LIVE! from the Lake Guardian: Bringing science to the classroom

September 25th, 2014 by

Charleston, IL may be hundreds of miles from where the R/V Lake Guardian was collecting samples in Lake Erie earlier this week, but that didn’t stop a group of sixth graders from taking a tour of the U.S. EPA vessel. From the comfort of their classroom, more than 60 students and teachers watched as EPA researcher Beth Hinchey Malloy talked about living and working on a boat and showed them around.

The tour started, of course, on the ship’s deck and quickly moved inside to the labs, where scientists took a break from processing samples to explain how studying bug populations helps researchers judge the health of aquatic ecosystems. From there it was on to the galley to see what’s for lunch and up to the bridge to chat with the captain. 

And the students had more than a few questions, particularly for the captain—Is it easy to drive the boat? How can you tell how deep the water is? Where does the Lake Guardian go?  

Students also got a sneak peak at the type of equipment they will use later this year to collect data on water characteristics like dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and pH. Their teacher, Pamela Evans, is one of several scheduled to use the Hydrolab to make science class more hands-on this year. 

The event ended after a jam-packed 30 minutes because another class was waiting on deck to take the tour. In fact, eight classes across the Great Lakes region got a first-hand look at the Lake Guardian this week. And this is just the beginning. The research vessel will soon dock for the winter, but video chats with EPA scientists will continue throughout the school year. 

The video chats and equipment loan program are all part of efforts by IISG and the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office to boost Great Lakes education. Teachers were introduced to the programs, along with other classroom resources, during the annual Shipboard Science workshop. 


Students live stream with Lake Guardian scientists

May 8th, 2014 by
A group of seventh graders in Buffalo, New York are gearing up for a different kind of science class. On Monday, students will take a break from their regular activities to video chat with Great Lakes scientists and discuss issues like water chemistry, food webs, and pollution. And after spending the fall monitoring water quality in their local rivers, they have a lot of questions.
It’s all part of a joint program with IISG and the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office that gives students a chance to collect data on water characteristics like dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and pH. The monitoring equipment is similar to the sensors used aboard the EPA research vessel Lake Guardian.
The Nichols Middle School students have worked throughout the year on projects related to field work done in the fall, and they plan to collect new samples next week. But before they return to the field, they will “sit down” with EPA scientists Glenn Warren, Eric Osantowski, and Beth Hinchey Malloy.


Each of the three classes will have roughly 20 minutes to ask questions about their fall data, the connections between different water characteristics, and the impact of human activities on Great Lakes health. They will also have a chance to talk about the ins and outs of being an aquatic scientist and the education those careers require.  
Sandy Cunningham, the students’ teacher, has used the Hydrolab for several years and is one of three teachers to participate in the IISG-hosted video chats this year. Superior Middle School’s Stephanie Francis and Lesley Zylstra, a fifth grade teacher in Milwaukee, also used the monitoring equipment and conversations with scientists to boost their aquatic science sections. All three were introduced to the program, along with other classroom resources, during workshops coordinated by IISG. 
Monday’s is the last videocast before summer break, but IISG’s Kristin TePas hopes to continue the event next year, each month with a different teacher.
*Students analyze water samples from local streams. Photos courtesy of Sandy Cunningham. 

Summer teacher workshop still making ripples

January 8th, 2014 by
School is back in session and that means science teachers across southern Lake Michigan will be turning their sights to the Great Lakes. For the AP Environmental Science class at Zion-Benton Township High School, though, the issues facing nearby Lake Michigan have been in focus since the start of the year. 
Their teacher, Alex Stavropoulos, got the idea for some of his classroom and field activities after spending a week aboard the U.S. EPA R/V Lake Guardian this summer for the annual Shipboard and Shoreline Science Workshop. Alex wrote in to tell us what his class has been up to. 
Towards the beginning of the school year, my class spent about a month on our “Aquatic Habitats and Biodiversity” unit. After exploring the general nature of aquatic systems (both marine and freshwater), we took a closer look at our local water systems, specifically Lake Michigan. During this time, we discussed the history of the Great Lakes, identified the various ways in which humans have used and altered the makeup of the Great Lakes, spent two days conducting water-quality testing and macro-invertebrate sampling (using both biotic and abiotic indicators to compare water quality in various tributaries to that of the mouths in which they fed into Lake Michigan), and debated plausible methods to prevent invasive species such as the Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes. 
Throughout this entire unit, I found myself regularly referencing experiences I had during the Lake Guardian summer workshop. The experiences not only allowed me to better explain the complexity of some of these issues, but it also opened my students’ eyes to hands-on opportunities available in the world of science. It taught me a great deal about the Great Lakes, but, more importantly, it improved my ability to teach students about the Lakes’ significance. I hope this program continues to be funded for years to come as it is a wonderful way of spreading both knowledge and passion regarding the importance of preserving the gift that is the Great Lakes.
This year’s workshop will take place on Lake Erie. Keep an eye on our blog in the coming months for more details and application information. 

Urbana fourth grade class engages in some fish talk

October 11th, 2013 by
Alex Valencic’s fourth-grade class may be several hours away from Lake Michigan, but the lake and its issues are still front-and-center. Students here spent part of September digging into the biology of Great Lakes fish, and last week they presented their discoveries to an audience of classmates joined by IISG’s Robin Goettel and Anjanette Riley. 
The presentations covered a spectrum of native and non-native species—lake trout, Eurasian ruffe, Atlantic salmon, round goby, black herring, and more. And it was clear that these fourth-graders had become experts in their chosen species. They talked about where their fish lives, its life cycle, what it eats, and what eats it. Several students showed how their fish have been affected by invasive species such as round goby and sea lamprey, which one student referred to as “an alien in the Great Lakes.” Those who chose invasive species also explained how they spread and taught the class what they could do to prevent future invasions. Others talked about the impact of overfishing and pollution on their species and the food web as a whole. At the end of their presentation, each student was peppered with questions like “how many times does your fish lay eggs?” and “what kind of plankton does it eat?”
It was also clear that the students were excited to share what they had learned. Many said they enjoyed learning about the shape and size of their fish, while others liked knowing about the predators of the Great Lakes. A handful even said their favorite part of the project was researching and presenting. 

Mr. Valencic got the idea to bring Great Lakes issues to his class at Wiley Elementary School in Urbana, IL after spending a week aboard the U.S. EPA R/V Lake Guardian this summer for the annual Shipboard and Shoreline Workshop. During the week, he and 14 other formal and non-formal educators worked alongside scientists as they collected data on Lake Ontario. This year, participants collected samples from different locations to monitor water quality, studied species at the bottom of the food web, and learned more about organisms living on the lakebed. Sea Grant officials on board paired hand-on research with curriculum activities to help teachers better incorporate Great Lakes science into their classrooms.  

Examining fish biology is one of two inquiry-based research projects Mr. Valencic has lined up for this year. Overall he hopes to use what he learned this summer to teach his students more about how aquatic species interact with each other and their environments.  

IISG summer intern continues working on Great Lakes issues

May 3rd, 2013 by
Meredith Brackett, one of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s interns this past summer, has continued her work on Great Lakes issues by starting a position at Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education. She wrote in to tell us a little bit about her summer internship experience working with IISG’s Paris Collingsworth, and how the experience led her to find and pursue work related to the Great Lakes. 

“This past summer I was lucky enough to intern with the Illinois Indiana Sea Grant and rediscovered my love of marine sciences. My internship taught me a great deal about freshwater ecosystems and problems that are occurring in the Great Lakes. I was able to learn so much about the Great Lakes ecosystems, limnological studies, and nutrient levels, and I gained hands on experience working on the US EPA R/V Lake Guardian research vessel collecting nutrient and biological samples. The internship also allowed me to work at the Illinois State Fair and educate the public about the many issues facing the Great Lakes. It was a great feeling to spread the word about how we can all make a change in our behavior so that we can make a difference in our environment! I am currently interning with Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE) and continuing to work on Great Lakes projects and take samples from the Great Lakes on the US EPA R/V Lake Guardian. The Illinois Indiana Sea Grant internship really helped further my contacts in the industry by networking and meeting people working in different areas of the Great Lakes. Illinois Indiana Sea Grant really opened my eyes to a whole new field and career opportunities. I cannot thank them enough!”

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is committed to giving students opportunities to gain real experience in marine sciences and Great Lakes issues. For updated information on fellowship and internship positions, visit our fellowship page regularly.
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