Making Connections & Providing Experiences for Our Students

From time to time, ISEA will share Great Lakes experiences from guest bloggers. In this blog, teacher Susan Myers shares how her experiences with Inland Seas have impacted her teaching and her students’ learning. Email if you would like to submit a Great Lakes experience to be featured.

After a year filled with changing schedules, Covid restrictions and emotional stress I never imagined I would ever experience in my teaching career, my teaching partner, Nate, and I decided our goal for the 2021/2022 school year was to provide our students with as many experiences as we could. We knew immediately that we wanted to return to Suttons Bay with our new 8th grade Stream Leaders to take part in the Nex Gen stewardship program. This experience was one our 2019 Stream Leaders took part in and will remember for a lifetime, and one that we didn’t want to miss providing for our current leaders.

I had the wonderful opportunity the summer of 2019 to participate in the Great Lakes Watershed Field Course held at the Inland Seas Education Association in Suttons Bay. I can’t think of a professional development course that has been more impactful on my teaching than this one. The 4 days spent learning and engaging with other educators who are passionate about science and the Great Lakes flew by in the blink of an eye. From the planned field trips to Boardman River, Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station, Loma Farm and the DeYoung Natural Area to sailing aboard Inland Seas to learning and engaging in the Earth Force Process, my head was filled with amazing new information, ideas, motivation and more. I couldn’t wait to share my excitement with my 8th grade teaching partner and my students.

“My favorite parts were learning about how we affect the health of the Great Lakes and learning what we could do to stop it.” ~8th grade Stream Leader

With Water Quality as one of our units in our 8th grade Science curriculum, the Nex Gen schoolship program was a perfect fit. Nate and I run a Stream Leaders program every year for our 8th graders to become involved in. The focus of this program is to involve the students in real science within their community and the surrounding watershed. The leaders gain an appreciation for the importance of water quality in Michigan and the need to continue to protect it. This monitoring program provides the students with an educational, place-based experience in water quality monitoring, data interpretation, citizen action, as well as provides general information to local officials concerning water quality.

students studying plankton

Our students’ involvement in the Nex Gen Schoolship program not only provided our 8th graders with information about water quality, benthos, microplastics, fish, plankton, seamanship, and weather/sea conditions, it opened their eyes to their personal connection to the Great Lakes and what stewardship means. From assisting with putting up the schooner’s sails and steering the ship to identifying various plankton under the microscope below the deck and shifting through the PONAR grab collection from the bottom of the bay for benthos, the students were engaged in “doing” science and loving every minute of it. To watch the students’ eyes light up and see smiles form across each of their faces as they discovered and took part in new learning during this program is something a teacher will treasure forever. The enthusiasm and knowledge the crew, staff and volunteers aboard the Inland Seas schooner shared with our students during our afternoon together is something that our Stream Leaders can now pass on to their peers and community.  After returning from our trip and reflecting on their experience, the students shared comments like…

“I learned about so many things that I would have never known about before!”

“My favorite parts were learning about how we affect the health of the Great Lakes and learning what we could do to stop it.”

“My favorite part was looking at the plankton under the microscope and listening to the waves and area around us in silence.”

This program not only extended our students’ knowledge of the Great Lakes and the science within it, but also strengthened their leadership skills by providing them with the opportunity to teach their peers about the different stations they were involved in while on the schooner. In a world filled with cell phones, laptops, and social media, the chance for our students to unplug and have the opportunity to bond with each other as a group in a safe tech-free environment was priceless. As Trisha had everyone on the schooner take 5 minutes and sit in silence, I know I am not the only one who wished they could have remained in that peaceful silence a bit longer. Experiences like those we had during the Schoolship program cannot be recreated in the classroom. This program is a hidden gem and one that I am so fortunate to have been able to uncover and be a part of during the teacher field course and share with our Stream Leaders.

As for Nate and I, this program continues to impress us each time we travel to Suttons Bay to participate in it. We always learn new things while we are aboard the Inland Seas with our students. One of our favorite aspects of the program is when the students become the teachers. This peer teaching is something we are looking forward to incorporating in the spring when we train the rest of the 8th grade students how to perform chemical and macroinvertebrate testing to determine the water quality of one of our local tributaries (Paint Creek). As we travel back home after our time aboard the Inland Seas, we feel rejuvenated and excited as we head into a new school year ready to pass the love of learning and making connections onto our students at Van Hoosen Middle School. Thanks Inland Seas Education Association for all you do!

Susan Myers teaches 8th-grade science at Van Hoosen Middle School. She has been in Rochester Community Schools for 13 years. Her love of the Great Lakes started when she was a baby. Susan grew up spending time each summer at their family cottage on Crystal Lake and walking the shoreline of Lake Michigan looking for Petoskey stones and enjoying all of the lake’s beauty.  She feels so blessed to continue to have this privilege and to be able to share it with her three boys. It is truly her heaven on Earth. She treasures the time she gets to spend there each summer and the love of the Great Lakes it has fostered in her.

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