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Sea Life and Science Aboard the R/V Lake Guardian

Photo: Educators aboard the R/V <em>Lake Guardian</em>. Credit: Chris J. Benson

Fifteen educators stepped back on land in mid-July after a shipboard workshop on Lake Superior that changed the way they look at the Great Lakes and how they teach their students. Minnesota Sea Grant's Environmental Quality Extension Educator Cindy Hagley and Kristin TePas, community outreach specialist with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, were with them every step of the way.

For seven days the educators lived on the Environmental Protection Agency's R/V Lake Guardian. Working side by side with three EPA scientists, they performed experiments that contributed to Great Lakes research, learned new skills and gained information to take back to their classrooms. The educators gained much more than simply facts and figures on their adventure.

Lori Danz, a high school science teacher from Superior, Wisconsin, put it this way, "A lot of workshops are kind of fluff ... this one was gritty, and hands on, and get in there and learn, which was excellent."

The educators were grouped into three scientist-led teams at the start of the trip: Team Diporea, The Zooplanktonators, and The Water Quality Team. Each team's activities over the next week would introduce them to the Great Lakes and contribute to ongoing Great Lakes research.

Educators were asking important questions while collecting data throughout the trip. One offshore experience took them to Houghton, Michigan, where they learned about the negative environmental impacts of the stamp sands associated with copper mining in the 20th century.

What Happened Aboard the S/V Denis Sullivan?

In a second Sea Grant-led, Center for Great Lakes Literacy workshop held in the summer of 2016, a dozen intrepid educators set sail on a week-long journey aboard the tall ship S/V Denis Sullivan. Over the course of a week these educators learned about Great Lakes science and research and how to apply it to their classrooms. And for this trip, they also participated as crew conducting round-the-clock watches, boat checks and chores.

Undaunted as they pitched and rolled across Lake Superior in the world’s only re-creation of a 19th century three-masted Great Lakes schooner, the educators worked on various projects that included identifying invasive species and using a specialized water quality monitoring equipment to collect water quality data.

Minnesota Sea Grant Environmental Quality Extension Educator Cindy Hagley and Environmental Literacy Extension Educator Marte Kitson were on board to help educators translate their science experiences into their classroom curricula. The educators asked the questions that often accompany learning about the ecological repercussions of human activity: How can we help? How can we get people to care enough to make a change?

A second offshore stop took them to Fish Creek near Ashland, Wisconsin. There they seined and identified fish, and collected wetland plants via kayak. Although the educators were learning for themselves, they were also discovering ways to translate their experiences into classroom lessons.

In addition to learning about modern challenges to ensuring water quality, they were encouraged to ask themselves what they could do to develop new ideas and actions to help solve these important ecological issues. The process of questioning and determining how current practices can be improved upon was emphasized throughout the trip.

Toward the end of the week-long trip it was clear that although the educators were in teams, they were all working together. For example, Team Diporea used Water Quality's research to ask if anything in the water could be affecting the presence of Diporea. This interconnectedness between teams was described by participants as being similar to the interconnectedness of the Great Lakes.

For their final activity, each team developed a presentation of their findings and a plan for how they could use this knowledge in the classroom. An indication of how close the educators had become were the inside jokes included in each presentation. Some educators described their ideas for crafting miniature versions of the tools they used onboard and others shared their plans for mini-experiments destined for their students. No matter how they will use the wealth of information gained the trip, each left with lessons they said will affect the way they teach.

Hagley, TePas and other Great Lakes Sea Grant Network educators have organized annual Shipboard Science Workshops through the Center for Great Lakes Literacy for more than a decade. The Environmental Protection Agency enabled educators from around the Great Lakes Basin to conduct science on a research vessel.

For more information about the 2016 Shipboard Science Workshop, visit the Center for Great Lakes Literacy website. There you will find blog entries, a video about this trip and details about upcoming opportunities for Great Lakes educators.


By Summer Harris
December 2016

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