Ecology classes hit the water

FERRISBURGH — An $18,000 federal grant awarded to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum will allow museum staff to offer the region’s teachers free hands-on, on-the-water training, and the materials they need to in turn offer that same outdoor ecology education to their students over the next two years.
According to Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) officials, the Ferrisburgh museum is the first in Vermont to receive a “New England Bay Watershed Education and Training” — B-WET, for short — grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Those nine B-WET grants awarded last week, according to an LCMM press release, are intended “to foster greater understanding of and connection to local watersheds.”
As Ben Mayock, the LCMM’s On-Water Ecology Coordinator (a position that includes operation of its “Paddling Ecology” program), puts it, the goal is to get students out of school and into a learning environment that he believes is more involving, given the subject matter.
“What kid would want to be in the classroom and not out on the lake? It’s all about hands-on. It’s all about experiential learning. It’s all about skills, hard skills that can be taught about collecting data on our lake, on our region, and then the tools to process those skills,” he said. “I’m really excited about it. I’m really excited the government has put this grant out there.”
The first step for Mayock is recruiting Vermont and New York state teachers to attend two free upcoming all-day workshops. The first will be held at the LCMM on Oct. 25, and the second will be held on Shelburne Bay at a later date to be determined. (To register, contact Mayock at 802-475-2022 or [email protected].)
In both workshops, teachers will learn to use equipment that will measure the level of clarity/murkiness and oxygen content of the lake and nearby river water, while also investigating the region’s wildlife, plant life and geology.
After the canoe trips onto the water, Mayock said discussion will follow about issues that will include “our findings, and the reasons whether the creek is more turbid or less turbid than the lake, and what the implications are.”  
For instance, turbidity and water quality questions are vital ones right now, Mayock said.
“That’s really important, especially in the Chittenden and Addison county area, because of all the flooding and nutrient load we’ve had set into the lake in the last three years. We’ve got a lot of manure and nitrogen and phosphorus and all kinds of things in the lake that are stimulating plant growth on the surface of the water, which then doesn’t allow the plants that are under water to get sunlight and produce oxygen,” he said.
“(That) has been a big issue for the fish under the surface, that the underwater plants haven’t been able to photosynthesize as much oxygen for them to breathe the way they want to, so there’s been a lot of different fish migration throughout the lake.”
Teachers will receive the tools and kits they need to sample the water, and age-appropriate lesson plans that they can take back with them to plan their field trips to Lake Champlain and its tributaries.
The LCMM’s education department has already since the 1990s offered Paddling Ecology field trips, and also already has in its toolkit four “On-Water Ecology” modules with pre-written lesson plans on natural history and geology, invasive species, human impact on Lake Champlain, and interaction with wildlife.
The new lesson plans build on those, many of which addressed just the needs of younger students, with former LCMM education director Rich Isenberg and Mayock working to make them more sophisticated for the older grade levels.
“With a program like this we were able to offer it to teachers from anywhere from 4th to … 12th grade,” Mayock said. “Sometimes it is not as easy to talk about the last Ice Age and the geology and how it goes along with the lake and how it is constructed with students that are younger, but the high school students really respond to that.”
Mayock is also firming up a list of guest speakers for the workshops that he said will include college professors, state officials, and other professionals.
But he said the heart of the course will be out on the lake, learning to use secchi disks to measure turbidity, kits to determine oxygen content, nets to catch fish and a key to identify them.
“Everything we get the teachers’ hands on, they will leave with the essential skills to get the students’ hands on,” Mayock said. “The idea is if the teacher comes to the conference, they will learn the skills. They’ll learn to use secchi disks, they’ll learn to use dissolved oxygen (kits), they’ll learn to use seine nets to catch fish. When they catch those fish they’ll learn how to use and be provided with a dichotomous key, which is kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure novel for identifying fish species.”
A byproduct of the effort will be more data to measure the health of the lake. The teachers’ research this fall will be combined with what their students’ collect in the next year-and-a-half and added to the historical record already collected by the Lake Champlain Basin Program and the Lake Champlain Lay Monitoring project.
“(We will be) able to compare and contrast their data from the fall, the teachers’ data, with the data they get with their classrooms, and kind of keep a rolling data set going,” Mayock said.
But what he called the program’s ultimate goal is getting students out on the water and learning.
“We’re going to be out there on the lake in canoes, inches from the water, getting knee-deep in it. It’s going to be completely experiential, at least for the day of the program,” Mayock said. “It’s going to be really fun. I’m excited.”
And did he mention the cost?
“It’s completely free, free for the teachers,” Mayock said. “It’s a big thing with this grant we wanted to provide. It’s about getting bodies out on the water and getting their hands wet.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

Share this story:

More News
News Uncategorized

Fresh Air Fund youths returning to county

The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)

Obituaries Uncategorized

Mark A. Nelson of Bristol

BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)

Sports Uncategorized

High school athletes ready for fall playoffs this week

See when your favorite high school team is competing in the fall sports playoffs.

Share this story: