The Great Lakes Education Program helps youth protect freshwater resources

The Great Lakes Education Program introduces fourth-grade students to the unique features of the Great Lakes through a combination of classroom learning and hands-on experience.

Youth learn GLEP principlesThe Great Lakes Education Program, a nationally recognized program of distinction by the United States Department of Agriculture and the National 4-H Council, received the Toyota H20 grant for the program year of 2011-2012 in the amount of $10,000.00.

Toyota’s support of 4 H’s youth-focused water quality initiatives funds the 4-H2O Community Projects program – a national environmental stewardship project currently serving California, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, New York City, Texas and West Virginia. Through 4-H2O Community Projects, youth learn to protect and conserve freshwater resources by participating in activities such as water-quality testing, watershed cleanup events and rain garden construction, as they strengthen math and science skills.

The fall 2011 Great Lakes Education provided educational experiences to 930 students. Of the 930 students, 270 of them participated as a result of the Toyota H2O grant. The Toyota H2O grant will support the spring 2012 season which will serve more than 1,900 students from across Wayne County. The Toyota grant will provide 22 Detroit Public School classes scholarships for participation and transportation for the spring 2012 season which will represent 660 students.

Youth learn to conserve and protect freshwater resourcesThe first phase of the program begins in the classroom with their teachers utilizing the GLEP curriculum which includes activities that focus on water, land, people and life. These activities are designed to familiarize students with the Great Lakes and the ecosystems. The second phase of the program is a field experience aboard a fifty foot Coast Guard certified ship which is converted into a floating classroom. The actual experience aboard the vessel known as the “schoolship” phase is designed to engage students in an exploration of the physical, chemical, cultural and biological dimensions of the Great Lakes watersheds specifically the Detroit River and Lake Erie.

During the schoolship phase, students perform a variety of water quality and water chemistry experiments and other activities designed to expand on the concepts introduced in the classroom. Students participate in activities such as weather observation, navigation, marlinespike and marine knot-tying, bottom sampling, plankton sampling, dissolved oxygen experiments, pH and carbon dioxide experiments, water clarity and color testing.

The post cruise phase of the Great Lakes Education Program is presented in the classroom by teachers utilizing the GLEP curriculum’s post cruise activities designed to reinforce the concepts provided in the pre-cruise and cruise learning experience of the program.

Evaluations were conducted with teachers and adult chaperones:

  • Teachers were asked to rate individual learning activities on a 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent) scale, in terms of how well they help achieve curriculum goals. Ratings ranged from a low of 3.75 to a high of 4.00, with a mean of 3.85.
  • When asked to rate the overall GLEP experience, the mean teacher response was a perfect 4.00; chaperones gave a rating of 3.88.
  • Teachers were asked to rate GLEP compared with other “field trip” experiences they have had on a 1 (much worse) to 5 (much better) scale, with the mean response being 4.78; chaperones gave a rating of 4.81.  
  • Teachers were asked how well GLEP helps them meet Michigan educational benchmarks on a 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent) scale, with the mean response being 3.78.
  • Teachers using the GLEP curriculum completed, on average, four learning activities prior to their field trip and an additional two following it.
  • Of those teachers with previous GLEP experience, we found that 93 percent shared GLEP information with other teachers and/or school administrators; 59 percent sought more information on Great Lakes and/or ocean science; 67 percent included more Great Lakes and/or ocean science content in their classroom; 88 percent encouraged other teachers to participate; 22 percent visited the Great Lakes more often; 41 percent visited the Metroparks more often; 22 percent engaged in new stewardship activities; 19 percent involved their students in Great Lakes stewardship activities; and 89 percent felt a greater responsibility for the Great Lakes.

For more information on the Great Lakes Education Program, contact an MSU Extension educator near you.

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