VS Learning Environment

A next-generation learning environment

In classrooms across the state, Vital Signs is helping transform how teachers teach and how students learn science. Essential to this next-generation learning environment are experiences that are:
-Connected to place
-Connected to community
-Student-centered & student-driven

Learning that is authentic

Just like scientists, Vital Signs students operate in an inquiry environment. They make observations, ask questions, form hypotheses, collect and make meaning of data, share conclusions with a critical audience, and review the work of their peers. Students are challenged to be curious, think critically, evaluate information, support claims with evidence, negotiate, and pool their knowledge with peers to find answers to scientific questions. They use the tools of science and habits of mind of scientists not just for their own learning, but also in service to the scientific community.

The goal of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative has been to engage students in “meaningful work." By connecting middle school classrooms with active research Vital Signs accomplishes this goal with style.
Jeff Mao, Learning Technology Policy Director, Maine Department of Education

The observations they make, projects they create, conversations they have, and feedback they offer are of tremendous value to answering our shared research questions around invasive species in Maine. Collaboration among many learners and experts on shared questions creates a rich discussion and robust database of information that becomes a resource for conversation, data mining, analysis, and investigation through time and across geography.

Learning that is connected to place

Vital Signs investigations are intimately tied to a place that has meaning to students – a freshwater stream where they fish, the trails where they hike and ski, the rocks where they go tide pooling. "Beginning close to home, learners forge connection with, explore, and understand their immediate surroundings. The sensitivity, knowledge, and skills needed for this local connection provide a base for moving out into larger systems, broader issues, and an expanding understanding of causes, connections, and consequences." NAAEE 2004

Students investigate native and invasive species first in a familiar place, and can then begin to understand, make connections, see patterns, or draw comparisons with other places in their local watershed and throughout the larger Gulf of Maine watershed.

Learning that is connected to a community

Nothing replaces the value of taking students out of the classroom to collect and then analyze their own data. Their work becomes even more meaningful because we share it with scieintists and classrooms across the state.
Mike Denniston, Middle School of the Kennebunks, York County

Vital Signs students are part of a diverse community of scientists, citizen scientists, teachers, and peers capable of confronting large scale, complex problems beyond the ability of any individual student. "Students are legitimately engaged in real work, fully participating in the technical and social interchanges and almost through osmosis are picking up not only the practice, but also the set of sensibilities, beliefs and idiosyncrasies of this particular community" (John Seeley Brown 2006).

Participation in the Vital Signs community helps students understand how to think like, act like, and learn to be scientists or informed, participatory citizens. Equipped with appropriate tools and connected with a community of experts, students are able to make real contributions to the work of professional and citizen scientists. The scientific community’s ready involvement demonstrates the value they place on students’ contributions.

Vital Signs encourages and supports classroom teachers and out-of-school educators as they incorporate into their pedagogy inquiry-based methodologies that foster critical and creative thinking, problem-solving, communication, and playful collaboration.

Learning that is student-centered & student-driven

I love that Vital Signs changes the focus of learning science from the study of answers to the process of discovery.
Franklin Sames, Teacher, Lincoln Middle School, Cumberland County

It is important that students be given increasing choice, control, and ownership of their learning. The team approach allows students a greater sense of autonomy in their learning. Students rely on and assist one another throughout, lending essential peer support to the learning process. Datasheets, species identification resources, online data entry pages, and peer review process were all carefully designed (with students) to allow students a greater sense of autonomy while they develop new skills, construct new meaning, internalize the inquiry process, and extend their learning beyond the classroom.

Motivated students may choose to follow their own interests and continue their Vital Signs participation outside the classroom. The opportunities are many, including data collection, peer or expert review, creating projects, and discussing ideas.