Lori Haak

Home state: Minnesota
Organization or Facility: Simley High School
Grade(s): 9-12
Subject(s): Biology, including Honors and AP
Why do you think it's important to infuse Great Lakes topics in education?

The Great Lakes are woven into every aspect of human experience in this region. We are fortunate to live in close proximity to them and are entrusted with their protection. I have the unique opportunity to impart an awareness and appreciation of the Great Lakes to thousands of future advocates and allies, even though my students and I don’t live in the immediate watershed.

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

The mini-grants I’ve received from Sea Grant allowed me to purchase plankton nets, USB microscopes, taxonomic keys, knee-high boots, nets and chest waders. I also purchased some really inexpensive adapters that allow kids to use their phone cameras to take pictures through scopes. (Game changer!) While I used the equipment before, 2019 was the first year that I used it to have my 10th grade students complete their own inquiry-based research projects about the wetlands on our school’s campus. I taught them a little about watersheds, macroinvertebrates, plankton, riparian vegetation, sampling methods and identification. Then they wrote their own questions and, after the research was complete and analyzed, we had a poster session where students presented their findings.  (The poster session took the place of their final exam.) I invited district and building administrators and other teachers to come and learn from my students. The students did an awesome job with their research–and their presentations! Even the kids who were self-proclaimed bug-haters really got into it. Most notably, I overheard one student exclaim, “I actually feel like a real scientist!” (Sad that it took until 10th grade, but I’ll take it!)

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

Early in the year, I use a variation of the Question Formulation Technique (rightquestion.org) for a different project to get students to begin paying attention to what they wonder and to encourage them to ask questions. I also take them outside and let them bring in some of the cool plants and (invertebrate) critters they find and teach them how to use microscopes and stereoscopes. In the spring, we just go outside and we explore our campus, including in and around the water. Also, as a teacher, it’s been so important for me to just try things. If I have the kids’ trust and explain to them we’re trying something new and that we’ll make adjustments if we need to, I’m always surprised at how gracious they are if something goes awry!

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.

Not exactly the question, but student feedback regarding the 2019 projects:

“The superintendent and I agree that we would remember this more than questions on a final test.“ (😂  And yes, the superintendent did stop by!)

“Being able to learn about many different questions and projects made it more fun and worthwhile. I learned a lot more than I would have if it had just been a lecture about one of the topics.”

“I’ve never done anything like it before but I enjoyed getting to feel like a scientist for a few weeks. We spent the last weeks of school on actually doing science, which is something that I feel science classes lack. I loved the idea of the project and really enjoyed doing my own thing and problem solving. Awesome way to end school and kick off summer being outside!”

Independently, students reported that they have a greater appreciation for lakes, ponds and wetlands and their biodiversity. They see more connections between what’s happening on land and how it affects the water.

Contact Lori Haak: [email protected]