Week-long shipboard workshop: Teachers learn about Great Lakes science, help scientists do research

By Jason Peterson and Robin Goettel

Those aboard the US EPA's R/V Lake Guardian for COSEE's Shipboard and Shoreline Science workshop got a lock, stock, and barrel experience of Lake Michigan, the last stop for this Great Lakes workshop series.

Departing from Milwaukee, the fifteen teachers and nonformal educators worked alongside scientists throughout the week. During the week-long workshop, held from July 6-12, they sampled in the open water and made stops in Green Bay, Wisconsin; Traverse City, Michigan; and Muskegon, Michigan. The stops gave the educators an opportunity to sample in a variety of environments and also allowed for on-land excursions, such as a naturalist-led tour of Sleeping Bear Dunes (Traverse City) and a narrated visit inside the Silversides Submarine along with a tour of the Great Lakes Naval Memorial Museum in Muskegon.

According to Tomas Höök, a Purdue University faculty member and the workshop's lead scientist, the educators engaged in sampling for larval fish, zooplankton, and benthic invertebrates and helped perform standard measurements on the lake. The samplings, which were logged into an EPA database, will be used by Höök to compare nearshore and offshore productivity.

"The teachers were helpful collecting data for my research," Hook said, "but what was more useful was learning how to effectively communicate with them."

Höök said the workshop experience encouraged him to reach out to educators more as an audience for his work. He has already been in contact with a few of the participants since the workshop ended.

The two-way dialogue created between the scientists and the teachers is a critical part of the workshop, according to COSEE Great Lakes staff who led the workshop. These new connections serve foster numerous impacts of this education experience.

The hands-on research component of the workshop was supplemented with group activities onboard the vessel. COSEE developed a set of Great Lakes literacy principles that served as a foundation for the participants throughout the week. Corresponding Ocean Literacy principles were also highlighted so the educators could take these activities and incorporate them as supplements to existing curriculum.

"The workshop is a win-win situation," said Robin Goettel, IISG associate director for education and Lake Michigan-based COSEE coordinator of the workshop. "The teachers will not only translate their first-hand experiences back to their classrooms, but they were also helping the scientists do their research onboard."

COSEE's two goals for the workshop were to make Great Lakes science more accessible and to increase Great Lakes literacy. The participants voiced that this was a success.

"My awareness of Great Lakes literacy has been expanded 100-fold," said Goshen Middle School science teacher Matt Katzer. "The importance of Great Lakes ecology is an essential learning tool for my students, adults, all of us."

Gwen Bottoli, a fourth grade teacher at Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School, said, "I'm now aware of the complexity of the Great Lakes ecosystems and how much I have left to learn! Beyond a doubt, I am privileged to have the opportunity to go on this voyage of a lifetime."

Helen Domske, one of the COSEE instructors for the workshop said, "What a wonderful experience to help a dedicated group of educators expand their knowledge base about the Great Lakes and specifically, Lake Michigan. From teaching them about invasive species, to botulism outbreaks, to lake sturgeon, the teachers were interested and excited to learn new information that they can share with their students. They worked alongside us like true scientists, always asking questions and trying to grasp the big ecological picture. It was exciting to respond to their wonder and exhilaration as they went through the different monitoring stations on the vessel. The crew of the Lake Guardian seems to have a "soft spot" for educators because they go above and beyond to make each shipboard workshop a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the participants."

Another COSEE Shipboard Science workshop instructor was Jim Lubner, who also assisted the teachers in their monitoring and analysis activities. Jim arranged for excellent presentations by four scientists at the Great Lakes Water Institute in Milwaukee and documented portions of the workshop by videotaping participants actively engaging with scientists.

COSEE Great Lakes Shipboard and Shoreline Science Workshops are supported by the National Science Foundation and NOAA-Sea Grant. This workshop was conducted in partnership with USEPA, Great Lakes National Program Office, which graciously offered us use of the R/V Lake Guardian vessel.