Ohio Sea Grant teacher education brings Lake Erie back to learners through hands-on lessons and experiences.
Ohio Sea Grant has a long tradition of developing curriculum for teachers and other educators. Its first formally funded research project was an education project, and giving teachers effective ways to help their students learn about the Great Lakes has continued to be a cornerstone of Sea Grant’s mission ever since.
These days, Ohio Sea Grant educators Lyndsey Manzo and Angela Greene have a hand in a wide range of professional learning for teachers, from developing curriculum and teaching Stone Lab workshops to accompanying teachers from across the Great Lakes region in shipboard science workshops aboard the U.S. EPA’s Lake Guardian research vessel.
“We can’t reach every student at Stone Lab, but we can reach their teachers who then can go back to the classroom.”
In 2017 and 2018, Manzo and Greene used funding from the Center for Great Lakes Literacy (CGLL) to more purposefully integrate some of these different experiences and help teachers better apply lessons learned to their classroom or other education setting. Teachers who attended the 2017 shipboard science workshop were invited back to Stone Lab the next year, along with a colleague who hadn’t had the Lake Guardian experience, for a week of intensive collaboration on integrating Great Lakes knowledge, modern pedagogy and Ohio Sea Grant curriculum into their workplace.
According to teacher feedback, working with a partner was key to the success of this professional learning workshop. In addition to continued accountability to each other after the workshop ended, many participants reported that having knowledgeable support and someone to share ideas with helped them integrate learned strategies and content into their job much more easily than if they had gone back to work without that potential for collaboration. The partnered approach was so successful, in fact, that Manzo and Greene will repeat it with five teachers from this summer’s Lake Erie Shipboard Science Workshop.
“The Lake Guardian experience allowed me to really focus on being a researcher and reignite that passion for why I went into teaching science,” said Donna Meller, a science teacher at Pettisville High School. “That experience exposed us to some of the resources available out there, but the week we got to spend with Lyndsey and Angie at Stone Lab the next year allowed us to focus on how to take that experience and the resources and identify where it fits into the curriculum that we’re teaching. It also helped us develop more background beyond what we had learned in that weeklong experience on the ship.”
With that focused approach, teachers were well equipped to apply what they had learned when they returned to the classroom in the fall. “I immediately used How well do you know the Great Lakes?,” said Marla Miller, who teaches math at Pettisville High School. “I incorporate the lesson into metric measurement of length, mass and volume. At the same time, I introduce the importance of the Great Lakes to all of us.”
Manzo and Greene bring plenty of Great Lakes knowledge to the workshops they teach, but they also offer a look at the teaching techniques behind each lesson to help educators better apply the curriculum and other resources to their settings. Their approach is grounded in educational research, and it comes across in the impact teachers report back in their classrooms.
“It’s not just what you teach, but how you teach,” Manzo said. “We are constantly modeling these effective and engaging strategies with the teachers as they are our students. And we really focus on the pedagogy piece, as well as the content to make sure teachers know how to teach about the Great Lakes.”
For Skye Powers-Kaminski and Becca Varadan, who work in the Educator Resource Center at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, that approach is informing a long-term professional development program for about 35 teachers in grades 3 to 5. Between Powers-Kaminski’s experience on the Lake Guardian and their shared time at Stone Lab during the Greatest of the Great workshop, “so much of this has just inspired us to make a lot of changes to how we’ve done things,” Varadan said.
“We’re using some of Lyndsey and Angela’s models and things like the integration plan and educational technology as we go through a long-term sustained PD program for the coming year,” said Varadan, the museum’s manager of educator engagement. “It’s based on the concept of biodiversity, and I’m sure it won’t all be centered on the Great Lakes and Lake Erie, but we’re definitely going to be using some of the activities.”
They also shared what they learned with other museum educators, including those who work directly with students. Through a presentation to the museum’s education team and one-on-one work with some of the other educators, they were able to pass what they had learned along to colleagues, who in turn used it with hundreds of students in the museum’s homeschool programs and field trip programs.
“It all correlates with the museum’s mission so well,” said Powers-Kaminski, a curriculum specialist at the museum. “What was really nice about (Sea Grant’s) Greatest of the Great workshop was that, this past fall, we knew that we were having an exhibit called Lake Erie on Edge, and we already knew there was some programming being built around that for students. So when we went to Greatest of the Great, one of the things we put in our application was ‘give us everything you’ve got because we will take this and share it as part of that exhibit.’”
Materials also made it into the museum’s lending library, where teachers from surrounding schools – many of them in underserved communities – can check out materials for their classrooms that cover everything from taxidermied animal specimens to Teaching Totes, thematic kits that include lesson plans, hands-on experiences and other materials on a specific topic. Powers-Kaminski incorporated a number of Ohio Sea Grant curricula and other resources from the workshop into Lake Erie kits for the more than 300 teachers that use the library.
One thing Meller, Powers-Kaminski and Varadan all come back to in their work is a focus on real-world learning, helping students connect the concepts they learn in the classroom to their environment, and a more personal investment in the health of Lake Erie and the Great Lakes.
“Anytime that we can see value and real-world application, that’s huge, whatever the topic I’m teaching,” Meller said. “Even though our school system is not that far away from Lake Erie, the number of students that have been exposed to the Great Lakes has been very limited. So that makes me realize that I need to make sure that they understand the value of that resource and that no matter whether they live in a farm setting or they just live in a rural community, that everyone has an impact on the Great Lakes, and everyone is involved in decisions that ultimately can impact them.”
Powers-Kaminski and Varadan were able to drive that real-world connection home as part of a Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE) grant from Michigan State University that was open to them because of Powers-Kaminski’s time on the Lake Guardian. Working with naturalists at Mentor Marsh, which is curated by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, they brought about 40 fifth-graders from St. Mary of the Assumption School to the marsh during the City Nature Challenge, where cities across the globe compete for most nature observations logged into the iNaturalist app.
“We took them out to the marsh for a day and did a bunch of experiential stations, and along with that, we were documenting everything that we saw, taking pictures of it, recording it, and then we uploaded that to iNaturalist so that those would count towards the City Nature Challenge competition,” Powers-Kaminski said. “We were able to document over 100 plants and animals just that day.”
“That school is actually located very close to the Mentor Marsh area, so what was really great was that, for these kids, it was personal,” added Varadan. “It really held their attention because they live around there, they can actually see some of those things from their back yard, so it was really a beautiful thing to see them take interest in what was happening.”
And that’s really the end goal of Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab’s professional learning efforts, be it a teacher workshop on Gibraltar Island or curriculum to send out into the world. Every time just a few people pick up those lessons and run with them like Meller, Miller, Powers-Kaminski and Varadan have done, those efforts reach so many more students than concentrated work by just Sea Grant staff ever could.
“We can’t reach every student at Stone Lab, but we can reach their teachers who then can go back to the classroom,” Manzo said. “So if we can improve Great Lakes literacy within our teachers and they can take that awareness and that compassion and respect for that resource, they can convey our message and pass it along.”