Hannah Evans

Home state: Pennsylvania
Why do you think it's important to infuse Great Lakes topics in education?

Living in a Great Lakes region is a privilege that should be fostered through education, stewardship, and community service projects. Although my school does not border Lake Erie, the Fort LeBoeuf district falls within the Lake Erie Basin and our habits affect the quality of the Great Lakes. While Great Lakes Literacy topics greatly lend themselves to Environmental Science, any subject has the ability to incorporate fresh water learning into the curriculum. Collaborating with different classes in my building, I have found lessons to be more effective when drawing from others’ expertise. Working with woodshop and CAD classes, my Environmental students were able to guide their peers in designing and building bat houses for local bat populations experiencing declines. We then visited the nearby middle school to spread the message of conservation and ecology. I find some of the most valuable lessons are those that take advantage of the local opportunities for learning outside the classroom and deepen my students’ understanding of our watershed.

Describe one of your favorite classroom experiences/activities associated with the Great Lakes.

This year, my students are reading “No Impact Man” by Colin Beaven. The engaging memoir of a New Yorker tracks his year of change as he strives to make zero net impact on the environment. Each unit of the book is associated with a class project to bring about awareness of our own lifestyles. Recently, my students completed a lab on waste. After lugging around a clear plastic bag collecting every piece of trash produced over 24 hours, my students were tasked with dissecting their loot and categorizing their waste. Bags were weighed prior to dissection, resulting in an average of just under 2 pounds of trash produced per day. This is less than half the amount of waste produced by an average American on a daily basis. After participating in the International Coastal Clean Up this fall, my students were able to make the connection that their waste could end up in Lake Erie and other waterways. For seven days after the waste lab, my students tracked their trash-production habits in an online journal to discover if their awareness of trash made a difference in their behaviors. Most found that their consumption of single-use products decreased over the week, showing that awareness can lead to behavior change that is positively associated with our environment.

What teaching methods do you use to engage students in Great Lakes activities?

Visiting local facilities that reinforce lessons learned in the classroom are some of the best ways that my students can connect to the real world. Field trips to the Waste Water Treatment Facility opened my students eyes (and closed their nostrils!) to the processing of the water that disappears down their sinks, tubs, and toilets. A visit to the local Lakeview Landfill put students on top of years of trash collected within Erie county, allowing them to visualize the literal mountain of waste we produce as a society. When we cannot leave the classroom, students from a local college club (Creek Connections) lead my classes in testing water quality from a nearby creek several times a year. The mentorship this opportunity provides is invaluable. Other hands-on lab and learning projects enhance my curriculum. Through my involvement in the CGLL, my students teamed up with students in CAD and woodshop classes to design and build bat houses, using repurposed pallet materials, to provide homes for little brown bats in local habitats.

If relevant, share some examples of how you involved scientist(s) in your teaching.

Exposing high school students to real relevant research is critical in promoting an interest in the field of science and promoting stewardship. I have invited a variety of professionals to speak with my students both in person and via Skype to share their studies. A specialist on plastics in marine environments at Tufts University in Boston, a researcher studying aquatic invasive species through Pennsylvania Sea Grant, and a citizen scientist that works with local bat species have all been supplemental contributors to my curriculum.

Please share some interesting student reflections on ways they have developed a stewardship ethic. Include how they inspired others to make a difference to improve the health of the Great Lakes watershed.

“I try to use reusable items, instead of just plastic in paper. For example I bring my own silverware for my lunches, or a reusable water bottle. Instead of throwing away my water bottles, or using the plastic utensils the school cafeteria provides. By telling people about how garbage is impacting our environment it may put a small impact on them to not throw away as much, and recycle more.” – Lexi Borgia

“I have become much more environmentally aware within the last few months. I’m much more conscious of the waste I make. I recycle more than I used to, and I refuse one-use paper and plastic products when I can. I’ve informed some members of my family of the importance of waste reduction. All of these small changes can hopefully have some impact on the Great Lakes watershed.” –Alexandra Brace

“Personally I think I have a huge impact on the environment because I throw a lot of stuff away constantly without thinking about it. After we did that week long thing with the trash I have been watching myself though. How I would inspire people would be to show them facts on the result if we keep up our habits and that we need to recycle a lot more before we run out of space for landfills, cause sooner or later, it’ll probably happen.” –Casey Giannelli

“I am more aware of what I am throwing away, I recycle more and use less waste.” –Cole Brooks

“As a host at a restaurant, I am responsible for cleaning tables. Our job is to take the cups off of the tables. Ever since the NIM journal, I have honestly been thinking about how many straws people use and it is a complete waste. I always think to myself, how come people use straws? Why can’t straws be biodegradable? Why can’t companies just make reusable straws? It just doesn’t make sense to me. I have not used a straw since the movie theater. Something else that happened to me this weekend was I was touring La Roche University in Pittsburgh and before we left on Friday, we stopped at CoFair (Country Fair, a conveniencee store). My mom and I got Twizzlers, white chocolate peppermint pretzels, water, a root beer, and a peach tea. The cashier rang us out and asked if we wanted a bag I said no and then my mom said actually yes we would like a bag. As he handed us the bag I said “No, we don’t need a bag. These bags are swallowed by sea turtles and they die. We don’t need a bag.” My mom was legitimately mad at me because I made a huge ordeal out of a plastic bag but it really is a HUGE deal. This is how I have been #savingtheenvironment1bagatatime #noimpactgal” –Meghan Strain

Contact Hannah Evans: evansh@flbapps.net