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Grosse Pointe Woods

Local science teachers stand out for lessons on lakes

February 12, 2013

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Parcells teachers Chris Geerer, Laura Mikesell and Alex Gulyas will present at a national teaching conference.

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — The National Science Teachers Association are looking to a trio of Parcells Middle School science teachers to teach other educators about their innovative lessons on the Great Lakes.

And it’s not the first time the teachers have been asked to step forward to speak at the national level during the Association’s annual conference. It’s the third time.

Parcells Middle School science teachers Chris Geerer, Alex Gulyas and Laura Mikesell will speak at the conference in San Antonio this spring.

“Our topic covers the Great Lakes and the human/environmental interactions of the watershed,” the teachers stated in a news release. “Incorporated into this unit are important and relevant topics, such as water quality, invasive species, local flora and fauna with the overall focus on student recognition and appreciation of the human impact on the Great Lakes. 

“Our philosophy is that all of our students are ‘Great Lakes Kids’ and we want them to appreciate that 20 percent of the Earth’s surface fresh water is right in their backyard.  They are the ultimate stewards of the Great Lakes.”

This unit is important to the teachers, so much so that they’ve made this a priority and are paying to attend the conference themselves.

In the past, the district was able to help fund the conference travel expenses through grant opportunities.

“Funding has changed in the past few years, with grants for out- of-district staff development becoming almost obsolete and GPPS teachers receiving recent significant pay cuts,” according to an email from the teachers. “That being said, we still feel that sharing our information collegially with other science teachers is a professional obligation and highlighting the GPPS in this national spotlight can only be beneficial to all. Therefore, we prioritized in our own personal family budgets to accommodate this conference.”

The teachers acknowledged the continued support of Parcells administration in their work.

The teachers expanded the Great Lakes lessons recently after a couple of the teachers were offered a summer study through Michigan Technological University. That allowed the teachers to investigate mining, shipping and maritime transportation involving the Great Lakes.

“This allowed us to significantly update the unit to include STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) common core standards,” the teachers stated in the release. “Because the program focuses on universal environmental concepts, it is easily adaptable to most local watersheds; hence, the national interest in our topic.”

The teachers have seen the growth of their students through this unit, where many of the students start off with little or no knowledge of many aspects of the Great Lakes.

“As a passionate advocate of all things ‘Great Lakes,’ it has been both personally and professionally exciting to watch the evolution of this unit unfold,” Mikesell said in an email. “Being able to involve Parcells students using multifaceted technology and lab experiences creates a classroom where all students have a common focus on our local ecosystem.”

She enjoys watching her students’ excitement over aspects of the unit, like tracking local freighters and ocean-going ships traveling around the world.

“Tracking their routes via computer has become a fun hobby for many of them,” Mikesell said. “The message that healthier Great Lakes mean a healthier economy is an important lesson for our Great Lakes kids.”

Geerer believes that role-playing is important to the learning process, which is part of this unit.

Students or conference attendees get a card describing their role as someone on the Lake St. Clair watershed. They get to sit on a map on the floor and act out their roles, which could be residents or business owners. They add food coloring or mud to show how they contribute to pollution in their role, Geerer explained.

“Students are exposed to the wide variety of pollution types and sources, and discover the economic impact of keeping the lake clean,” Geerer said. “Ultimately, they learn that non-point pollution is the hardest to control and has the biggest impact on the lake, and that we are all part of the problem and part of the solution.

“The ‘Lake St. Clair Use or Abuse’ activity is my most enjoyable day of teaching at Parcells each fall, and at the NSTA national conference, we invite science teachers to take the roles and experience it first-hand,” Geerer said.

Gulyas also sees how this unit impacts the overall academic growth of the students in the class.

“Not only are students very involved in the lesson, but their participation often leads to critical thinking beyond the activity itself,” Gulyas said in an email. “Students often initiate meaningful classroom discussion for weeks after the lesson.

“The lasting impact of this activity led us to consider sharing it with our colleagues nationwide,” Gulyas said of the interactive learning. “To our delight, adults seem to have just as much fun with it as our students do.”

Gulyas also sees the importance of students being able to incorporate technology into their learning experience by completing projects using various modes of technology.

“They are showing cross-curricular skills they will need in the future,” Gulyas said.

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