MARQUETTE - Fifth-grade students from Bothwell Middle School got a little taste of life as a scientist Tuesday morning as they ventured out into the woods along the Yellow Dog River to survey macro-invertebrates and study native plant species.
Bothwell science teacher Marty Paulsen said it's always a good option to get students out of the classroom and into the field.
"They get a lot more into the lesson," Paulsen said. "They love to be able to get their hands dirty. It's always better to be able to see what we're talking about rather than just see pictures. They actually get to do science, not just hear about it, not just write about it. They get to take part it in."
From right, Mindy Otto, assistant manager for the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, helps Bothwell Middle School fifth-grader Greta Papin pick out macro-invertebrate collected from the Yellow Dog River Tuesday morning. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
The students were brought out to the Yellow Dog to work with members of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, checking out the health of native plants in the area and macro-invertebrates from the river.
Mindy Otto, assistant manager of the preserve, said the group likes to involve kids as much as possible in their work.
"We're trying to get kids interested in the outdoors," Otto said. "We're a non-profit group and we're really focused on connecting with the community and connecting with volunteers."
The preserve was able to take the kids out for the morning to show them how watersheds work, what a healthy watershed looks like and what possible sources of pollution to the watershed exist through a grant from the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition.
Otto said when the group takes older students - such as high schoolers - or other community members out along the river, they have them participate in data gathering, in which macro-invertebrate surveys are conducted to see if the river's ecosystem may be changing.
"A lot of these macro-invertebrates are affected by pollution, so it will give us an indicator: OK, we're not seeing our really sensitive species anymore, something might be wrong," Otto said. "A lot of watershed groups do this same thing throughout the state of Michigan, so we're not unlike other watershed protection groups. However, we do have a mine in our watershed, so that is part of the incentive to keep monitoring all of the biological life and also the water chemistry. We're trying to do as much as we can to keep an eye on the stream health, so if anything changes, we'll start to notice it right away."
The mine Otto referred to is Rio Tinto's Eagle Mine, located on the Yellow Dog Plains.
After taking a water sample from the river, students knelt on the shore, sifting through leaves and other debris pulled from the water in search of macro-invertebrates. The students used small tweezers to examine the organisms more closely, holding magnifying lenses up close to distinguish one species from another.
Paulsen said the group is currently studying life science, but that trips like this one often bring several different scientific fields together.
"There's a lot of tie-in between life science and earth science," Paulsen said. "When we're talking about the organisms within the river, we can also talk about the water cycle and watersheds and a little bit of the geology behind a river ecosystem."
For more information on the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, visit www.yellowdogwatershed.org/blog.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.