John Gensic

Home state: Indiana Organization or Facility: Penn High School Primary age group(s) with whom you work: Biology students, grades 10 and 12
Why do you think it's important to infuse Great Lakes topics in education?

I think it is important to infuse Great Lakes topics in education because I take my family to Lake Michigan whenever I get the chance in the summer. Having high quality water and a healthy ecosystem is very important to the community in which I teach and the Midwest as a whole. By infusing topics related to the Great Lakes, students gain in their understanding of the local ecosystem, sense of place, and importance of their own stewardship. Teaching Great Lakes topics allows students to make connections between the core concepts of biology and the ecosystems in which we live and enjoy.

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

Every fall, I take students to the West Beach Succession Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.  In 2016, we saw 3-5 waterspouts during our trip. Each year, there are a number of students who have never seen Lake Michigan or been on a dune.  Being able to share nature with my students early in the year helps everything go more smoothly throughout the rest of the year.  During this trip, students are able to witness the human environment interactions between large industrial steel plants and the preservation of unique, enjoyable ecosystems.  When students go to West Beach, looking east and west, they see large steel plants they don’t typically witness when they visit a beach in Michigan. This broadens their understanding of what is actually occurring in our state. Additionally, this hike goes along an old sand mine, and students are able to witness the long-term impacts of deforestation and mining. Students go up and down dunes, but then have a very long, flat part of the hike so they can “feel” where the old mine was.  We often take the Hydrolab on this field trip to compare chlorophyll, temperature, turbidity, pH, and oxygen levels between Lake Michigan and the St. Joseph River near our school.

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

I use data collection, field trips, and some in-class activities to help students make connections between Great Lakes activities and broader biological concepts. Students connect natural selection, the Great Lakes, and invasive species when they research and tell an invasive species story. Students analyze river and lake data to find and explain patterns in the data collected by the Hydrolab on the St. Joseph River and Lake Michigan. By collecting Hydrolab data, students are able to connect these parameters to enzyme reactions we explore later in the year. This helps tie larger scale biology to the microscopic level.

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

I take advantage of almost every chance to do the video calls with scientists on the Lake Guardian. I like to ask questions and give students the opportunity to ask questions as well. Having scientists come into the classroom allows me to be more of a learner in front of students as a model. Students get the practice of stepping out of their comfort zone to ask questions.

Outside of the Lake Guardian scientists, I am also fortunate to have scientists from Notre Dame regularly conduct research on educational topics in my classroom. After they are done collecting data, I have the scientists discuss their career paths and research with students. This past year, students participated in a biology online tutorial, eye tracker research study. The eye-trackers collected data on where students’ eyes were focused while doing the online tutorial.

Contact John Gensic: john.gensic@gmail.com