2008 Annual Report
Gulf of Maine Research Institute

Deepening Our Impact: Education

A group of 7th graders takes pictures and writes field notes at a patch of Japanese knotweed near their school building. They use GPS to determine their location while they measure the leaves and stems of the plant. Their data, along with their classmates’, will be uploaded to the Vital Signs website, where it will be reviewed by scientists and used in their final project for…language arts?

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Vital Signs program creates authentic science learning experiences for middle school students.  But as any scientist knows, good science reaches across many other disciplines, such as math, language arts, and technology.  Not only do Vital Signs participants collect data, they write stories, draw pictures, and create graphs of their work.  These projects deepen their understanding of invasive species in Maine by examining the topic of invasives through many lenses.

Examples of Vital Signs cross-curricular connections  abound. Sherry Littlefield, a teacher from Pittsfield, Maine mixed science concepts with storytelling in a project that required her students to create comics based on invasive species.  Her students used their scientific understanding of species like purple loosestrife and garlic mustard, along with their creative writing skills, to explain the role the plants play in their new ecosystems.  Antona Briley, from Lincoln Middle School in Portland, asked her students to read and discuss how characters in novels change through time while simultaneously investigating how species and ecosystems change through time in response to invasive species introductions. Zack Brown, a math teacher in Portland, used our Mystery Graph curriculum series and an invasive species simulation game to hook and motivate his students to learn math concepts and skills. Students used graphs and evidence-based stories to make meaning of their Vital Signs data. Vital Signs staff created a series of lesson plans to inspire and help students and teachers understand that the process of scientific inquiry extends well beyond laboratory walls.

Integrating Vital Signs into subjects other than science makes it into an even more powerful learning experience. Sarah Kirn, Vital Signs Program Manager, explains that all subjects are inextricably linked and that bringing them all together under the framework of Vital Signs leads to a more authentic and interesting learning experience for participants.  Scientists use words, numbers, and images to tell stories about how the world works. Vital Signs participants use all of these skills to tell their own stories while engaging in scientific discovery.


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