Connecting Teachers and Students to the Great Lakes

By Brittany DiLeo:
What do you think about when you look out over Lake Erie from downtown Buffalo? Do you think about glaciers and ice ages? Are you reminded of stories from the ’70s about Lake Erie being a dead lake? Lake Erie and the Buffalo River shaped the city we know today but how much do we really know about that history? A ground-breaking new program is making the connection between the Great Lakes and local schools so teachers can start incorporating place-based ecology and history into classrooms. Through this program, students understand their role as stewards of a healthy local ecosystem.
In July 2012, 22 area teachers participated in the Great Lakes Academy: a week-long workshop that gave them hands-on experience in the Buffalo River watershed and on Lake Erie. The week began Beaver Meadow Audubon Center, close to the headwaters of the Buffalo River where participants scooped in the ponds to look for insects and assess the health of the ecosystem. Next, teachers met at Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve where they experienced hands-on activities related to the Great Lakes that they could easily incorporate into the classroom. A field trip to Seneca Bluffs and the Riverbend restoration sites along the Buffalo River gave teachers a historical perspective to the river as they learned about current clean-up and restoration efforts. An educational sailing adventure aboard the Spirit of Buffalo – Buffalo Urban Outdoor Education’s floating classroom introduced teachers to lake ecosystems and pollution issues. On the last day of the training, teachers gathered at Beaver Island to learn about invasive species such as quagga mussels and Asian carp which threaten the health of the Great Lakes. 
The teachers thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and felt that the materials and lesson ideas would be useful in their classroom. A high school teacher from Buffalo said at the end of the week, “This is the best workshop I’ve ever been to! I can’t believe it was free.”


This training was only the beginning. Now that school is in session, teachers are already incorporating what they learned into the classroom. Teachers who attended the Academy over the summer also had the opportunity to bring their class out on the sailboat to experience Lake Erie up close! Students learned about the Great Lakes food chain, invasive species, and navigation. Environmental educators from Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve and Buffalo Urban Outdoor Education are also going into these students’ classrooms to present information about how they can help keep their watershed healthy. In the spring, some of the schools will be doing service projects so students can take action and have a positive impact on their local watershed. 
In addition to the week-long training, almost 100 area educators attended six-hour workshops called Great Lakes Institutes in 2012. These workshops were held throughout Erie, Niagara and Monroe Counties and teachers received books and other materials to help them incorporate the Great Lakes into the classroom.
The program, NYS Teachers get WET for the Great Lakes, is funded through a generous grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The coalition of environmental organizations that are participating in this program include New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Friends of Reinstein Nature Preserve, Buffalo Urban Outdoor Education, Beaver Meadow Audubon Center, Buffalo Niagara RIVERKEEPER, and New York Sea Grant. Each partner brings a unique perspective to the issues facing the Great Lakes and the collaboration is a great way for educators to meet and learn from local environmental professionals. 
Classroom teachers, informal educators, or pre-service teachers that are interested in participating in the 2013 Great Lakes program can contact Brittany DiLeo at Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve or (716) 683-5959 for more information.

About the author  ⁄ buffalorising


Not sure how the pike lines up with Hubbard or Dianetics.

ivan putski jr
ivan putski jr

Yes....Mike's Subs on Delaware ave in Kenmore features a Yellow Pike sub during Lent....they troll for them at night out past Sturgeon Point near Wannakah


I wouldn't say the Great Lakes are 'dead'. That would indicate that they are damaged beyond repair - which isn't the case. There are, however, some serious challenges facing them. As paulsobo points out, there has been some reoccurence of 'dead zones' (but not entire dead lakes) devoid of oxygen and therefore any aquatic life. These 'dead zones' are a result of algal blooms (that are a result of too many nutrients entering the lakes from agricultural and residential runoff) and the areas of water that have low to no dissolved oxygen that come from the death and decay of these algal blooms. I think it is the hope that education programs like this can educate teachers, and therefore their students, on the causes of these problems and potential solutions.

As far as commercial fisheries, that is a very complex issue. You have to consider a century of industrialization (and contamination) along many former spawning tributaries, the hardening of shorelines and riverbanks that destroyed important habitats, atmospheric deposition of contaminants like mercury, numerous invasive and nonnative species out competing native fish, and 150 years of unchecked and poorly regulated fisheries. I believe there is some commercial fishing for smaller species such as yellow perch in Ohio and Ontario, but many of the species of historic commercial significance(whitefish, sturgeon, herring, lake trout) populations collapsed, or as you point out, went extinct. And many of the remaining species in the Lakes have fish consumption advisories on what size and how often you should eat them, especially for children and woman who may be pregnant. So this is why there, unfortunately, aren't any commercial fishing boats in the harbor or local fish on the menu. But, just like the issue of excessive nutrients, algal blooms, and dead zones, none of these issues are a death sentence for the lakes or their fish populations - they just require a lot of education, hard work, and resources dedicated to fixing a hundred years of damage.


The Great Lakes are still dead.

Huge hypoxic zones every year and they are growing from agricultural, sewage and industrial pollution.

There used to be fleets of fishing boats bringing in the catch of the day "mostly large Buffalo Blue Pike" a native fish common to every restaurant until the 1950s when it went extinct.

Do you see any commercial fishing boat docked in our harbor?

Do you see 1 fish from Lake Erie on any restaurant menu?

Now that is a topic of discussion that never gets discussed.

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