The Teachers Take With Them A Web of Learning (Day 7 … and beyond)

August 12, 2010

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Blogger’s Note: It’s been a few weeks since the teachers completed “2010’s Lake Ontario Exploration Workshop.” Now, we’re following up with them, both on what they presented to each other right before the week-long training wound down and what they plan to do moving forward with all their newly-learned notions of Lake Ontario and its tributaries.

After a week of Lake Ontario learning - from seining on the Niagara River near Buffalo to experiencing the sand dunes of Black Pond Wildlife Management Area all the way up the eastern lakeshore past Oswego - the teachers on this Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) Great Lakes tour are leaving, soon to return to their respective classrooms with a wealth of hands-on knowledge. “This group of educators and the dedicated scientists and researchers made every moment of planning well worth the effort,” said New York Sea Grant Coastal Education Specialist Helen Domske, leader of the exploration workshop.

On the final morning of this journey, the teachers gathered to discuss what they plan to do once they get back into their classrooms. They also shared some “wow” moments and were presented certificates of completion for a job well done. Each of the participants also received a pewter sturgeon pin that they can wear as a token of their time spent learning about Lake Ontario.

The first group to present included Erik Bauerlein, Kristin Sheehan, Sandy Cunningham and Scott Krebbeks, who are all middle school teachers. They are proposing to have their classes connect with each other to share facts, information and questions among their students. Using tools such as posters, a blog and shared presentations, their unit will focus on the physical characteristics of Lake Ontario, as well as the native and invasive species of the lake and human impacts that alter the environment. Students will be given a problem that they personally can have an impact on. That personal connection to an issue and communication with students from other schools should lead to some rewarding activities in the upcoming school year.

“I want to give my students a better understanding of the Great Lakes based on my experiences and learning,” said Bauerlein, “from invasive species and how they are being managed to understanding the food chain in the Great Lakes and how humans have impacted it.” He plans to use this information to supplement the water unit in his classroom.

Others in this group further the idea of how beneficial the Lake Ontario tour has been. “I have a better idea of all of the facts that impact the Great Lakes watershed - ecologically, politically, economically and geologically,” said Krebbeks. “And, I’ll incorporate the real-life examples I experienced on this workshop in my science curriculum.” For Cunningham, it’s concepts like invasives in the Great Lakes and water quality in the Niagara River and Lake Ontario that have her most inspired. “I am planning on changing several activities that I already use - drop in the bucket, bioaccumulation, the energy pyramid - to be Great Lakes specific.”

The next group of teachers - Sandie Cecelski, Eunice Reinhold and Claire Faulring - will have their students look at water quality, agriculture, responsible stewardship, point and non-point pollution and other environmental problems related to the watershed. Each teacher will use local streams or ponds as living classrooms to teach their students important concepts that they learned about during the workshop. And they will utilize classroom experiments to add experiential learning to environmental issues.

“I have taken these wonderful, sweet inland seas for granted,” said Reinhold. “But, I now feel renewed from what I learned - about the ecology and geology of the Great Lakes - and I want to share this enthusiasm with my students.” Cecelski added, “My participation in this COSEE Great Lakes workshop has expanded and enriched my entire teaching methodology related to aquatic science.” Mirroring her group member’s comments, Faulring, a teacher in Erie County’s Springville, NY said, “I have gained a greater appreciation for what is in my backyard.”

Teachers Chris Cybulski, Dave Uglow, Judy Gluchowski and Paulette Morein provided a variety of activities that their students will be involved in. From salt maps of the Great Lakes, outlines made in sidewalk chalk, dissection of fish, reading Paddle to the Sea, Scribble maps of local areas, using the Nab the Aquatic Invader! Web site, or a virtual pond dip, these educators will involve their students in a myriad of classroom projects to increase their knowledge of and stewardship for Lake Ontario.

“I was amazed to find out how badly polluted Lake Erie was in the 1960s,” said Cybulski. “It was also good to know that we’ve since done something about it, by reducing phosphorus levels, introducing municipal sewage systems and cutting down on industrial pollution.” In related news, a new NOAA-funded study led by Christopher Gobler, an associate professor at Stony Brook University, in collaboration with New York Sea Grant’s James Ammerman and Chuck O’Neill, will focus on how phosphorus pollution drives toxic blooms of blue-green algae in the Great Lakes (click here for more details).

For Morien, a teacher in Dunkirk, NY, which is bordered on the north by Lake Erie, all this lake learning has her energized, too. “I currently have no lessons on the Great Lakes, but I plan on developing a unit of study for my classroom.” A few of the “big ideas” she will incorporate: lessons on identifying and naming the Great Lakes, their size, volume and depth as well as native and invasive species and what students can do to “preserve the splendor of the Great Lakes.”

For many of the teachers, the experience has been an ideal refresher course. “During this week-long immersion in Great Lakes information, I’ve been surprised to find that my knowledge was out of date,” said Gluchowski. “I learned how clean-up efforts have made dramatic improvements in Lake Ontario and invasive species have added huge new challenges.” Gluchowski, an enrichment specialist at a Rochester, NY elementary school, has been working on connecting lessons on Lake Ontario to an existing fifth grade unit.

“In the fall, students begin their study of science with a unit on ‘The Living Environment,’ a New York State standard. During this unit, students study a pond or stream ecosystem on the school campus. But, because of this week-long workshop, I’m working on building on that unit so that the students view our school’s wetlands as part of Lake Ontario’s watershed and, therefore, a larger ecosystem. My aim is that the students walk away with a better understanding of ecosystems, an interest in science, and perhaps even begin to feel the importance of stewardship for the Lake ecosystem.”

John Pennella, Kit Marshall, Kim Furguson and Ed Stevens highlighted activities that will be used with high school students around the Lake Ontario watershed. Focusing on taxonomy, stream indicators and water quality, their students will use a hypothesis driven approach to learning about Lake Ontario and its ecosystems. They will also utilize mapping activities to add a local relevance to their classroom efforts.

Some of the essential questions of these teachers will address with their students include: How do we determine the impact of humans on the local ecosystem? And how will this affect your use of environmental resources? “Overall, I found the activities on this trip to be engaging, informative and worthwhile to take back to my students so that they might realize the importance of and take responsibility for the health of the Great Lakes in the future,” said Marshall, a teacher in Oswego.

Before disbanding, many of the teachers shared their favorite moments from the trip. These included the interactions with researchers, the visits to Fort Niagara, the sand dunes, the Salmon River Hatchery or the Rice Creek Field Station. Many commented on the new information they learned, either during a presentations or from each other along the way. They’ll take all this with them and will use it in their respective classrooms. “They shared the spirit and dedication of other educators,” said Domske. “These teachers were inspired by each other’s enthusiasm and zest for learning and they’ve made connections that will last for years to come.”

In closing, I [Paul C. Focazio, NYSG’s Web Content Manager] leave you with some “thank you” messages that our trip leader, Helen Domske, wanted me to relay …

“This trip was a huge success and I owe much gratitude to Paul Focazio, who put together this excellent blog that will be used by the teachers in the future. I also thank him for driving the other van along the shores of Lake Ontario. Special thanks go to Mary Penney, Dave White, Ellen George and Sharon Mullen for their assistance with planning the program. To the researchers and scientists including, Dr. Joe Atkinson, Dr. Randy Snyder, Dr. Chris Pennuto, Dr. Bill Edwards, Dr. Lucina Hernandez, Chuck O’Neill of New York Sea Grant, Mike Goehle, Denise Clay of USFWS, geologist Susan Diachun of NYS Parks, the biologists at the Aquarium of Niagara, Peter Robson at the BUBL, Fran Verdoliva of NYSDEC, and Rene Rickard of the Tuscarora Nation sharing their time and expertise with this group of educators. You touched our lives, expanded our knowledge and made us understand our role as stewards of Lake Ontario. This week has been a real highlight in my 32 years of teacher training and I am proud to be a part of COSEE Great Lakes and New York Sea Grant. Both entities believe in educating those who teach the next generation of Great Lakes citizens!”