Aquatic invasive species make their way into our waters through a variety of means. One is through classroom specimens that end up released into local rivers and lakes when the class work is done.

“Live Plants and Animals in the Classroom: Developing Teacher-Based Solutions” is the name of a focus group meeting that was held on August 12 at the Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo. Ten educators representing elementary, middle, and high schools in Illinois and Indiana, as well as two school librarians and a zoo educator participated in the discussion.

This event is one important component of a grant from NOAA-Sea Grant coordinated by the Oregon Sea Grant Program. The goal of the project is to develop appropriate solutions that will help prevent new introductions of organisms into local waterways. Wei Ying Wong, Mellon postdoctoral fellow at Connecticut College, facilitated the four-hour focus group discussion. Several IISG staff members planned and attended this event–Robin Goettel, associate director for education, Terri Hallesy, education specialist, Pat Charlebois, aquatic invasives specialist and Kristin TePas, aquatic invasive extension associate. Lanis Petrik, senior education specialist at the Brookfield Zoo, arranged for the room, lunch, and our conference equipment.

The goal of the focus group was to obtain input from educators who use live organisms in their classrooms. These educators shared perspectives on ways that they use live species in the classroom and why they feel they are important in helping students learn. They also discussed where they get their organisms and their concerns about using live species in the classroom such as how do deal with long-term care and disposal.

Many of the educators expressed concern with the option of euthanizing these animals after use. The focus group concluded with an interesting discussion about what types of resources on invasive species would be helpful to them, what might lead them to use the resources, and how IISG and others can best reach out to teachers and students regarding information about invasive species as they relate to live organisms used in the classroom.

Here are a couple quotes from two participants:

“I am an elementary general teacher and I want to learn more. We don’t have a science specialist coming to our bi-lingual school. It’s difficult to go in depth into something as valuable as science. It can become an overwhelming issue.”

“I am amazed at how much I do not know! Glad to know there are other teachers out there that are better versed, but there is still a lot that they need to know.”

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