For one week, more than 100 Burton Elementary School fifth graders called the Grand Rapids Public Museum their classroom. This unique learning opportunity happened through GRPM’s Immerse program, where students move from their everyday classrooms and have a completely new learning experience for a week. Students learn through museum collections, which teach core curriculum subjects like math, science and history. Classrooms have full access to the museum and can explore all museum collections, including fossils, Native American artifacts, animal habitats and even the planetarium.
“Instead of learning from textbooks, students learn from primary sources. It is teacher-designed and student focused,” said GRPM director of education Rob Schuitema, who spearheads this innovative program, which is now in its fourth year.
The program is rooted in the desire to extend and enhance the typical day-long field trip format. Teachers apply to participate and then complete a three-day in-service training during the summer months to plan for their week. During the training, teachers learn about the museum’s collections and how they can use those exhibits to guide classroom learning and develop lesson plans.
For the current school year, 45 classrooms throughout Kent County will participate in Immerse, with 24 of them being fifth-grade classrooms from Grand Rapids Public Schools.
“My favorite part is watching the progression during the week,” Schuitema said. “On Monday, the students and teachers are excited, but a little scared and anxious. By Friday, they are walking around like they own the museum. They have reached that deeper level of exploration.”
Each day is different for the students. One day, students could be working in small groups, another day could be a personal learning project. The projects vary within small groups, as well. One group worked on a fossil diorama and another developed a diorama around Native American traditions.
The students will continue researching and developing their projects after they return to Burton Elementary and showcase their final works at an Immerse family night at the museum in May.
GRPS participation in Immerse is made possible through a general fund grant of the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization serving as the strategic fundraising partner of the Grand Rapids Public Schools.