Schools and community partners gather in northeast Michigan to explore STEM

Educators and community partners from across northeast Michigan convened to explore STEM learning opportunities through place-based watershed science explorations at the 2014 Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative Regional Meeting.

(1)	4-H Program Coordinator, Leigh Ann Theunick, facilitates a small group discussion about potential future place-based projects and how these connect with school learning goals.

(1) 4-H Program Coordinator, Leigh Ann Theunick, facilitates a small group discussion about potential future place-based projects and how these connect with school learning goals.

Even the most blustery of winter snowstorms could not deter the collaborative spirit and partnerships fostered through the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NE MI GLSI) network. On Feb. 18, 2014, more than 50 educators and community partners convened – despite the snow – for the ninth annual NE MI GLSI Regional Networking meeting held at the NOAA Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, Mich. This meeting hosted nineteen educators from a dozen area schools paired with thirty-three community partners representing more than two-dozen community organizations. The purpose of this meeting was to encourage networking, sharing and discussing the variety of needs, opportunities and common interests in Great Lakes and natural resource stewardship education in northeast Michigan. This annual regional conversation aimed at strengthening school and community partnerships to advance place-based education opportunities across northeast Michigan.

This year’s place-based education conversations focused around the theme of science, technology engineering, and math (STEM) learning connections in place-based watershed science explorations. Participants explored STEM through a series of educational sessions, including:

Contributing to the meeting was Tom Occhipinti, Environmental Education Coordinator for the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality. He shared statewide overview environmental education updates and resources including a wealth of professional learning opportunities, resources, and curricula relating to water science education such as MDEQ Michigan Environmental Education Curriculum Support (MEECS). Teachers and community partners valued the opportunity to network and share their own respective place-based project updates, along with new resources, new ideas, and new opportunities. Through facilitated conversation, community partners contributed to a growing list of proposed stewardship project opportunities where youth might contribute through their learning. Additionally, teachers shared ideas about how their place-based projects enhanced student learning and school improvement goals through curriculum connections. 

Regional NE MI GLSI network updates provided during the day offered opportunities to reflect upon accomplishments from the past year, and to share updates and upcoming opportunities. In 2013, the NE MI GLSI network served more than 30 schools, supported 118 educators, and engaged 6,010 youth in place-based stewardship education experiences —several of these highlighted in a recently produced video documentary. Place-based education strategies offer opportunity to enhance school and student learning, academically, through hands-on learning in the context of their community. Yet, key to success is also the support provided to teachers through sustained professional development and strength in school community partnerships. Facilitated by Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Sea Grant and 4-H Youth Programs — among other contributing leadership partners — this regional meeting offered opportunities to bridge community partners with school educators, and for educators to share ideas and lessons learned among each other. This regional networking opportunity was supported by Great Lakes NOAA B-WET and Great Lakes Fishery Trust’s Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative program funding. 

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