The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Great Lakes Fish Inquiry

As many of you know by now, I had the most amazing opportunity this summer to spend a week aboard an EPA research vessel on Lake Ontario with fourteen other teachers to learn all about the ecology and history of the Great Lakes. Throughout the week, I not only learned about the lakes but also how to teach about them in the coming years. I made a commitment to integrate Great Lakes Literacy into my curriculum and spent a great deal of time finding where it would be most appropriate.

I always start the year with a science unit with an inquiry project. The past two years saw students learning about any animal of their choosing. This year I decided to narrow the scope to fish in the Great Lakes. (Well, plus one shellfish because I just couldn’t leave out the zebra mussel!) As with past inquiry projects, the students came up with their own list of questions, using the lake sturgeon as the prompt. I simply asked them what they wanted to know. Some of the questions listed were related to physical characteristics (appearance, size, life cycle), habitat, and eating habits. I then informed students that they could present their information in any way they chose: report, poster, PowerPoint presentation, story, song, poem, 3-D model, diorama, etc. Most students chose to make posters, a few did PowerPoints, and we’ve had a couple of written reports.

The students had three weeks to work on this research project. We used the computer lab once a week for 30 minutes, we used our classroom iPads a few times to research the ecosystem of the Great Lakes, and I gave students time to work on their projects as needed, using books we got from our school library. Of course, many students chose to do their research at home, using Internet resources and books from the Urbana Free Library. Reports were submitted on Friday and we began presentations that morning.

We continued with the presentations today, this time with two special guests in our room: Robin Goettel, education director for the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, and Anjanette Riley, the i-I SG science writer. As students shared what they learned about their fish, our guests took pictures, asked questions, and made notes. In the next couple of weeks, there will be a blog post shared by the Sea Grant reporting on what my students have done. I am excited for the publicity we will receive, even if it is just local!

Our ecology unit will be wrapping up this week, and we will also be starting our first social studies unit on Pre-Columbian civilisations and European exploration, but we will continue to learn about the Great Lakes throughout the year.

[NOTE: I will be taking pictures of the posters that have been made so I can share them. I will get these uploaded to this post tomorrow. I am sure the students would love to receive feedback on their research!]

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