Educators Ruffe it Up with Researchers

January 24, 2015

Twenty intrepid educators stepped out of their normal milieu to help Michelle Gutsch, a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota, trawl for data for her dissertation. Gutsch and her advisor Joel Hoffman, biologist with the Mid-Continent Ecology Division of the EPA and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, are investigating how invasive Ruffe might be affecting the ecological niches of Lake Superior’s native fish.

Minnesota Sea Grant’s Cindy Hagley sent out the call that brought the educators, some hundreds of miles away, to Duluth, Minn., to join Gutsch, Hoffman, the crew of the Blue Heron, and Sea Grant on one of two research cruises. Hagley said that the highlight of her days on the water was witnessing educators and scientists talking together about science. She said, “The educators worked hard all day long doing real research … not just watching.” Cultivating deeper appreciation for research, the scientific method, and real-world science is why Sea Grant offers this sort of professional development for educators.

The cruise on the open waters of Lake Superior at the back end of October didn’t turn up many Ruffe. Instead, the trawls picked up hundreds of another non-native fish: Rainbow Smelt. The early-November team cruised the Duluth-Superior Harbor and caught Ruffe, but not in great numbers. Hagley said, “We caught many Trout-perch and one four-foot diameter mud ball that almost destroyed the net. We had to wash it out with the Blue Heron’s fire hose.”

One of the educators commented, “I liked how learning about and predicting the niches where invasive species might thrive fits in with what I teach. I added a part to my adaptation spiel asking, ‘If this animal were dropped into another part of the world, what would it need?’”

Several educators remarked on the valuable and illuminating conversations they had with Gutsch and Hoffman. Gutsch said, “It has been an amazing experience working with so many different educators. More than collecting data for my research, the goal of these cruises was to bridge the gap between scientists and educators so scientific research can be conveyed to the youth in our community. I think we have started to achieve this goal!”

A “Dig-in Day” followed in December to help the participating educators further integrate the shipboard experience into their curriculum. The day was spent working with researchers to process and analyze the fish, invertebrate, and zooplankton samples that they collected, review and interpret water quality data, and explore ways they could share their new knowledge with their studentsJoel helps his graduate student, Michelle Gutsch, remove fish from the bottom trawl.Scientists and educators work side-by-side to identify Lake Superior fish in a Shipboard Science workshop..