Citizen science driving solutions to issues facing the Great Lakes

School and community partners explore Great Lakes citizen science opportunities through place-based education practices during the regional Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative networking meeting.

The Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative network supports place-based stewardship education partnerships. Brandon Schroeder | Michigan Sea Grant
The Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative network supports place-based stewardship education partnerships. Brandon Schroeder | Michigan Sea Grant

Across northeast Michigan, youth “citizen scientists” are contributing to Great Lakes studies, enhancing their learning and making a difference in their communities. Among those fostering this love of science and desire for action are the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NE MI GLSI) network partnership, which supports place-based stewardship education opportunities in the region.

Last month, 65 educators and community partners convened to celebrate these successes during the 10th annual regional NE MI GLSI network meeting held in Alpena, Michigan. Facilitated by Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan 4-H — among other leadership partners — this regional meeting serves to strengthen school-community partnerships across the region. This networking day brought educators from 15 schools together with community partners to share educational presentations, trade resources and explore new ideas.

The NE MI GLSI annual networking meeting

The NE MI GLSI annual networking meeting seeks to foster school-community partnerships while exchanging information and new ideas. Helen-Ann Cordes | Michigan State University Extension

Citizen science and “Bringing Great Lakes Science Alive through Place-Based Education” was this year’s focus.  The Great Lakes Literacy principles, promoted by the Center for Great Lakes Literacy, help us understand that much remains to be learned about the Great Lakes – a great opportunity to engage youth in Great Lakes science studies. Educational presentations highlighted examples of young citizen scientists contributing to Great Lakes science through school learning:

  • Monitoring Monarch Butterflies: Citizen science can start simply, involving even our youngest students. Alcona Elementary youth raised, tagged, and released butterflies contributing data to the Monarch Watch program. They learned about life cycles connected with their schoolyard butterfly habitats, while helping researchers track migrating monarch populations.
  • Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach: Teacher Cheryl Mack shared how her Thunder Bay Jr. High students partnered with the Alliance for the Great Lakes to clean and monitor public Lake Huron beaches. Students contributed data to this Great Lakes-wide program, while analyzing and sharing their findings during local city council meetings.
  • Vernal Pools Patrol & Hunt for the Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly: Michigan Natural Features Inventory researchers Daria Hyde and Phyllis Higman shared two citizen science projects involving youth. Alcona County youth worked alongside scientists in hunting for endangered Hine’s Emerald dragonfly habitats along the Lake Huron coastline. This spring Roscommon School teachers are helping to pilot a new youth-partnered vernal pool wetland monitoring project.
  • Students investigating Thunder Bay Watershed issues: From plastic pollution to native species restoration, local teachers engage students in designing their own studies of local watershed issues. Alpena High School chemistry teacher, Melissa Smith, engages her students in researching micro-plastic pollution in the Great Lakes, both in class and on the water. Bob Thomson, a teacher at Ella White Elementary (Alpena Public Schools), shared how his students are applying technology and engineering skills to build underwater robots to support native species restoration efforts.  Students connect with Great Lakes researchers in these projects, yet student interests and inquiry drive these innovative science studies.

Opportunities abound when schools and community partners gather together from around the region. In 2014, supported by Great Lakes Fishery Trust’s Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative and NOAA B-WET, the NE MI GLSI network served 33 schools, supported 154 educators, and engaged 5,126 youth in place-based stewardship education experiences. These project partnerships show how lace-based stewardship education strategies can enhance school and student learning through hands-on science learning in their community. This regional meeting reflected on these accomplishments, discussed upcoming opportunities, and engaged participants in planning toward a brighter future for the NE MI GLSI network.

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