From cruise to classroom, Sea Grant and partners expand Great Lakes literacy

January 24th, 2017 by

“It was an early morning start with sampling near Stony Point along the northern shores of Minnesota,” Ann Quinn, of Pennsylvania and Krysta Maas, of Minnesota, wrote in a blog post in July of 2016.

“As we approached Duluth, we stopped three times to sample near the shore and within the harbor.  As we passed under the lift bridge, we could ‘clearly see’ the sediment plume from Monday night’s tremendous storm.”

Quinn and Maas were two of the 15 educators chosen last year to participate in the annual Shipboard Science Workshop aboard the U.S. EPA’s largest research and monitoring vessel on the Great Lakes, R/V Lake Guardian. Sea Grant’s Center for Great Lakes Literacy (CGLL) with U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) host the annual program. CGLL, formerly known of Centers for Ocean Science and Educational Exploration, is a collaborative effort led by Sea Grant educators throughout the Great Lakes watershed. This cruise is an important cornerstone of CGLL’s programming.

Every summer since 2006, CGLL joins forces with GLNPO to facilitate this week­long workshop on one of the Great Lakes. Educators from not only traditional classrooms but also from places like museums, zoos and nature centers are welcome. The experience provides educators in the Great Lakes basin the opportunity to actually “do” science alongside aquatic researchers and learn strategies to integrate Great Lakes science into their curriculum.

IISG community outreach specialist Kristin TePas, who as the Sea Grant liaison with GLNPO accompanies every cruise, never tires of seeing teachers learning and researching in the field.

“I always look forward to watching how the educators take to the whole experience,” TePas said. “They come on rather green and leave at the end of the week looking like they have always lived on the ship, working like a well-oiled machine, taking part in field sampling and then analyzing in the lab.”

The hands-on, immersive nature of the experience fosters a broader and deeper understanding of science by integrating knowledge and research to enhance the teachers’ scientific investigation skills. Educators also expand their “treasure box” of lessons, teaching strategies, and network of like-minded colleagues.

2016 Lake Guardian working_cropped

Following their time aboard the R/V Lake Guardian, the teachers return to their classroom with newfound knowledge that they then implement into school initiatives, like organizing cleanups of nearby natural areas, starting real-world data collection and analysis for class projects, bringing scientists into the classroom to talk and work with students, and inspiring school science and environmental clubs.

Alex Valencic, an alumnus of the 2013 Lake Ontario cruise, incorporated his experience into his fourth-grade class in Illinois.

Each student spent six weeks studying a freshwater fish found in the Great Lakes and learned about its appearance, habitat, life cycle, and where it falls in the food web.

“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.”

Educators and scientists on recent cruises have taken advantage of a new way to communicate their experiences to those back on land. In addition to filing blog posts on the CGLL website, folks on the cruise have started using Twitter to document their journey while traversing the lake. Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Educator Allison Neubauer has compiled the tweets into a narrative of the cruise.

“Showing off the collaboration as it’s happening, making it accessible and informative,” Neubauer said, “is a great way to tell the important story of the work being done by the teachers and researchers in only seven days.”

The scientists onboard were equally impressed with the experience.

“A strong scientist-educator connection can bring the research alive as scientists share stories from the field or lab,” wrote Wisconsin researcher Emily Tyner in “Scientist Spotlights,” an ongoing series on the CGLL website.

“But the sharing process isn’t one-way,” Tyner pointed out. “Educators can offer a new and helpful way of looking at problems that stump scientists. Thinking back on my Lake Guardian cruise, the educators helped us gain helpful perspective when we faced hours trying to determine the problems with our experimental setup.”

The educators no doubt would agree. They get the chance—as many have put it—to take part in an adventurous, educational, inspiring, fun, and once-in-a-lifetime adventure!

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

Water “Boyles” over for teachers on Lake Guardian

June 24th, 2016 by

U.S. EPA’s Research Vessel Lake Guardian graces our page once again for this year’s annual Shipboard Science Workshop. “This workshop allows educators to work on a research project with a Great Lakes scientist for the week they are on the ship,” said IISG Educator Allison Neubauer. “They use equipment to collect samples from the lake, analyze them in the labs onboard the ship, and come up with answers to the questions of their particular research project.”

Past workshops have included collecting data on plankton communities, plastic pollution, and overall water quality of the Great Lakes. This season, educators aboard the R/V Lake Guardian will have the opportunity to participate in what is known as The Incredible Shrinking Cup Lab, coordinated by Kristin TePas, IISG’s community outreach specialist.

The principle guiding The Incredible Shrinking Cup Lab is called Boyle’s law, which, when simplified, says that the volume of a gas is inversely proportional to the pressure being exerted upon it. We see this with weather balloons, which, when they’re launched, can range from 2.5 ft. to 8 ft. in diameter, but expand more than four times in diameter during flight, becoming as large as 32 ft. wide. As a balloon gains altitude, less pressure is being exerted on it from the outside, allowing the gas inside to expand until, ultimately, the balloon pops.

The Incredible Shrinking Cup Lab takes things in the opposite direction, observing the effects of increased pressure as Styrofoam cups are sunk hundreds of feet underneath the water. Gas pockets inside the Styrofoam cups shrink as the distance below sea level, and subsequent pressure, increases, compressing the cup’s structure, making it smaller.

shrinking cups

Two students of Marcy Burns, Main Street Intermediate School in Norwalk, Ohio, pose after winning third place in the OhioView SATELLITES Conference and research project fair at the University of Toledo.

This activity provides students the opportunity to see the effects of Boyle’s law first hand. Before the cups are submerged, students are taught how to measure their volume, density, and mass. They personalize their cups to know whose is whose, craft hypotheses on what will happen to the cups, and are put into direct contact with research scientists, who do the submerging themselves once at their stations in the ocean or in the Great Lakes. Allison Neubauer was able to document two rounds of sending down cups this past April while aboard the R/V Lake Guardian in Lake Superior.  


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

Looking back, it’s been a very good IISG year

December 17th, 2015 by

This has been a good year for Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. Working with our many partners, big projects reached their culmination, in some cases providing researchers and decision makers new ways to access data. And the spotlight was turned on Lake Michigan for research and education. Here are10 important stories from 2015.

The year started with big research news that southern Lake Michigan has high concentrations of plastic microfibers, which are likely from clothing that sheds in the wash. This news was picked up by media outlets around the world, including the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Guardian, and the Chicago Tribune.
2015 saw the release of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, which laid out a plan to reduce the flow of nutrients down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. This strategy was developed with input from a range of stakeholders, including government agencies and agricultural producers.
Be a Hero is now the primary invasive species awareness campaign in Illinois. Recreational water users have heard this message, but now the campaign provides easy tips to help water gardeners, teachers, and aquarium hobbyists curb the spread of aquatic invaders. Plus, Be a Hero provides guidance to hunters, campers, and hikers to prevent the spread of species that threaten habitat on land.
The Grand Calumet River in Indiana just keeps getting better. Another section of this long polluted waterway has been cleaned up through Great Lakes Legacy Act funding and that of many local and state partners. Remediation of the Kennedy to Cline Avenues section led to the removal of 1.1 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment.
Twice this year, it was Lake Michigan’s turn for ongoing projects that rotate yearly around the Great Lakes. First, the Lake Michigan Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI) brought together agencies and scientists to study the nearshore environment, which ultimately will help inform management decisions. CSMI is part of a larger binational effort to advance Great Lakes monitoring and research.
Second, this was the year for the Shipboard Science Workshop on Lake Michigan, in which 15 teachers spent a week aboard the U.S. EPA R/V Lake Guardian working with researchers and learning about Great Lakes science.
IISG has developed new tools to help scientists enhance their research and help decision makers, and others make informed choices. Great Lakes Monitoring is a web application that provides the means for environmental data from across the Great Lakes region to be just a click away.
For communities looking to set water prices smartly, the Northeast Illinois Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard allows them to compare rates with communities in the region that have similar characteristics. Setting the right price for water is the first step in managing water supplies sustainably.
In our latest issue of The Helm, we report on a tool under development for critical facilities in Cook County to reduce flooding impacts. Through answering a series of questions, facilities managers can assess how the building might be vulnerable to flood damage, and how this risk can be addressed.
Finally, IISG installed a second buoy in the waters of Lake Michigan. This one is off the shores of Wilmette, Illinois, joining the first one in the Indiana waters near Michigan City. These buoys provide key information to the National Weather Service, researchers, boaters, anglers, and beach goers alike. 
As we look forward to 2016, we thank partners, stakeholders, and many others that we worked with and supported to achieve noteworthy goals.

Illinois fourth graders are eager to tell their fish tales

October 7th, 2015 by

“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!”

Lake Guardian scientists and teachers journey to the core in this video

July 14th, 2015 by
Ever wondered what it actually looks like as samples are collected from the floor of Lake Michigan?  A science teacher from Elk Grove High School in Illinois got to the bottom of it for you.
When it came time to lower the multi-corer and hydraulic extruders, Quinn Loch strapped on a GoPro video camera to go for the 158-meter ride to the bottom.
Loch, along with 14 other educators, is working with 4 scientists as a part of the Shipboard Science Workshop aboard the U.S. EPA R/V Lake Guardian.
The cores will be used to study dissolved oxygen and phosphorous levels in the water just above the cores.
The educators and scientists stand on the dock in Manitowoc, Wis.
Be sure to follow the educators on twitter at #lakeguardian and on the Teacher Features page on the CGLL website

They will continue tweeting and blogging until the trip’s conclusion on July 18.

Skip to content