Great Lakes Learning: From Algae to Zooplankton

Kara Lynn Dunn
New York Sea Grant Great Lakes
June 01, 2016
Otoliths under examination to determine a fish's age

Great Lakes Ever wondered how fish hear, what they eat, or what they might say about the conditions of a local river?

New York Sea Grant (NYSG) educators can help you find answers to these and other questions about living in the eastern end of the Great Lakes region.

an examination of fish ears new york sea grant
Above, an examination of fish ears, called otoliths, helps determine the age of the fish. Credit: Kara Lynn Dunn

K-12 educators who attend summer workshops with NYSG Coastal Education Specialist Helen Domske may examine fish ears, called otoliths, under a microscope to determine the age of a fish, dissect fish guts to analyze its diet, or visit with weather forecasters at the National Weather Service: Buffalo.

“First-hand experience is the basis for building exciting lesson plans to engage youth in becoming environmental stewards,” Domske says.

This “teach the teacher” approach, which engages educators in experiential learning with classroom-tested curriculum, was developed by NYSG and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Workshop participants infuse Great Lakes information on topics from algal blooms to zooplankton into their classrooms to prompt student interest in the environment. Student-led projects created as a result have included beach and stream cleanups, building and installing wood duck nest boxes, and local invasive species mapping.

Domske also periodically leads workshops that take place aboard US research vessels monitoring the Great Lakes, offering teachers the opportunity to directly interact with scientists working on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. In 2014 and 2015, Domske worked with nearly 250 teachers who impacted the lives of nearly 25,000 students.

After a workshop along the Buffalo River, Amanda Jasper of the Global Concepts Charter School in Lackawanna, New York, concentrated instruction in her Advanced Placement Biology curriculum on the history and environmental concerns of the river. Her students created a public service announcement video to raise awareness of local issues.

Williamsville High School students took a “LEAP” forward with teacher Kim Preshoff, starting a Leaders for Environmental Awareness and Protection (LEAP) Club. They established a plastic water bottle recycling program to reduce the waste stream, and encouraged use of refillable bottles.

In addition to NOAA, partners in this educational outreach have included the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Center for Great Lakes Literacy, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, universities and colleges, and local organizations and site managers.

New York Sea Grant Great Lakes educators are based in Buffalo, Newark, and Oswego. For updates on NYSG activities in Great Lakes and marine districts of New York, see with RSS, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube links.


Other Sea Grant Programs

New York Sea Grant is just one of several NOAA educational programs in the Great Lakes region. You can find out more about workshops and other Sea Grant activities near you by visiting these links:

Kara Lynn Dunn
New York Sea Grant Great Lakes