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New wave idea – teacher training leads to a surge in Great Lakes stewards

By Anna McCartney, Pennsylvania Sea Grant

Genuine learning is often wet, muddy, noisy and sometimes chaotic but it is an awesome way to engage any student in real world problem solving. However, inadequate funding and teacher training, in addition to policies that stress curriculum and testing targets keeps many students cooped up in buildings.

Not so for Pennsylvania and Ohio teachers participating in the Pennsylvania and Ohio Sea Grant-led NOAA Great Lakes B-WET (Bay Watershed Education and Training) program. Its emphasis on watersheds, threats to the Great Lakes, and field experiences is essential to the future of both students and the Great Lakes. These teachers are educating future scientists, teachers, town planners, politicians, farmers, consumers, and business leaders who will need skills to solve Great Lakes problems.

“Three jam-packed days of professional development prepares these teachers to involve their students in cross-curricular service-learning activities and projects that emphasize environmental conservation and the critical role of research,” said Marti Martz, Pennsylvania Sea Grant senior coastal outreach specialist who leads the project locally. “By integrating Great Lakes science, lessons and stewardship, this unique project provides teachers with skills and all the resources they need to effectively educate their students,” adds Lyndsey Manzo, the Ohio Sea Grant educator who spearheads the project for Ohio teachers. 

NOAA awarded Pennsylvania and Ohio a variety grants to promote Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs) that highlight relevant Great Lakes environmental, social, and economic challenges.  Collecting samples on Lake Erie with Pennsylvania Sea Grant maritime educator, David Boughton and water sampling on Mill Creek turned teachers into researchers. They did a variety of chemical, biological and physical tests to learn more about Lake Erie and Mill Creek water quality. Some tests were done onboard the Environaut while the Mill Creek samples were tested in a ‘real lab’ at Mercyhurst University. Professor Steve Mauro, who has been testing Lake Erie and local waterways for chemicals including Triclosan, led the activity and shared his knowledge with the teachers. They were astounded to learn that Triclosan, the harmful ingredient in hand soaps and other chemicals, shows up in so many creeks, rivers and lakes including Mill Creek and Lake Erie.

Teachers also heightened their science and math skills with a site analysis to determine the amount of runoff produced when it rains. This activity increased their desire to find solutions for pollution and flooding caused by stormwater runoff. And after studying invasive species in the classroom, the teachers became “Weed Warriors” on Presque Isle State Park where they helped to remove invasive plants and realized they could make a difference and their students could too.

In Ohio, a kayak tour near Cleveland, an erosion walk along the lakeshore, a beach litter cleanup, and AIS and climate change activities cemented the teachers’ resolve to include Great Lakes issues in their curriculum.

The power of these MWEEs is best demonstrated by the results of the teacher Lake Erie beach cleanup. They gained the confidence to involve more than 800 students and community memebers in school cleanups to tackle stormwater and marine debris issues in their watersheds. This new group of stewards collected data and lots of trash – 145 bags weighing almost 1,000 lbs. These students and teachers clearly understand that marine debris and nonpoint pollution begins not on the water, but on land, and that people cause the problems, and that they can make a difference.

The classroom sessions and the MWEEs impacted the teachers on a personal level and they in turn are involving their students in meaningful watershed learning experiences. These students have been working on additional watershed stewardship projects throughout this school year. Can you think of a better way to improve math, science, and problem solving and other skills needed to meet these challenges?

Now if only all teachers and students had this opportunity!

To read teacher comments, and see more photos of teachers and their student projects go to For more information about NOAA’s Great Lakes B-WET program go to

The Great Lakes B-WET program offers competitive grants through NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and is funded in part through GLRI funds. Pennsylvania Sea Grant Great Lakes-Great Stewards was one of only 12 proposals of the 40 submitted that were awarded funding. This funding makes it possible for students and teachers to participate in MWEEs and stewardship activities in the classroom, out in the field and in the water, and in other arenas of education. Also awarded was a joint B-WET project between Pennsylvania Sea Grant, Ohio Sea Grant, Indiana/Illinois Sea Grant, and New York Sea Grant.

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