How does blubber keep a penguin warm despite frigid temperatures? How do you predict a blubber glove will protect your own hand in a bowl of ice water? What have you observed from the experiment? Students at Jenison Christian School (JCS) answer questions like these as they learn to ‘think like scientists’ through prediction and observation. 

"I love experiments and trying to solve problems,” fourth-grade student Brandon Weber, says.

JCS has always encouraged students to think critically, and now instructors are learning how to encourage those skills even more through professional development that incorporates inquiry and practice-based learning and is part of a partnership with the Van Andel Education Institute (VAEI), an independent research and education organization located in Grand Rapids. Through grant funding, JCS teachers attend VAEI to learn the Question, Prediction, Observation, Evaluation and Explanation (QPOE2) model to get students engaged in the process of science and understanding concepts through scientific exploration. 

The VAEI training has helped JCS teachers bring innovative science education into the classroom by giving students more autonomy to create their own predictions and investigate. Students are encouraged to ask more questions, take risks and learn from experiences as opposed to memorizing concepts. This technique helps immerse students into the process of understanding science-and other subjects-at higher comprehension levels.

“I have done lessons like these before, but after the QPOE2 training I increased the prediction and application sections,” second-grade teacher Jane Mulder says. “The students are now involved more in the thinking processes of actually doing science, rather than just hearing information.”

Students are benefitting from –and enjoying- the new teaching method that encourages them to collect and analyze data, ask questions and reach their own conclusions through this hands-on approach. 

“Incorporating the inquiry-based model into the lessons has created a curious culture in my classroom,” third and fourth-grade teacher Megan Westlund says. “The first thing my students ask me in the morning is what we are doing in science in the afternoon.” 

JCS Principal Tim Paauw says inquiry-based learning encourages students to be more curious and confident in science as well as other classes throughout their school years. 

“My favorite thing about science is that we do experiments and discover things,” a student in Megan’s class, Tessa Ponstein says.

This type of response is exactly what staff at JCS love to see. They are committed to always providing for their students and the reason why they work with VAEI.

“We are constantly pursuing excellence in education,” Tim says. “We always look at the best practices and research that will impact our students’ learning for the better.”  

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“Volunteering honors Martin Luther King Jr. because he said anybody can be great because anybody can serve. It show our part by serving the community.” —Evan, GHAPS student

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