Genuine learning is often wet, muddy, noisy and sometimes chaotic, but also an awesome way to engage any student in real problem-solving. Yet inadequate funding, lack of teacher training and policies that stress curriculum and testing targets keep many students cooped up in buildings. Not so for Pennsylvania and Ohio students and teachers participating in the Sea Grant-led NOAA Great Lakes B-WET watershed education and stewardship project.
The emphasis on watersheds, threats to the Great Lakes and field experiences is essential to the future of both students and the Great Lakes. These teachers are educating future scientists, teachers, town planners, politicians, farmers, consumers and business leaders who will need skills to solve Great Lakes problems. “Three jam-packed days of professional development prepared these teachers to involve their students in cross-curricular service-learning activities and projects that emphasize environmental conservation and the critical role of research,” said Marti Martz, Pennsylvania Sea Grant senior coastal outreach specialist who leads the project locally.
“By integrating Great Lakes science, lessons and stewardship, this unique project provides teachers with skills and resources to effectively educate their students,” adds Lyndsey Manzo, the Ohio Sea Grant educator who spearheads the project in her state.
A variety of MWEEs, or Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences, to highlight Great Lakes environmental, social, and economic challenges made the topics relevant. Collecting samples on Lake Erie with PA Sea Grant maritime educator David Boughton and water sampling on Mill Creek turned teachers into researchers. They did a variety of chemical, biological and physical tests to learn more about Lake Erie and Mill Creek water quality.
Some tests were done on board the Environaut while the Mill Creek samples were tested in a “real lab” at Mercyhurst University. Professor Steve Mauro, who has been testing Lake Erie and local waterways for chemicals including Triclosan, led the activity and shared his knowledge with the teachers. They were astounded to learn that Triclosan, the harmful ingredient in hand soaps and other chemicals, showed up in so many creeks, rivers and lakes, including Mill Creek and Lake Erie.
Teachers also heightened their science and math skills when they performed a site analysis to determine the amount of runoff produced when it rains. This activity increased their desire to find solutions for pollution and flooding caused by stormwater runoff. After studying invasive species in the classroom, the teachers became “Weed Warriors” on Presque Isle State Park where they helped to remove invasive species and realized they could make a difference and their students could, too.
In Ohio, a kayak tour near Cleveland, an erosion walk along the lakeshore and a beach litter cleanup and invasive-species and climate-change activities cemented the teachers’ resolve to share what they learned. The classroom sessions and the MWEEs impacted the teachers on a personal level and they hope to do the same for their students.
Now if only all teachers and students had this opportunity!
Read more about the B-WET project and teacher comments, and see more photos of teachers and their student projects here.
Also, continue to read the weekly NIE pages as we highlight more student projects.