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Teachers tap into existing online project-based lessons

Museum, zoo, research institute offer programs

With their expansive collections of artifacts, animals and research materials, who better to deliver lessons to children learning from home than the Grand Rapids Public Museum, John Ball Park Zoo and Van Andel Institute?

A student creates a musical instrument during Virtual Camp Curious (Courtesy Grand Rapids Public Museum)

As teachers everywhere scramble to modify instruction to engage online learners, local cultural institutions are offering a hand. Project-based lessons are ready and available for educators to use as supplements to their teaching. Many are free and some have a nominal cost. Some offer scholarships.

Think of third graders exploring museum artifacts on ancient Egypt or delving into fossil samples through GRPM’s Virtual Learning Kids. Envision sending students on GRPM’s Virtual Scavenger Hunt amidst 250,000 artifacts and scientific specimens.

“What the museum can offer really well is a connection to our rich collection–a quarter of a million objects that tie into science, history and culture,” said Erin Koren, director of education for GRPM. 

The zoo and VAI have vast resources too. Imagine inviting students to join zookeepers in keeping animals physically and mentally active through John Ball Zoo’s Animal Enrichment Program or watching fourth graders learn to inspire public policy change through VAI’s Take a Stand lesson.

A list of available lessons and programs is here.

Embedding the 6Cs

A student does experiments during Virtual Camp Curious (Courtesy Grand Rapids Public Museum)

There’s a group behind efforts to get existing educational lessons from local institutions in front of educators and students. Michigan Future, Inc. is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that collaborates with economic and community development leaders. One initiative has been reforming education to center instruction on skills needed for future jobs. While much of that work is on hold due to the pandemic, the group is still working to help schools engage students during this challenging time, said Lou Glazer, president and co-founder of Michigan Future. 

 “What we want to do is get in front of West Michigan educators the current offerings they already have, many of which can be delivered online,” he said. “They are out-of-the-box, ready lessons teachers can use for online learning.”

Glazer has been instrumental in efforts to embed skills known to create well-rounded thinkers into education. They are the 6Cs: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation and confidence. 

He works closely with Godfrey-Lee Public Schools administrators and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, co-author of the book “Becoming Brilliant” and has helped lead several events around the philosophy. Also, Godfrey-Lee has ingrained the 6Cs into its curriculum over the past several years.

A student studies a fossil during Virtual Camp Curious (Courtesy Grand Rapids Public Museum)

Sarah Wood, technology and media integration specialist at Godfrey-Lee, has already partnered with cultural institutions to deliver six weeks of virtual STEAM-based activities this summer through her program, Camp Legend. She used a Van Andel Institute lesson on glow-in-the-dark things and a zoo video on sloths, challenging campers to create the slowest moving maze ever.

She’s thrilled with the idea of continuing to partner with cultural institutions as she ramps up instruction, and hopes to use their resources to help make remote education accessible and engaging for all students. 

It may not be ideal, but there’s a new world of possibilities when it comes to combining existing practices with new ideas, Wood said.  “It’s thinking outside the biggest box we can imagine,” she said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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