Saturday, August 25, 2012

All Aboard the Lake Guardian

Ms. Jess Henze, a self-identified professional development addict, contributed this piece that summarizes her summer learning experiences.  Straightforward and forward-thinking, Jess makes purposeful connections to science emphasizing water - our most valuable and critical resource.  Read on and enjoy!  

When the final bell rang for the school year, many teachers breathe a sigh of relief as it is now time for us to recharge our batteries. My sigh didn't come until the beginning of July as I had scheduled myself for 3 different professional learning opportunities in the first three weeks of summer. The first, AVID critical reading training. The second, 3 days to collaborate with fellow teachers on science curriculum. But the first day was all about making a traditional science lab into an inquiry based lab. Definitely something to keep in mind as I head into the new school year, a new team, and new curriculum. Each summer I take two science courses that have been designed by West Ed. This summer's courses included Understanding Energy, and Understanding Matter. The Matter course gave me a much needed refresher of chemistry topics, and I've thought long and hard about how to make Energy an overarching idea throughout the year, since it is really found in ALL sciences.

However, the professional learning opportunity that left me yearning for more was a week-long workshop aboard the Research Vessel Lake Guardian. The Lake Guardian is a 180 foot EPA vessel that monitors biological, chemical, and geological characteristics of the Great Lakes. Each year, the Shipboard workshop is on a different Great Lake, this year, we were on Lake Huron.

You might be thinking to yourself... “How does being on a ship make the best professional development?” Well, it is really three-fold.

  1. Connections: In 7 days, I have made life-long friends with the other educators and we frequently communicate about the things we are doing via Facebook, email, and Twitter. Some have already made plans to meet in November to attend a conference together, and we are really there for each other, understanding exactly what we are all going through. It is a great way to bounce ideas off of each other, as well as finding ways for our students to collaborate with one of more classes. For example, we are interested in comparing water quality data of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Mendota, to see what we can find.

  2. Scientists: It isn't every day that you get to work side by side scientists that are conducting research in the field. While we were on the Lake Guardian, we worked with Eric, a chemist that is in charge of the water quality samples, Dave who was a leading researcher in understanding the invasive species called the Round Goby, and Jim, who was a recently retired Limnologist. (A limnologist is like a marine biologist, but they focus on fresh water ecosystems.) All of these scientists exhibited extreme patience and definitely reminded me what it feels like to be a student. We had hours of lectures going well into the night a few days, and we still didn't get to all of the information! I also left with a new appreciation of working with young people and sharing the gift of science. Being on the ship and helping with Mysis tows, fish larval tows, benthos samples and other cool ways to collect data was an awesome experience, but it isn't something I would want to do every day.

  3. Data: Scientists use data. One thing that we have found over the course of years of analyzing standardized tests is that our students don't seem to have enough experience with analyzing data and coming up with conclusions based on it. Before departing from the Lake Guardian, the facilitators and the scientists shared websites and emails so that we can access all of the data that we collected, as well as being able to access data that the Lake Guardian continues to collect on the biannual tours of the Great Lakes in spring and summer. Since the Lake Guardian is out on the lakes for 7 months out of the year, there is more data than we would know what to do with, but giving students access to real data, and tools to collect real data (using the Hydrolab that the EPA will graciously loan teachers to use with students), will be authentic science at its best.
It seems like it was years ago since the 14 educators departed from the port to experience Lake Huron in its glory, but the memories will remain.

In addition to the Lake Guardian workshop, one of my shipmates sent me information about teacher fellowships through EarthWatch. She had done 14 days with a scientist in the Arctic Circle and learned all about global climate change... since it was so highly recommended, I will definitely be looking into this for next summer.

Ms. Jess Henze is a parent, a middle school teacher,  softball player, and outdoors woman.  In fact, she is more comfortable out-of-doors, than in-doors.  

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