URBANA – A new $2.5 million grant will help teachers learn how to educate their students better about the Great Lakes ecosystems and provide information to the public about issues such as water quality and invasive species.
The Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant program, based at the University of Illinois, is one of seven sea grant programs in the Great Lakes region that will divide the grant money from the National Science Foundation and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-National Sea Grant Foundation. The Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant program will get $325,000.
The grant will establish a Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence-Great Lakes to train teachers and allow them to work with researchers. It is the eighth such center in the nationwide network of sea grant programs.
It will focus on teachers in grades 4 through 10, and aim to improve communication and develop partnerships between teachers and scientists.
"It's not just teachers learning science," said Robin Goettel, education coordinator for the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant program. "It's scientists learning about education. We're trying to educate researchers about how teachers get their information. Research scientists need to understand how classrooms work."
The goal is to have 2,000 teachers and 350 scientists participate during the five years of the program.
Among the activities planned is a six-day Lake Exploration workshop to be held in 2008. Teachers will work with scientists to learn about issues of life along the Great Lakes and special problems, such as toxic contaminants and invasive species.
At least once a year, the sea grant program will also sponsor one-day workshops for teachers on high-profile issues. The first one, scheduled for June 28 at the Shedd Aquarium, will focus on fish consumption, contaminants in certain types of fish, and how to prepare fish properly, with a chef doing a demonstration.
The program will also allow teachers to spend time on the Lake Guardian, a U.S. EPA research vessel, and help scientists gather data.
Goettel and Terri Hallesy, communications specialist for the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant program, are also developing curriculum materials for teachers to use. Over the next four years, they will develop a new "Fresh and Salt" curriculum to show the connections between the Great Lakes and ocean ecosystems, test it in classrooms, and have it reviewed by scientists, teachers and the project team.
They are also putting together a "Greatest of the Great Lakes" curriculum to include existing activities and information developed by sea grant programs. It will focus on several topics, including habitats, climate and weather, and will include information on wetlands and how land-use practices affect them; how the Great Lakes can affect the weather, such as lake-effect snow; how the locks on the lakes function; water-quality issues; how glaciers shaped the Great Lakes region; and the American Indians who lived in the area and the early immigrants who settled there.
The center will provide opportunities for students to do community projects as well. For example, the sea grant program already has a project to teach children about invasive species. Through the new center, students will develop community-awareness projects to tell people about how invasive species spread and what they can do to prevent it.
Teachers and students can help collect data on air and water quality at Great Lakes beaches, chart it over time, and help with beach cleanup, through the Adopt-A-Beach program of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.