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Escaping Classroom Routines with Exotic Species

Illustration of exotic species trunk with Purple loostrife, Zebra Mussels, Sea Lamprey, and Round Goby.

Students are making an exotic fashion statement through one of the activities found in a new award-winning Sea Grant teacher compendium. While creating jewelry is not exactly your average classroom activity, it's giving students an appreciation for the complexity of the environment.

The students make bracelets to tell a story about the impacts that exotic species, sometimes called aquatic nuisance species, have on the ecosystem. Different colored beads represent distinct species, habitats, food sources, and impacts. The colorful creation demonstrates the interrelated nature of the environment.

As if high fashion weren't enough, when the students bring their exotic jewelry home they spread the word about these invasive species by telling the story to their parents.

Game boards, rap music, art, puzzles and experiments are just a few of the fun and informative activities created for K-12 classrooms in ESCAPE, short for the Exotic Species Compendium of Activities to Protect the Ecosystem. The compendium is part of a Sea Grant-sponsored campaign to teach young people about exotic species issues and help them explore ways to solve these real world problems.

Non-native species can have devastating affects on ecosystems when their populations grow and they begin to displace native species. Some cause serious economic problems.

The ESCAPE collection is comprised of 36 hands-on multi-disciplinary activities, each providing a lesson on exotic species, packaged with a dose of fun.

"Playing a game is a good way to sneak up on kids with learning," said Sarah Leach, a teacher in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, about one of ESCAPE's board games, Beat the Barriers. "The kids enjoyed the activity and learned quite a bit about the organisms involved, and about human interactions with ecosystems."

The activities were developed in 1998 by 125 teachers who attended Exotic Species Day Camps, training workshops held in five Great Lakes states. These camps provided teachers opportunities to see exotic species in the field and to learn the latest scientific findings.

From there, the activities were reviewed by both scientists and educators in agencies and academic institutions throughout the United States. The activities were pilot tested in 39 states and meet National Science Standards.

In addition to fact sheets and activity instructions, the compendium contains a CD with rap and folk music, video tapes, a color poster of the Great Lakes, and a box of zebra mussel shells.

The project recently earned two gold awards in the distance education and instructional design categories of the Agricultural Communicators in Education Critique and Awards competition.

Cost: $63 (includes shipping). To order, go to our products order form, and look under the exotics category. A laminated color version of ESCAPE's two game boards costs an additional $10. Purchased together, the compendium and the game boards cost $70.

ESCAPE was produced by the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program in partnership with Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Ohio Sea Grant Programs through a National Sea Grant College Program Strategic Initiatives Grant.

This article contains information from an Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant news release.

By Marie Zhuikov
September 2002

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