Lake Superior NERR program engages students, teachers
The results are in, and they are impressive. The recently designated Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve has a dynamic, research-based program, which involves K-12 students and teachers in inquiry and outdoor-based learning experiences.
The study found that Rivers2Lake students participating in the program had higher levels of academic engagement and a stronger sense of place than those that did not participate. Participating students from the area also had stronger understanding of the ecological and cultural significance of the Lake Superior Watershed, as well as a stronger sense of commitment toward stewardship of the Lake Superior Watershed.
One of the primary goals of research reserve is to further the understanding of the Lake Superior watershed and the St. Louis River through citizen understanding and involvement in addressing coastal issues and ultimately the restoration and protection of the watershed.
Deanna Erickson of Lake Superior NERR has supported this goal by coordinating teachers and students in a program called Rivers2Lake. This program supports teachers in integrating Lake Superior Watershed focused, inquiry and outdoor- based learning experiences into their academic curricula through extended training and mentoring during the school year of program implementation.
The 2012-2013 school year was the first year of the program and had 12 teachers and classrooms participating. In order to gather data to evaluate the success of the program and to plan for future, questionnaires were developed for students and teachers. A total of 330 students across six schools participated in the data collection. For each of the six schools, control classrooms were selected by the principal of the participating school, and contained students not participating in the program. The questionnaires were administered three times throughout the school year — at the start of the year, midway into the year and at the end of the school year. The data was collected and evaluated statistically by Julie Ernst, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota Duluth.
What Ernst found was that those students participating in the Rivers2Lake Program had higher levels of academic engagement and a stronger sense of place than those that did not participate. Participating students also had stronger understanding of the ecological and cultural significance of the Lake Superior Watershed, as well as a stronger sense of commitment toward stewardship of the Lake Superior Watershed.
For teachers in the program, the questionnaire results also showed significant outcomes. Prior to the program, teachers indicated they rarely used inquiry and outdoor-based learning experiences to support students in learning about the Lake Superior Watershed. During the year of the program, the use of these experiences increased significantly. There was also a significant increase for teachers in feeling a stronger sense of place, in their perceptions as being a part of a professional learning community, and in their feelings of competency when involved in teaching about the watershed.
Another important indicator of the success of the program was that teachers stated they intended to continue to use inquiry and outdoor-based experiences to teach about the Lake Superior Watershed often or regularly during the coming school year, even though they would not be actively participating in the program.
The Rivers2Lake program is a strong example of how quality professional development supports quality teaching techniques and methods that engage students and teachers, and often the whole school community, resulting in higher academic engagement for students across the curriculum. The program continues this year with 12 teachers participating.
For more information or read the complete 2012-2013 Lake Superior Rivers2Lake Program Evaluation Report, contact the program coordinator, Deanna Erickson at 715-392-3141, or deanna.erickson@ces.
The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve is a part of the larger National Estuarine Research Reserve System that protects more than 1.3 million acres in 28 reserves in 22 states and Puerto Rico. The Lake Superior NERR is the second reserve designated on the Great Lakes and the most recent addition to the reserve system. The offices are located on Barker’s Island and the research center is one of four research programs that are part of University of Wisconsin-Superior.