Scientific study leads students to success in Eco Challenge

A team of eighth-grade students from Harper Woods Middle School won a $15,000 prize in the Final Challenge of the Lexus Eco Challenge. The team had previously earned $10,000 in scholarships and grants in a preliminary round, which qualified them to participate in the Final Challenge that took place in January and February.

The middle school is in Harper Woods, a city in Wayne County on Detroit’s northeast border. The school serves urban youth, kids who previously have had little to no exposure to the natural world of shorelines and lake waters.

The team, the Eco H20 Preservers coached by teacher June Teisan, entered the Land and Water Challenge part of the contest. They investigated water pollution in Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie.

Michigan Sea Grant Extension, with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), provided guidance and financial support for the development of Basic Observation Buoys (BOBs) and Basic Information Floats (BIFs) the students used to collect water quality data.

The Michigan Sea Grant Extension and Harper Woods connection began in 2007 when senior Extension educator Steve Stewart met June at a Great Lakes Observing System workshop hosted by Michigan Sea Grant Extension. June was interested in involving her students in Great Lakes studies and stewardship, and using Great Lakes data in the classroom was a way to begin. At the time, Steve served as Michigan coordinator for the Great Lakes Center for Ocean Science Education Excellence (COSEE Great Lakes), a multi-state project funded by the NSF and NOAA.

Steve was able to provide June with some initial COSEE funding to attend a teacher-training workshop in Connecticut and fund the materials for the first BOBs in Michigan, which she and her students deployed in 2011 on Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair. She has spearheaded a number of additional projects – all focusing on Great Lakes studies and stewardship – which Steve has supported with curricula, educational materials and opportunities for her students to share their experiences.

Steve said, “My role, and the contribution of Michigan Sea Grant Extension, has been one of identifying possibilities and facilitating opportunities for June and her students as they seek to become more knowledgeable about and stewards of our Great Lakes. June and her students are a great educational success story. This experience could be an introduction for some to a career in the STEM fields.”

Through the project, students have increased interest in lakes, wetlands, water quality and environmental stewardship. The eighth graders learned hands-on, gathering data and testing equipment. These student scientists worked through the winter months to disaggregate the data and prepare for BOB deployment in the spring. They teamed up with a teacher and 7th grade class from Buffalo, New York, who deploy a BOB on their side of Lake Erie. The collaboration resulted in a more rich data stream for the students to analyze and excitement about connecting with New York peers.

The team will use some of their prize money to fund their participation in the 10th Biennial Lake Superior Youth Symposium May 16‒19 at Michigan Technological University. At the symposium, the team will present their work to students and teachers from around the Great Lakes.

Congratulations to June and the team!

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