“I am presenting the Coho salmon,” Shaniyah Lucas, 9, declared proudly as she gestured toward her computer. “I learned that when it comes down to their family, they start to get mean because they protect their eggs and themselves from predators.”
Lucas, along with her fourth-grade classmates, presented their findings as part of Alex Valencic’s “Illinois Animal Expo” last Friday at Wiley Elementary School in Urbana, Ill.
Valencic’s class set up posters and slide presentations exploring Great Lakes fish and invited students from throughout the school to visit.
Valencic, an alumnus of the 2013 Lake Ontario Shipboard
Science Workshop on the Research Vessel Lake Guardian, incorporated his experience into the class.
Each student spent six weeks studying a freshwater fish found in the Great Lakes and learned about its habitats, life cycle, food web, appearance, and adaptations of the animals.
Valencic (pictured left), who is in his fifth year teaching at Wiley, was looking forward to the experience for his students.
“My primary goal is for my students to understand the rich diversity of life that lives within the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Seaway,” he said. “Even though we don’t live right on a lake, Illinois is hugely impacted by Lake Michigan.
“I also wanted the students to realize that while there are many kinds of freshwater fish, they all have common traits that help them survive, grow, and reproduce. The students have been really excited about today, but they were really nervous at first!”
But there was no shortage of enthusiasm from the students who got to show off their new-found knowledge.
Catherine Paisley, a mother to a student in the class, looked around the room and mused, “They’re going to remember their fish for a long time!”
Fifteen educators took to the water yesterday for the annual Shipboard and Shoreline Science Workshop. Scheduled for this week (July 7-13), the workshop offers teachers an opportunity to sail aboard the Lake Guardian on Lake Ontario, conducting a variety of experiments and research processes. This hands-on experience, combined with collaborative meetings with their fellow teachers, will allow each participant to take new information and approaches back to their classrooms.
Among the fifteen participants on the cruise are teachers from Illinois, and two of them wrote in to tell us about what they hope to gain from this week’s experience on Lake Ontario.
Alex Valencic, a fourth-grade teacher at Wiley Elementary school in Urbana, Illinois, looks to bring more information about the interactions between plants, animals, weather, and people to his students and his curricula.
“I’ve taught professionally for five years, first as a substitute teacher and then in my current position for the past two years. My teaching experience involves all of the core subjects, including mathematics, science, literacy, and social studies.
I first learned about the Lake Guardian workshop through a friend who works with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. Some of the major topics of study for fourth graders in Illinois include learning about ecosystems, particularly how plants and animals interact with their environments, weather and global climate, and inquiry-based research. It is my hope that I’ll gain some ‘real-world’ experience studying these issues on Lake Ontario. I would like to integrate the topics into my science curriculum and challenge students to use the information about Lake Ontario to guide their study of Lake Michigan (the Great Lake that borders Illinois). While my students will not be able to go to the Great Lakes to experience the hands-on learning themselves, they will be able to use the resources gained during this workshop in their inquiry projects.”
Jen Slivka, working in the Shedd Aquarium’s learning department, is looking forward to incorporating even more science-based information and research into the exhibits at the aquarium.
“As a learning specialist, I have had the opportunity to coach teachers on inquiry-based science, create professional development sessions, and work closely with teachers on creating stewardship and citizen science programs. I feel very lucky to work with students and teachers of varying backgrounds and pass along my passion for science and education!
Prior to joining the Shedd team, I taught first grade for five years in Plano, IL. My passion for science was ignited when I attended Aurora University to earn my Masters in Teacher Leadership and Elementary Math and Science. My experiences in my graduate work led me to apply for a program through Shedd, called Teacher Field Experience: Biology in the Bahamas. Through this program, I was able to dive deep into marine environments and scientific research, first in Shedd’s classroom, and then firsthand in the Bahamas aboard Shedd’s research vessel, the R/V Coral Reef II. Through hands-on experience, I gained a greater understanding of data collection and analysis, how it applies to current scientific research and how to integrate it into my classroom curriculum. I quickly realized that teachers and educators can benefit greatly from unique professional development experiences and field work. My experiences on the Shedd’s research vessel created a desire in me to continue doing real, hands-on science, and inspire other educators to improve the science they do in their classroom. Last year I was fortunate enough to accept a learning specialist position at Shedd, which allows me the opportunity to connect with teachers all over the city of Chicago.
The Lake Guardian Sea Grant opportunity came at a perfect time. Shedd Aquarium recently unveiled a renovation of our Local Waters exhibit, titled At Home on the Great Lakes. Since Shedd is committed to education and conservation of the Great Lakes, I am thrilled with the opportunity to be able to board a research vessel and explore ecology, geology, geography, weather, and human impacts on Lake Ontario. Even though I was born and raised in Illinois, I feel that I have a lot to learn about the crucial role that the Great Lakes play in our world. I am looking forward to building my knowledge base on the Great Lakes by receiving firsthand experiences on a working research vessel. I am most looking forward to gaining new resources and discovering stewardship opportunities for students and teachers. Once I return, the knowledge and experiences I gain will be shared with the learning department, and will help to shape future programming at Shedd.”