Kelly Koller

Home state: Wisconsin
Organization or Facility: Howard-Suamico School District
Grade(s): 3rd and 4th
Subject(s): All (Elementary--Math, ELA, SS, Science)
Why do you think it's important to infuse Great Lakes topics in education?

Helping develop a sense of place is essential to fostering feelings of community connectedness, interdependence and an understanding of the many ways human and environmental systems intersect. Therefore, to me, Great Lakes Literacy is about both ecological and emotional wellness and connectedness. I love teaching students about this amazing resource we get to be stewards of–when they learn that the Great Lakes is the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem they are both impressed AND proud. It is vital to educate about this ecosystem of global importance and how to be stewards of it, and there are so many ways it can be integrated into all of our subject areas.

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

Inspired by an incredible shipboard science professional development experience aboard the Denis Sullivan tall ship in 2019, I was driven to try to figure out ways to provide a similar experience for my students. I connected with an amazing local organization, Green Bay Sail, that provides a wide variety of sailing and STEM experiences for all ages of learners. With a colleague and some support of grant funding, we created a sailing, underwater drone and marine debris field experience for our students. The fact that this happened during the pandemic summer of 2020 made it even more meaningful. During a time where students had to do most of their learning online, it felt great to be able to provide an opportunity where students could not only learn outdoors (6 ft apart) but also be adventurous (it was everyone’s first time sailing!) and connect with the Great Lakes in the process. In addition to learning the basics of sailing and navigating a Hobie sailboat all on their own, they did a beach clean up and operated an underwater ROV searching for marine debris. I know that the experience deepened their knowledge of the Great Lakes, but even more meaningful to me was giving them a memory of outdoor adventure and being together during a challenging time.

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

My first go-to is using maps to show the location of our school and homes in relation to Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes watershed. Depending on how deep I am able to go, I also love to add in Wisconsin DNR’s Surface Water Data Viewer, so that students can look to their nearest water source and connect that with the Great Lakes. Next, I like to do action projects where students are investigating something in a hands-on and immersive way, using outdoor areas in the schoolyard if possible. One of my favorite new tools is Marine Debris Tracker, where students map litter that they find. We even have a Great Lakes-specific list “Great Lakes Track and Act” so that over time we can analyze the debris specific to our watershed. For open-ended investigations, I like to use National Geographic’s Geo-Inquiry process, which provides a flexible framework from brainstorming questions to taking action. To empower learners I also foster an Explorer Mindset, a way of thinking where students view themselves as explorers in the process of learning. With support from a grant from National Geographic Society, I took students on a series of field experiences in May of 2019 all focused on learning with an Explorer Mindset.

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

We have a lot of wetlands in our area. One of my favorite classroom experiences came from reaching out to a local scientist, Amy Carrozzino-Lyon, who coordinates wild rice restoration in the bay of Green Bay. Amy shared the process with us, and maps of different local areas where re-seeding is being established. Students were able to even help throw new wild rice seed on a field trip to one of the areas, Sensiba Wildlife Sanctuary, where they could also see how the wetland area borders Lake Michigan. Later on, we came out to monitor the wild rice growth with an underwater drone and shared our video back to Amy. Along with several other local teachers, we are currently planning to grow wild rice on site in our classrooms and plant it in the spring. Ours will go to our newly-scraped pond in front of our school and hopefully be expanded in the future.

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.

The most impactful reflections I have seen come from students were after field experiences. Based off of this activity that I created, students journaled poem responses in a “sit spot” at Point Beach State Forest. When back in class we incorporated a bit of everyone’s poem into a whole-class, finished poem. A student narrated it and it was set to video with pictures of the day. In addition to working towards English Language Arts standards, it was wonderful to see the sense of wonder students had while taking in the size and beauty of Lake Michigan at Point Beach. Another favorite was using a similar idea to curate an all-day field experience at Horicon Marsh where students learned about ornithology and the role of wetlands, while also marveling at the size and history of the marsh. Providing a way for students to share a sense of wonder while learning the science and academic aspects of a place makes me feel hopeful that the experience contributed to developing a stewardship ethic that will continue to grow.

Contact Kelly Koller: [email protected]