Setting sail for stewardship

Teachers, students take trip on schooner

Rachel Ratliff, a Great Lakes educator with the Inland Seas Education Association, shows how a Secchi disk is used. Ratliff was one of the instructors on Monday’s trip for local educators on the schooner Inland Seas. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

MARQUETTE — A small act of kindness before a special shipboard education program began on Monday set the scene for the kind of environmental stewardship that was the overriding goal of the day.

A teacher saw a leech in a puddle at Mattson Lower Harbor Park, and instead of letting it face an early demise, he picked it up and put it into Lake Superior.

Teaching people how to save leeches, though, wasn’t the main topic of Monday’s Inland Seas Education Association visit. However, conservation was a big part of it as the ISEA focused on educating local teachers and others about Great Lakes ecology. Area students learned about the subject on Sunday.

The programs were based on the Inland Seas, a 77-foot schooner that offers educational programming about the Great Lakes. Based in downstate Suttons Bay, Marquette was one of the vessel’s first-ever stops along Lake Superior.

Chris Standerford, director of the Seaborg Math and Center at Northern Michigan University, also is regional director for the MiSTEM Network, which serves the entire Upper Peninsula. He was involved setting up the the Inland Seas visits.

Amanda Williams, “schoolship” instructor with the Inland Seas Education Association, shows sediment taken from the bottom of Lake Superior. Williams was one of the instructors on Monday’s trip for local educators on the schooner Inland Seas. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

ISEA is dedicated to STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education — on the Great Lakes. Its shipboard and shore-side education programs are designed to inspire people of all ages to advance the long-term stewardship of the Great Lakes.

Sunday’s program was titled “Working Waterfront.”

“One of the things that the MiSTEM Network is trying to do is help with career exploration and connections with adult mentors and people in the community that are actually working in STEM fields that students might be interested in,” Standerford said. “So, we took advantage of having the Inland Seas here to do a water-themed focus.”

Students rotated through various stations to talk with professionals who make their living on the water.

On Monday, educators and staff from the Marquette Maritime Museum rotated through stations too, learning about zooplankton; benthos, or bottom-dwelling organisms; and microplastics.

Before they stepped on board, they operated underwater robotics, or remotely operated vehicles, in the Lower Harbor, getting views of the lake bottom.

“These have wide-angle cameras on them, which means it takes in a lot of the world — which makes the fish look really big,” said Jillian Votava, lead instructor for ISEA.

Although they didn’t see any fish, Standerford told the educators that ROVs can be used to teach things such as buoyancy, shapes, what works and what doesn’t.

“You can do ROV stuff with elementary kids really easily,” he said.

Tim Bliss, who teaches science and art at Superior Central Schools, brought his own ROV.

This summer, a digital format was created and a code was written to use a joystick.

“Since we had converted this to digital, we had not used it, so this is kind of our test run,” Bliss said.

On the Inland Seas, Votava said the participants would be “sailors, scientists and stewards.”

Although the ship has a crew, the educators — with guidance — helped hoist the sails and learned a little sailing terminology.

Much of their time, though, was spent learning about things such as Secchi disks, which measure water clarity, and taking water and air temperatures so the ISEA can build a database.

They also identified a midge larva in sediment, learned about how microplastics are negatively affecting the environment and saw how a small wind meter is used.

Below deck, they viewed tiny lake life. Helping them see organisms such as a copepod nauplius was a microscope hooked up to a television set, allowing them to see the zooplankton.

Juliana Lisuk, volunteer coordinator for ISEA, called the microscope-TV set-up “the best and only channel on ship.”

Votava said she hoped the educators would share their knowledge with at least one person.

“We are all for foraging these personal connections to the water,” she said.

ISEA offers programs to schools, groups and the public. For more information, contact ISEA at 231-271-3077 or visit www.schoolship.org.


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