HarborWatch Increases Knowledge
by Gail Trowbridge
Students in the HarborWatch program lower a water collection device into the Duluth-Superior Harbor. Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Aquarium
Curious middle and high school students who live near Lake Superior are examining their local harbor with a critical, scientific eye. Through a ground-breaking program called HarborWatch, they’re measuring water clarity, temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen, and posting their findings on the Internet. At the same time students are learning about research, they are adding to sparse data about Lake Superior harbors.
HarborWatch is a part of Lake Matters, a project that began in 1997 when Minnesota Sea Grant awarded $25,000 to the Great Lakes Aquarium at Lake Superior Center (GLA). Sea Grant asked GLA to develop the capacity of middle and high school teachers to teach Lake Superior aquatic science through a stewardship and monitoring program.
The challenge was finding a way students and teachers could monitor the lake without going out on it. “If you’re going to teach students how Lake Superior functions, you want to get them out there, being scientifically interactive,” said Andrew Slade, GLA’s director of education. “However, most schools can’t afford research vessel time, so the question became ‘What can you do from a breakwater wall or a harbor wall?’”
To help address this problem, GLA staff took teams of teachers from ten schools in Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan through Lake Matters training in August of 1997. In a follow-up workshop in January 1998, teachers helped refine the curriculum.
During this time, HarborWatch also began to take shape. “High school teachers, particularly, want their students to deal with real scientific data, and real community issues,” Slade said. HarborWatch is a program in which schools examine their local harbors through scientific monitoring, studying history and habitat, and creating a map of the area.
Cindy Welsh, an eighth-grade science teacher at Lincoln Park, regularly uses the Lake Matters curriculum in her classes. “The curriculum is very hands-on, and because it’s right out our front door, the science is based on something that kids see and interact with every day,” she said.
“It’s difficult to do this kind of science without some outside help,” Welsh said. GLA staff helped train her, and she said she’s now able to train parents to assist at monitoring stations when her classes are in the field.
The first HarborWatch data compiled by students has just been posted on the GLA Web site. According to Slade, these students can be thought of as pioneers for their particular kind of research. “Lots of work has been done nationwide on stream monitoring. However, there’s not much data on lakes, particularly harbors,” said Slade. He expects that as schools read and compare data with each other, they’ll be encouraged to continue their research. “There’s some real magic in having a school from Lake Superior’s South Shore see what a school on the North Shore is doing.”
To view the Lake Matters curriculum and examine the presentations posted by schools participating in HarborWatch, visit GLA’s Web site and go to “Learning the Lake.” For more information, contact Andrew Slade, 218.525.2265.