Indiana middle schoolers study key water quality issues

May 11th, 2015 by
Steve Park was one of 15 Great Lakes educators to set sail on Lake Erie last year for the annual Shipboard Science Workshop. Today, we hear a little of what he and his 7th grade students have been up to since. 
As a veteran teacher of enthusiastic middle school students, I adhere to Albert Einstein’s quote, “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”  
This school year started just like the first 20 years of my teaching career, with our study of environment science. However, it didn’t take long for my students to realize that the learning experiences this year were going to be extra special. Armed with a weeks worth of intense professional development while living on the R/V Lake Guardian motoring around Lake Erie, I had the resources, experiences, knowledge, and support to provide my students with the incredible conditions necessary for them to learn.

When teaching about the environment and stewardship, I have two goals. First, I want students to know specifically how they impact their local and global environments. Second, I want students to know how they can have a positive influence on their local and global environments. With that in mind, my students began their study on water ecology by conducting a video conference with individuals aboard the Lake Guardian collecting water samples in Lake St. Clair. Students learned about life on the Lake Guardian, research that is being done on the lake, and the responsibilities of the scientists. 
Our focus then turned to our own outdoor classroom, where we have 36 acres of land, a large river, and a couple of smaller creeks. I intentionally set up conditions where my students had numerous opportunities to learn about the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the environment. In addition to traditional sampling techniques, my students conducted independent research projects. For instance, one group wanted to know if the diversity of macro invertebrates changed the farther you got from shore. To test their hypothesis, they created Hester-Dendy samplers and deployed them at various locations and distances from shore. Another group wanted to see if they could use all-natural materials to create a filter capable of reducing the turbidity of our river water to the World Health Organization standard of 5 ppm. 
Currently, because of my interactions with Dr. Sam Mason on board the Lake Guardian last summer, my students have received a grant to study the plastic microbeads in our river water. Students will design, construct, and deploy collection seines to help determine the prevalence of these plastics in our water ecosystem. 

As a society, we have a long, uphill climb when it comes to improving the quality of our wonderful Great Lakes. However, I am confident that the experiences I had during the Lake Erie Shipboard Science Workshop, the connections I made with incredibly supportive people, and the high quality curricular materials and equipment I received will provide my students with the conditions in which they can learn. This, in turn, will make that climb a little bit easier.

***Photo A: Students hear from a fishery biologist about the importance of fish stocking and how the technique is being used to study invasive species like Asian carp. 

***Photo B: Students get their hands dirty learning about macro invertebrates. 

Resilient Chicago highlights the many faces of climate change

October 9th, 2014 by
Anjanette Riley was at last week’s Resilient Chicago workshop on climate trends and adaptive planning. She had this to say about the event:
Presentation after presentation, what struck me most is just how much climate change already is and will continue to impact our daily lives—and how interconnected those impacts are. Actually, a quick glance at the agenda was all it took to realize this workshop was going to be about much more than just predictions of yearly rainfall or average temperatures. The speakers were climatologists, public health experts, community planners, and policy specialists. And the participants were just as diverse—educators, urban planners, local officials, and private consultants. 
Of course, we did talk about climate concepts and trends. IISG’s Molly Woloszyn kicked things off by making sure we were all on the same page about the difference between weather and climate—short-term changes vs. long-term averages. And throughout the day, Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel told us that temperatures have risen by roughly 1.5o F over the last century and that we can expect drier summers and more precipitation in winter, spring, and fall.
Much of the day, though, was dedicated to what these changes mean for the people and wildlife that call the Chicago area home. Some impacts are pretty straightforward—you have likely seen them already. Warmer temperatures mean greater strain on an aging energy infrastructure and higher rates of heatstroke. Wetter springs means more stormwater runoff and basement flooding. And summertime droughts could lower crop yields and increase food prices.
Many were hard to see at first glance. As nice as they sound to many of us, warmer winters could have serious repercussions for public health, infrastructure, and Great Lake ecosystems. For example, with less frequent deep freezes, some disease-carrying insects could persist throughout the year. Fluctuations between freezing and thawing will also create more potholes and cracks in building exteriors. And—most unexpected to me—warmer water temperatures could make Lake Michigan and surrounding waterways more welcoming to a whole new suite of invasive species that could never have lived there before.
Fortunately, presenters came armed with solutions as well. Most were adaptation strategies—steps to prepare for climate change impacts. Speakers from Chicago Wilderness, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, and Hey and Associates, for example, showed how planting native trees, building rain gardens, and restoring natural areas could simultaneously filter pollutants from stormwater, lower air temperatures, and reconnect habitats divided by urbanization. Samuel Dorevitch, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Dan Gabel from ComEd talked about the importance of early warning systems and emergency response plans. And the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Harriet Festing introduced their Rain Readyprogram, which helps homeowners and communities understand flooding causes and prepare for future storms.    
But don’t just take my word for it. All the presentations will soon be available on the Resilient Chicago website. In the meantime, peruse the many Midwestern Regional Climate Center resources on climate change predictions and adaptation planning. 

Buoy workshop inspires new STEM activities

August 15th, 2014 by
Fourteen teachers from Illinois and Indiana are hard at work developing new science lessons that incorporate real-time data from the Michigan City buoy after a training workshop held last week at Purdue North Central.

During the day-long workshop, IISG’s education and research teams, along with Purdue University’s Cary Troy, introduced teachers to the environmental monitoring buoy, the data it collects, and how researchers are using the data to better understand the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan. 

The highlight of the workshop for many was the boat ride four miles into Lake Michigan to see the buoy first-hand—in smaller groups due to the size of the boat. The trips also gave teachers the opportunity to talk more with researchers and staff from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources(DNR) about the buoy and other data collection methods used to monitor fisheries, understand lake dynamics, and improve water safety.

The teachers will work together to develop at least six curriculum activities that improve STEM education—science, technology, engineering, and math—and boost understanding of Great Lakes issues. These won’t be complete till early next year, but the teachers already have big ideas for how to integrate the buoy data into their classrooms.

Several hope to use information on wind speed and water currents to improve their weather units. Others plan to use data collected by the buoy’s thermistor chain, which measures temperatures at different depths, to pinpoint the likely habitats of specific fish species and determine whether invaders like Asian carp could make a home in Lake Michigan. Some even expressed interest in having students compare buoy data with environmental characteristics collected on land to better understand solar radiation and seasonal changes.   

The final lesson plans will be available on the IISG website.

Funding for the workshop was provided in part by the Indiana DNR Lake Michigan Coastal Program. Special thanks to the DNR staff at the Michigan City field office for taking the participants out on the lake. 


Illinois teacher shakes up science class with help from IISG and NOAA

August 12th, 2014 by
Illinois teacher Carol Schnaiter has big plans for her classes at Amboy Central School. Carol was one of 14 teachers to participate in IISG’s B-WET workshop last year. And this summer, she spent two weeks in the Gulf of Mexico aboard the NOAA research vessel Oregon II. Carol wrote in to tell us about her experiences at both, how they have already shaped her curriculum, and what she has planned for her students this year.

“I am constantly looking for workshops, classes, and events that I can attend and bring what I learned back to my class. Each adventure adds to our classroom and allows the students to learn something new. 

I was very excited when I was selected for the B-WET workshop in June of 2013. After the workshop, I added an entire unit on invasive species in the Great Lakes area for the 4th graders and another unit on restoration for the 3rd graders, plus I expanded the watershed unit I was teaching to the third graders. At the end of the units, I invited a guest speaker from the Amboy Marsh, Greg Hunter, to speak to all my classes about the Amboy Marsh and invasive species in our area. We then went to the Amboy Marsh, where the students pulled the invasive Garlic Mustard plant and cleaned away brush. The staff also arranged for guest speakers to talk about turtles, birds, and plants and gave a walking tour of the marsh. My colleagues and I are hoping to continue working with Amboy Marsh when we do our invasive species unit and our restoration unit each year.

The students loved learning about the invasive species! We used the cards from the Sea Grant curricula and played games, such as Beat the Barriers. The students also did research on the various species and used the watch cards. When Mr. Hunter came in to speak, the students had background information on invasive species and were able to connect with what he was discussing.  

This summer, I took part in the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program in the Gulf of Mexico. While on the ship, I worked with NOAA scientists and the crew to learn about the Gulf ecosystems first-hand and watch real science in action. I was on the midnight-to-noon shift for 16 days. We traveled to “stations” across the Gulf where we dropped the trawling net, the bongo nets, and the CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) sensors as part of the Groundfish Survey. Once the nets were brought up, we would count, measure, weigh, and record the sex of all the species. Our main objective was to collect information and send it to federal agencies that used it to set the shrimp season and catch limits.

As a result of this experience, I am working on adding more information to our invasive species unit and creating another unit that will have the students trace the water from the Great Lakes watershed to the Gulf of Mexico. We will be following the NOAA Ship Oregon II as they go out for the fall Groundfish Survey and adding that information to the data collected while I was aboard this summer. We will be watching the water’s oxygen levels as the ship travels across the Gulf and will try to figure out what might be the cause of any changes.  

Tying both the B-WET workshop and my experience on a working research ship together will allow the students to see how everyday science is touching our lives.”

In the news: Teachers test water quality, learn about invasive species near Erie, PA

July 10th, 2014 by

It’s day four of the Shipboard and Shoreline Science Workshop, and teachers from across the Great Lakes region are hard at work conducting field experiments alongside researchers aboard the EPA R/V Lake Guardian. The group was in Lake Erie’s Presque Isle Bay yesterday collecting water samples and hunting for invasive species. Their work, along with some of the researchers and participants, was featured on WICU 12 Erie.

“I’m going to bring this back to my classroom,” Chad Solomon, a teacher at Chicago’s Whitney M. Young Magnet High School told WICU. “We live in Chicago, but very rarely do kids actually get to the lake. I am going to be bringing this experience back to them.”

Joining the teachers at this shoreline stop and throughout the research cruise is IISG’s Kristin TePas. Kristin coordinates the annual teacher workshop, held each year on a different lake, for the Center for Great Lakes Literacy and the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office.

Sea Grant-funded researchers Sam Mason and Steve Mauro were also on board sampling for emerging pollutants like plastic and pharmaceuticals. You can learn more about Mason’s research in Lake Erie and across the Great Lakes in the latest issue of UpClose. And watch for the next edition later this month to hear from Mauro directly about his work on the Lake Guardian. 

*Photo taken during the 2010 cruise on Lake Michigan

Great Lakes education conference features several sessions, including IISG education team

November 15th, 2013 by

The 3rd Annual Great Lakes Place-based Education Conference, November 7-9 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, brought together over 200 teachers, community representatives, non-profit organization educators, and more. The conference gives teachers an opportunity to incorporate the latest place-based research and education concepts about the Great Lakes into their lessons, encouraging student stewardship, continuing science education, and community development. 

IISG’s Robin Goettel attended the conference and organized a poster session, “Center for Great Lakes Literacy: Connecting Educators, Scientists and Citizens.” The Center for Great Lakes Literacy (CGLL) “engages educators, students, scientists, and lifelong learners in stewardship and citizen science activities to help protect and restore Great Lakes watersheds.” 
According to Robin, “A major focus of this exhibit was creating awareness of Great Lakes Literacy Principles – a great foundation from which to create an environmental stewardship ethic. CGLL specialists shared exciting educator opportunities including ship-based and shoreline workshops focusing on the latest Great Lakes issues. Visitors learned about water quality monitoring equipment they can use with their students made available courtesy of the USEPA GLNPO Limno Loan program. Participants also found out about Great Lakes Awareness Days that will be offered throughout the region.”

Representatives of the CGLL program from seven Great Lakes Sea Grant programs were on hand to talk with attendees about the wide array of resources available, many specifically tailored to the environmental needs and issues of their region. Classroom resources were also available, including Fresh and Salt and Greatest of the Great Lakes curricula, as well as the Dose of Reality newspaper activity guide that covers the disposal of unwanted medicines and personal care products.

6th Grade teacher uses workshop experience to train student scientists

October 9th, 2013 by
This past summer’s B-WET workshop offered a lot of lesson and activity ideas for all of the teachers who attended, including Marea Spentzos-Inghram, middle school teacher at Catherine Cook School in Chicago.  
Beyond just taking a few curriculum ideas back to her lesson prep, though, Ms. Spentzos-Inghram decided to turn her class into student scientists by becoming official precipitation observers for CoCoRaHS – the “Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network” – which is a volunteer network of weather watchers throughout the country. The project was even featured in the school newsletter (photo below).

“The B-WET workshop presented teachers with so much information it would be impossible to not get inspired!” said Ms. Spentzos-Inghram. “They had a lineup of AMAZING presenters from a variety of organizations to promote their efforts, which made it a one-stop shop for information about bringing Great Lakes science into the classroom.”

“Being an urban school, I felt limited in outdoor environmental opportunities but CoCoRaHs was do-able. Since I have rooftop access to my building it was easy to participate! And the students get REALLY excited when it rains because they want to see how much rain fell at our school. I can’t imagine what it will be like for snow (or other precipitation).”
Ms. Spentzos-Inghram has expanded on this experience and introduced an outreach component, with a group of students working on a PSA right now featuring a cartoon rain gauge being interviewed. 


As for the benefits of the workshop, “what they had to share seemed easy (teachers like easy) yet practical, useful, and educational. And the students have really taken to it and gotten involved, which is the best part of coming back with new ideas for the classroom.”
Similar workshops are held regularly, and you can contact IISG’s Robin Goettel and Terri Hallesy for more details. You can find additional information about Great Lakes science resources and training at our education page and at the Center for Great Lakes Literacy.

Teachers from Great Lakes states begin a week of hands-on research on Lake Ontario

July 8th, 2013 by
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.”

Coordinated efforts on PPCPs begin at first national workshop

March 8th, 2013 by
Last month, representatives from eight Sea Grant programs attended a two-day workshop in Jacksonville, FL hosted by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. Designed as an opportunity for specialists, educators, and communicators to build a national partnership on reducing pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in the nation’s waterways, the event was a first step in working towards coordinating these efforts.
Funded by the NOAA National Sea Grant Office, the workshop brought together a wide range of input from people who have extensive experience working on the issue of PPCPs in waterways, allowing for a tremendous collaboration.
Out of the two-day workshop came a unified message: The ways people choose to use and dispose of PPCPs impacts water quality everywhere.
In months to come, workshop participants will continue to work together to develop programs that carry that message to local communities.
“This is a national problem that requires local action. Sea Grant’s new working group is well-suited to tackle this issue because each program is trusted in their communities,” said Laura Kammin, IISG pollution prevention program specialist. “We are sharing our resources to create a strong and effective national partnership.”
The meeting also provided an opportunity for representatives from New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant programs to mentor others by sharing their award-winning work on reducing PPCPs in the Great Lakes basin. These and other discussions opened the door for collaboration with the North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Oregon, and Southern California Sea Grant programs.
IISG has been providing communities with information about how to start safe, legal medicine collection programs since 2006. So far, IISG has helped 63 communities in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan with single-day or permanent collection programs, ensuring the proper disposal of 9.65 million pills (81,813 pounds of unused medication).
For more information on IISG’s efforts to spread the word about proper use and disposal of PPCPs visit
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