Forest mountains – Sixth graders Lexi Tornes, Alyssa Griffioen, and Jenni Bajko admit they don’t speak regularly in class. But that was before they boarded a Great Lakes schooner and spent the day studying what makes the water healthy and how to maintain it.
Jenni said, “I wasn’t really interested in science, but after the experience of being on the boat and realizing how much science tells you about the world and how much things affect each other, I’m definitely starting a lot more To get an interest in science. “
The trio – along with the typically chatty Claire Pierczynski – is part of two fifth and sixth grade classrooms at Central Woodlands School that spent the fall researching invasive species of the Great Lakes based on this October 12th trip and trails to find help get rid of them.
The group of four – called Preppy Fisherwomen / Ladies of the Lake / The Stubborn Group – examined prickly water fleas that invade Lake Ontario and gain a foothold there via a contaminated cargo ship.
And they’re not easy to get rid of, said Claire. “They are zooplankton that are really tiny and underwater in the ground.”
The group agreed that washing the boat bottom and fishing gear every five days is a good strategy to break the fleas’ life cycle. Claire said it was important because otherwise “they will keep having babies”. Lexi said they also clog the loops of fishing rods, and Jenni said that if thorns took control, it would “eliminate some species of native zooplankton, which is good for aquatic life”.
In the summer, teacher Patty Tolly attended a four-day training event hosted by Suttons Bay-based Inland Lake Education Association. The participants were invited to apply for a grant from the association via Bay Watershed Education and Training for their students to travel to Suttons Bay and spend a day aboard a schooner.
Central Woodlands students became marine scientists and helped collect and analyze samples from the Great Lakes, including fish, plankton and bottom organisms. They also helped hoist sails and haul an anchor from around 30 meters, scooped up microplastics, and examined invasive species like round gobies and zebra mussels.
“I loved looking under the microscope and seeing how much invasive zooplankton there is compared to native zooplankton,” Jenni said. “There was a lot more.”
The curriculum is based on Michigan Science Standards.
“It was the excursion of a lifetime,” said Tolly. “We learned so much and they just loved it.”
As part of the practice-oriented learning day, they also built and tested robot-operated watercraft.
“I always teach about the design thinking process, so the goal was for them to include that,” said Tolly. “When something didn’t work, it was so interesting to see them go back and look for ways they could fix it.”
Back in school, language teacher Deb Elscholz had students write about what they had learned, and groups of Tolly’s students worked on projects that focused on what organizations are doing to remove invasive species and what sixth graders can do.
The unit was the prelude to what students will be studying in the natural sciences this year, including ecosystems, food webs, biodiversity and invasive plant species and how to contain them.
Tolly is especially happy when a class activity arouses enthusiasm for learning in the previously calm students.
“It does project-based learning and that’s why I literally get goosebumps right now when I love what I’m doing, when every student can shine.”