Steve Park

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

We have one of the world’s most precious natural resources, the Great Lakes, right at our backdoor.  It is critical that students understand and appreciate the power of fresh water.  Each year I have middle school students walk through my classroom door with very little knowledge regarding the Great Lakes.  In fact, it seems that students harbor many more misconceptions about the Lakes than scientifically accurate information.  As an example, I can still remember taking a group of students to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area one summer for a backcountry adventure.  On the driving route, we had to cross the bridge taking us from Superior, WI to Duluth, MN.  As we were crossing the bridge, I noticed that all the students had their faces pressed against the windows in awe of this huge body of water.  I overheard a couple of students say, “We’ve never seen the ocean before!”  Amazed, the only words I could utter were, “You still haven’t seen the ocean.  That is Lake Superior.”  I believe that it is our responsibility as educators to teach students how to be stewards of a natural resource that is coveted around the world.

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

At my school we are blessed with a thirty-five acre outdoor classroom that has Indiana’s largest river passing through it.  Ironically, one of my favorite classroom experiences is when I get students out of the classroom during the first week of school.  I shatter any notions they have about science being a static subject where they simply sit and absorb information.  At the river, students learn about inquiry and how it can be applied to everyday situations.  They set up experiments to test the chemical, physical, and biological parameters of our river ecosystem.  A favorite activity of students is when they design their own experiment to learn about benthic macroinvertebrates.  They construct Hester-Dendy samplers to collect data in order to answer their hypotheses.  For instance, one group this year wanted to know if the diversity of macroinvertebrates was greater in calm water or water with ripples and small waterfalls.  This outdoor immersive experience opens the door for me to integrate Great Lakes literacy.  Students begin to see that our actions in “our little part of the world” can have both negative and positive consequences to other parts of the earth.

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

I believe that “variety” would best describe the teaching methods I use to engage and motivate students.  Here are a few:

  • Outdoor immersive experiences in our outdoor classroom
  • In class experimental design labs (ex. Students design a filtration system to see if they can filter our river water to WHO turbidity drinking water standards. Students then test the water using a digital turbidity sensor accurate to 5 NTU.)
  • Online videos from the Center for Great Lakes Literacy.
  • Study trips to our local reservoir where Natural Resource Interpreters teach students about stewardship.
  • Presentations from my experiences.
  • Various reading selections (ex. Excerpts from Silent Spring)
  • Studying cartoons (ex. The Lorax)
If relevant, share some examples of how you involved scientist(s) in your teaching.

Student motivation is directly related to whether or not the material is deemed to be relevant.  One method I use to show topic relevancy is to have scientists speak to my students.  For instance, the Great Lakes provide more than twenty-six million people with clean, safe drinking water.  Therefore, I have a drinking water quality chemist speak to my students about what he does to help keep our water supply clean and safe. In addition, my students tour our solid waste treatment plant where the on-site chemist discusses what quality the water has to be in order to be put back into the environment.  Lastly, because of my participation in the Shipboard Science Workshop this past summer, my students had the opportunity to webcast with an environmental chemist onboard the R/V Lake Guardian while she was in Lake St. Clair.  It was exciting for me to sit back and watch my students interact with her.  After debriefing my students about their webcast experience, I learned that many of them had misconceptions about scientists.  For example, one student was shocked that the scientist wasn’t wearing a white lab coat while she was in the chemistry lab!  Having experiences like these allow students to see that what I’m attempting to teach them has relevancy to their everyday lives.

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.

As teachers, I think it is our hope that students will develop a “What can I do to make a difference?” attitude.  Each year, our seventh grade motto is, “Power Of One!”  I challenge my students to think of ways that they can use their power to make a difference.  In addition to participating in river cleanups of our local waterway, students have participated in a habitat restoration program for ring-neck pheasants.  Students have planted evergreens to help control erosion.  Currently, students are using grant money to design and build micro plastic seines to determine the quantity of plastics in our river.