI was extraordinary. We got to learn about problems on our planet regarding marine life and the oceans. We made hypotheses, handled lobsters, and used giant touch screen tables. I now know more facts and have more courage to become a marine biologist in the future.”
— Lillianna, Jordan Small School
"Teaching in a small school in midcoast Maine, I've found that people often assume that our students know a great deal about the Gulf of Maine. In reality, many of our students only have a basic understanding of the very community they live in. While climate change is something our students have heard about in the news, they were able to make it "real life" by creating connections. Watching their faces light up when they realized they had schema around these topics was delightful.”
– Ms. Adams, Union Elementary School
"Our students were thoroughly engaged throughout the morning and loved having the hands-on approach that GMRI uses. Having all learners get the chance to use scientific tools showed them that science is not confined to textbooks. The technology they had to work with was outstanding. This trip truly brings science to life for our students.”
– Mr. Meader, Sylvio J. Gilbert Elementary School
“LabVenture was wonderful this year! Students were engaged throughout the morning. They asked thoughtful questions and responded to GMRI's educational team with evidence-based facts they learned from the program. I am happy to report that the children are learning about real science: data collection, interpretation, collaboration, and evaluation. With GMRI's resources, my teaching has evolved to include this real, meaningful science.”
– Ms. O’Brien, St. Brigid School
Accessibility and Educator Support
While much of the magic of LabVenture happens in our Cohen Center for Interactive Learning — from handling live lobster to utilizing state-of-the-art equipment — the immersive program extends well beyond the walls of our lab. To ensure that students and educators alike are getting the most out of LabVenture, we strive to provide them with robust support and resources to kickstart and sustain their STEM learning journey. Our education team has designed wrap-around curriculum to provide educators with learning modules that introduce the concepts explored during LabVenture, provide recaps on the experience once back in the classroom, and help students practice newly developed skills across a broad range of projects.
We also provide professional development opportunities to help educators grow the comfort and confidence to implement hands-on STEM learning in their classrooms. Educators from across Maine join us for in-person, virtual, or hybrid workshops where they experience LabVenture firsthand, explore how it integrates with our wrap-around curriculum and other educational programs, and build connections with fellow teachers to share experiences and ideas. Participating teachers are provided with stipends, mileage reimbursements, and lodging to enable access.
These educator support systems complement our commitment to accessibility (LabVenture and all associated transportation is offered to students and teachers at no cost to them, their schools, or families) to ensure that transformative STEM experiences are available to all students and educators, regardless of their resources.
2021-22 LabVenture Service Map
This is a map depicting the different counties of Maine in shades of blue, and schools in dots of orange.
During the 2021–2022 school year, we served students in all of Maine's 16 counties. In the map above, orange dots indicate schools that participated in LabVenture, black lines indicate school districts, and the color bar indicates the percentage of students who qualified for free or subsidized lunch.
A LabVenture Educator's Perspective
Last year was a trying year in the pandemic for students as well as educators. There was so much uncertainty coupled with so much longing for normalcy. Under these conditions, it felt all the more important to get students and teachers in person to participate in LabVenture as safely as we could. For so many at GMRI, even those not on the Education team, it was a huge morale boost to have students back in the building. We got to see children laughing and playing, excited to learn and experience something new. Even with the various COVID-related cancellations, we still managed to host over 5,700 fifth and sixth graders throughout the school year. We were flexible and offered some online options (like LabVenture Express and Scientist To Go) but on the whole, we got to see students face to face. The classroom teachers told us time and time again how good it was for the kids to go on a field trip for the first time in years. Some students had never even left their town and were getting a chance to see the ocean for the first time. Moments like that are quite humbling and remind me how special this program really is.
As soon as they are in the lab, students immediately begin asking questions and posing different hypotheses around each of the subjects we cover. It is so rewarding to see students thinking like scientists, collecting data themselves, and even getting the chance to see themselves as scientists. Many share that they didn't know science could be so fun or tell us that they want to work with us at GMRI when they grow up. Some students even lag behind their peers as they file out the door for a chance to ask just one more question before they leave. Personally, my favorite moment is when we hand the students live lobsters to hold and study. Sometimes we will have a student who is scared or refuses at first, but then after a little support or a peer's help, they are holding the lobsters and beaming with pride. It is those moments that show the true magic of LabVenture.
Looking to the Future
As we all continue to find our stride in the “new normal,” GMRI is eager to re-elevate our reach to pre-pandemic numbers. In the 2022–2023 school year, we are striving to welcome ~8,200 students to our lab by re-engaging schools we haven’t seen since before the pandemic and reaching new schools who have never before experienced LabVenture. We remain focused on providing a STEM learning experience that is engaging and immersive, equipping students with foundational science skills while reinvigorating their love for learning. We are also prioritizing educator professional development opportunities to ensure teachers have the resources and support they need to elevate STEM curriculum in their classrooms.
Poland Spring is a statewide partner in delivering LabVenture through their Good Neighbor grant program. Poland Spring partners with us to foster the next generation of water stewards. For more information, visit www.PolandSpring.com.
- Abbott Diagnostics Scarborough, Inc.
- Alfred M. Senter Fund
- Arlene Briard
- Bangor Savings Bank
- Bank of America Charitable Foundation
- Bath Iron Works
- Bath Savings Institution
- Charles C. Butt
- Clark Insurance
- Edwin S. Webster Foundation
- George P. Davenport Trust Fund
- Harold H. Dudley Charitable Fund
- Harry W. Konkel
- Hyman Family Foundation
- Katahdin Trust Company
- Kennebunk Savings Bank
- Kleinschmidt Group
- M&T Bank
- Machias Savings Bank
- Marr-Anderson Family Foundation
- MMG Insurance Company
- Norway Savings Bank
- Old Bug Light Charitable Foundation
- Phineas W. Sprague Memorial Foundation
- Pond Family Foundation
- Portland Pipe Line Corporation
- R.H. Reny’s, Inc.
- RBC Wealth Management, USA
- Robert G. & Jane V. Engel Foundation
- Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution
- Seth Sprague Educational and Charitable Foundation
- Skowhegan Savings Bank
- TD Charitable Foundation
- The Robert & Dorothy Goldberg Charitable Foundation
- WesaDoe Fund
Special thanks to our partners at Custom Coach and Limousine and Cyr Bus Lines who play an integral role in helping us reach students from every corner of Maine.
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