Teachers team up with scientists to explore how fisheries science experiences and Great Lakes stewardship opportunities can enhance student learning.
By: Brandon Schroeder and Dan O’Keefe
Great Lakes, fish and fishing are a common thread in conversations among residents in northeast Michigan coastal communities – and also in school learning opportunities with students. This fall, fifth-grade students from Ella White Elementary (Alpena Public Schools) welcomed a juvenile Lake Sturgeon into their classroom as part of a Lake Huron and biodiversity conservation learning experience supported by one of their many community partners, Sturgeon for Tomorrow.
One week later, these same students were in waders (and in the water) investigating watershed issues as part of their Thunder Bay Watershed Project. Working alongside scientists from Michigan Sea Grant, Michigan State University Extension, NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Huron Pines AmeriCorps students collected data on invasive species like rusty crayfish and zebra mussels found in the river, sampled for microplastics (very small plastic particles or fibers) in the river, among other water quality explorations. Another class of Ella White Elementary students similarly monitored Thunder Bay River water quality and explored marine debris issues at their local Sytek Park.
Other school programs explore fisheries science, too
This is far from the only fisheries science and watershed explorations with schools across northeast Michigan this year. This past spring, Onaway High School visited the NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, exploring underwater robotics, and learning about fisheries science careers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alpena, Mich. These students also are hosting Lake Sturgeon in their classroom, and plan to visit with local fisheries scientists from the MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife working locally at the Black River Sturgeon Streamside Research Station. Besser Elementary (Alpena Public Schools), Oscoda Area Schools, and Alcona Community School students are participating in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Salmon in the Classroom program this year. These classes will be receiving salmon eggs in the fall, and Alcona Elementary students have visited their local stream (near the local marina) to kick-off some watershed studies and lead a litter pickup with several local community partners.
In common, these projects are all supported through the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI) network, a school-community place-based education partnership. NEMIGLSI recently received a Great Lakes NOAA B-WET program grant to expand watershed studies and fisheries stewardship opportunities among schools in this region. Led by Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension, this NOAA B-WET strives to provide support for educators and meaningful watershed education experiences for students – experiences framed in our valuable Great Lakes fisheries. Supporting the teachers behind these student experiences, the regional Sea Grant Center for Great Lakes Literacy (CGLL) serves to foster Great Lakes science connections with education.
Teachers explore watersheds, ways to expand student learning
This past summer, the NEMIGLSI network, CGLL, and this Great Lakes NOAA B-WET project collaborated to offer the 2018 Lake Huron Summer Place-Based Stewardship Education Summer Institute. Fifteen teachers from across the Lake Huron watershed (and beyond) convened in Alcona County, Mich., and worked alongside Great Lakes scientists and community partners with a goal of expanding their students’ learning experiences through watershed studies and fisheries stewardship experiences. Framed in place-based education practices, educators explored local watersheds, interacted with fisheries science and stakeholders, and considered many ways in which fisheries benefit our community.
As part of this Summer Institute experience, teachers also considered the many values in fish beyond their roles in the ecosystem – for example, fish are fun to catch, provide a local food source, and contribute social and economic values. Teachers experienced this first hand when meeting with Lake Huron commercial fisherman bringing in their catch of Lake Whitefish and visiting Cedar Brook Trout Farm where they learned about the aquaculture industry, had fun fishing, and explored math and science learning values in the fish they caught.
Engaging teachers in a fisheries science experience, Huron Pines, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Sea Grant, and MSU Extension led a variety of fisheries science sessions in local waterways investigating water habitats and watershed issues, fish biology and ecosystem sciences, and fisheries research and management techniques. Teachers learned about gear used by scientists to sample fish (including an underwater look and video of their fyke net deployed), collect data on fish from identification to measurements, and how to apply science and math skills (and a variety of other skills, including art) to help students analyze data and answer science questions.
The end goal for educators participating in this Lake Huron PBSE Summer Teacher Institute was to explore opportunities for expanding student learning – and connections with community – by engaging their students in local Great Lakes watershed explorations and fisheries stewardship projects. It was an exciting week for teachers, exploring Great Lakes literacy and learning through place-based education stewardship practices. Already, these teachers are translating their experiences into meaningful watershed education experiences and place-based fisheries stewardship education opportunities with their students across northeast Michigan.