Limno Loan spurs freshwater education around Great Lakes

October 12th, 2016 by

This story first appeared on

The Limno Loan program, overseen by the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, is making it easier for educators around the Great Lakes to teach their students about freshwater science. Not only that, but it’s also inspiring youngsters who have never gotten to use real scientific gear.

The program, which launched in the 2011-2012 school year, began after suggestions from teachers taking part in a science workshop on the Lake Guardian Research Vessel. The workshop on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ship led them to think that it’d be a great idea to get some of the same gear into the hands of their students.

The Limno Loan program of today is pushing the boundaries of success, providing four Hydrolab DS5 water quality sondes to high school and middle school teachers around the Great Lakes. Each gets the sondes for about two weeks, including shipping time to and from the Sea Grant, to use in their lesson plans.

That first year, the program only had about five teachers who checked out sondes. This year, more than 20 have already signed up and the pace signals to program managers that nearly 40 could use them by the end of the school year.

“High school and middle school students use them the most. That’s the most appropriate age for this type of equipment,” said Kristin TePas, community outreach specialist with the Sea Grant. She says the youngest who’ve used the Hydrolabs were fifth graders. “Most I’d say probably just deploy them in a river or small water body but some have rented boats to take their students out onto lakes.”

When that’s the case, it’s common that the educator secures some sort of grant to cover the cost. And there are usually educational discounts that can help.

“That is one of the hurdles to getting them out there,” said TePas. “You need to have money to do those field trips.”

Loaning the sondes out to teachers provides a substantial cost savings over purchasing. Each one records a standard set of parameters, including temperature, conductivity, pH, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll a, turbidity and depth.

The measurements are incredibly intriguing to students, who can see how their local water body is doing in real time. But since most of the sampling trips hit ponds on campus or streams nearby, depth is not as important as the other data coming in.

“For some, the lesson is just doing a pond day. … Some are just doing a snapshot in time. Others have a monitoring program and they’re comparing the data that they’re getting,” said TePas. “They might compare between two sites or between different areas. It’s more of a comparison spatially than temporally.”

TePas points out that the sondes have a lot of advantages over other methods the kids may have used in the past. Water quality testing kits often use tablets or strips that can introduce complexity. And the projects sometimes take longer because of that.

One big advantage that the Limno Loan program provides to school kids is that they actually get to use real scientific gear.

“For some reason, just using equipment that’s used by real scientists gets them more excited. It’s instantaneous,” said TePas. “They’re able to see right away what the status of the particular lake is.”

The teachers benefit as well. Long before students get their hands on the sondes, Sea Grant officials give them hands-on training to use the gear.

The training is provided during workshops, TePas says, typically during other activities in partnership with local groups. Because of that, they can take various formats, but the training is consistent throughout.

TePas says it usually starts with the parameters, covering what they measure and what their levels mean when it comes to aquatic health. A few suggestions for activities or coursework that the teachers could use are also thrown in.

“Then we show them the logistics of using the equipment,” said TePas. “The only thing they have to calibrate is DO (dissolved oxygen) when they get it.”

The busy season for the Limno Loan program typically coincides with the school year, it seems. Most of the sondes get checked out in September and October during the fall. When winter comes, TePas and others can’t send them out because of the risk of frost damaging the sondes and their sensors. But things pick back up with educators once again borrowing them in April, May and June.

With those restrictions, it’s not likely that the sonde-sharing program could get any bigger than it is currently. The equipment also gets used by Sea Grant educators when not in use by teachers.

But it’s certain that the program is providing benefits for teachers and students in the Great Lakes. In just the few years it’s been running, TePas says the sondes have gone from schools in New York to Minnesota and everywhere in between.

“First and foremost, I want to increase water quality literacy. … I hope at least they take away a better understanding of water quality. So why do we care, why do we measure this stuff?” said TePas. “And if we had some budding scientists come out of this, that would be awesome.”

About Daniel Kelly

Daniel covers monitoring, tech and everything in between as editor of the Environmental Monitor. You can also find his work on Lake Scientist. Connect with him on Twitter @danielrkelly.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

“Turbidity” is not a rock band and the Hydrolab is still jammin’

September 29th, 2015 by
Environmental educators gathered at Portage Lakefront in Indiana last Friday to attend a Hydrolab training workshop led by IISG community outreach specialist Kristin TePas.
The day kicked off with an activity to get an idea of the group’s knowledge of water quality parameters the Hydrolab, a sophisticated data-gathering instrument, is capable of measuring.
TePas asked the educators to write down what each parameter is, why it’s measured, and what affects it.
One of the parameters, “turbidity,” struck one Indiana educator, as a cool name for a band. After a good laugh, he and the larger group were able to come up with descriptions of what kind of information the Hydrolab is gathering when it’s submerged, like calculating dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, conductivity, and chlorophyll a.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent familiarizing educators with the equipment, how to borrow the Hydrolab through the Limno Loan program, and a variety of lessons and activities that would work well in their own educational settings.
With hands-on training under their belts and implementation plans drawn up, the Hydrolab is likely going to make some extra visits to Indiana in the coming months.

Students brave winter weather to study water quality

March 11th, 2015 by
Earlier this year, AP science students at Chicago’s Lane Tech College Prep traded in their textbooks for field equipment to study water quality in the North Branch of the Chicago River. The Hydrolab allows students to monitor water characteristics like dissolved oxygen, pH, and conductivity with sensors similar to those used by scientists at the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office. The teacher, Dianne Lebryk, borrowed the equipment through the Limno Loan program to help students better understand the connection between water quality and man-made landscapes. 

Several students wrote in to share their experiences working with the Hydrolab. We wrap things up today with Gayin Au. 

Under the circumstances of an extremely frosty cold weather, our environmental classmates were still very eager to head out and experience the Hydrolab. As soon as we reached the river by our school, we saw a lot of trash in the river. The water looked very dense and had a very dark green color. 

Two people were responsible for holding the Hydrolab since it was quite heavy. The others stood back to watch. I was surprised that we were able to get results really quick; at first I thought it would take a lot of time to process the information.

Goose poop, which is high in nitrate, dissolves and mixes into the water and plants use this nitrogen to keep them nice and fertilized. However, the river is also greatly harming the living things in it. The water lacked oxygen, meaning it will be more difficult for living things in there to survive. It also might mean there aren’t enough plants underwater to keep the normal level of oxygen up. It was greatly contaminated, and fish and other organisms will be affected, making them act unusually.  

The lab was really quick and useful. It showed us the oxygen level, how much algae is in there, how polluted the river is in general, and more. The river goes by so many things that can affect it. Human trash, fertilizer, and goose poop (common near our school thanks to large fields of grass) all affect the quality of water. 



Website of the week: Bringing science to life has never been so easy

January 28th, 2015 by

A closer look at web tools and sites that boost research and empower Great Lakes communities to secure a healthy environment and economy. 

For over two years, the Limno Loan program has been shaking up science class across the Great Lakes region. Coordinated by IISG and the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office, the program gives students an opportunity to collect water quality data from local waterways with the same kind of monitoring sensors used by scientist aboard the R/V Lake Guardian. 

And now, teachers can take their Hydrolab projects one step further with help from IISG’s new Limno Loan site. In addition to information about the equipment and the parameters it measures, the site provides lessons and activities to help teachers K-12 better integrate the Hydrolab into their aquatic science sections. 

The activities, most of which were created by educators who used the equipment in their own classrooms, focus on demonstrating the connections between water quality, aquatic food webs, and human activities. Sample water quality data sheets are also available. 
The website also provides a unique opportunity for classes to share their data and compare it to information collected by fellow students across the region. 

New activities will be added as they are developed, so be sure to check back later. You can also read more
 about how the Limno Loan program has helped improve student understanding of Great Lakes sciences in our Winter 2012 Helm

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