Not every day do students board a ship and learn about the research conducted out on Lake Michigan. Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) Community Outreach Specialist Kristin TePas recently organized tours of the U.S. EPA research vessel, the Lake Guardian, for 140 students and chaperones from four Illinois and Indiana schools.
Students from Chicago’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School boarded Lake Guardian just off Navy Pier with their science teachers Cheryl Dudeck and Melanie Yau, who in previous summers, completed a week-long shipboard science teacher workshop on the research vessel. Earlier in the day, Deb Broom’s class at Portage High School in Portage, Ind., and Marta Johnson’s students from South Shore International College Prep in Chicago toured the ship as well.
While aboard Lake Guardian, students learned from the ship’s crew about aquatic invasive species like quagga mussels in the Great Lakes, got a hands-on experience with research samples, and met the ship’s captain. The crew shared with students stories about life on the ship and demonstrated the equipment researchers use to monitor water quality on the lake. Paris Collingsworth, IISG Great Lakes ecosystem specialist, was on board to share some recent research findings.
Middle school students from Discovery Charter School in Porter, Ind., also joined their science teacher Amanda Renslow aboard the research vessel. In addition to the ship tour, Renslow’s students engaged in a beach cleanup at nearby Ohio Street beach. Students tracked each item of trash they collected for further discussions about recycling and sustainability back in the classroom.
Alongside the beach, Allison Neubauer, IISG Great Lakes outreach associate, led an activity for the Discovery School students to guess how long common items thrown in the trash, like juice containers and newspaper, take to break down in the environment.
For more information about the research vessel, including information about ongoing projects, visit Lake Guardian.
Allison Neubauer and Kirsten Walker were at the University of Illinois Public Engagement Symposium last week to raise awareness of IISG outreach in Champaign-Urbana. Allison had this to say about the event.
The public engagement symposium was a great opportunity to find out what other local organizations and academic programs are working on. The crowds of people—both those staffing booths and walking through and exploring—were a true testament to Champaign-Urbana’s widespread effort to get involved and take collective action on local initiatives.
Our IISG table generated a lot of traffic. With spring on the horizon, many visitors were excited to learn about our mobile walking tour of downtown Chicago. Others stopped to discuss invasive species and ways they can help halt their spread.
But the biggest draw was our university Learning in Community (LINC) course poster, created by undergraduate students enrolled in our section last fall. These students focused on increasing awareness on campus about how pharmaceuticals contaminate our waterways. They also coordinated a take-back event for students and community members to properly dispose of their unwanted medication. The event was a big success, collecting 15 pounds of unused medicine for incineration in just six hours.
For Kirsten and I, what was particularly exciting and unique about this symposium was our ability to connect with others working locally on related problems. For example, a Champaign community health center invited us to discuss pharmaceutical disposal with their patients. There was also a UIUC engineering student interested in the homemade filtration system our LINC students created with local high schoolers to show how some contaminants can slip through wastewater treatment processes. She is currently working to design and implement a water system and health program in a rural Honduran community and was looking for ways to engage with local residents.
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.
Several IISG staff members were in Grand Rapids, MI earlier this month to share some of our education resources and curricula during the Great Lakes Place-based Education Conference. For Allison Neubauer, the experience had an unexpected twist.
Stewardship and place-based education are nothing new to us educators at Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. In fact, the IISG education team has been leading efforts in these initiatives throughout southern Lake Michigan communities for years. For this reason, going into the conference, I thought it was a great opportunity for us to share our models of stewardship and place-based education. I didn’t plan on gaining much insight into how and why these objectives were critical. Boy, was I wrong.
IISG undoubtedly has an arsenal of exemplary stewardship models, and a jam-packed room of eager educators at our Friday afternoon session was an indication of their desire to hear how we’ve extended learning beyond classrooms and into communities.
But as much as I enjoyed sharing our examples of student stewardship as a means of combatting invasive species, promoting proper disposal of unwanted medication, and teaching about benefits and risks of fish consumption, the best part of the conference was actually hearing others share their stories.
The opening keynote address by Kim Rowland, a middle school science teacher, detailed how her students have been able to use their surrounding environment in Grand Rapids as a resource for exploration and learning. What was most captivating and exciting to hear was how this time spent investigating the outdoors was a way to reach students that are not typically high academic achievers. Kim told us about a particular student who was always getting in trouble—not wanting to come to school, and certainly not excited about learning. Though she had not anticipated this, venturing out to the stream on school property transformed him into the most enthusiastic student of the group. In fact, this student was now so interested in collecting samples that he waded even further into the stream, thus giving Kim a very fitting title for her presentation: “Getting Your Feet Wet and Allowing Water to Flood Your Boots.”
This was a great way to kick-off the conference. It really impressed upon me that place-based education should not be considered a luxury, or something that only all-star teachers are doing. Every student—from urban to rural, high achieving to special needs—must be exposed to learning outside the classroom. School should not take place in isolation, between the same four walls everyday. There is immense value in connecting students with their communities and surrounding environments as a means to enhance learning and civic understanding.