Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mississippi River Institute Monday, July 28: Mississippi River Boat Trip & Forest Inquiry

July 28, 2014 - Day One

by Steven Beardsley

Opening Activity

Today marked day one of the 2014 Mississippi River Institute. Participants showed up bright and early to start off a three-day experience focused on inquiry and professional development. We began the day with instructor introductions and a fun ice-breaker activity that focused on building the skill of observation. In the activity, participants paired up and guessed three things that their partner changed about their outward appearance. This activity sparked off what we would be doing later in the day, making observations while on the boat using four of our five senses (smell, touch, sight, and hearing).

Over 70 Teachers on the First Day

Magnolia Blossom Boat Trip
Lyndon points out various phenomena as we travel down the river
We spent the first half of the day on the boat Magnolia Blossom, listening to park ranger Lyndon Torstenson from the National Park Service talk about the history of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. The boat cruise was filled with a variety of people fishing along the river edges, some people on motor boats, and others walking along the sandbars. We spotted a couple of great blue herons and, more notably, a couple of bald eagles and bald eagle nests. The boat trip revealed a great deal about how humans have impacted the river through locks, dams, and bridges. We learned that the creation of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, is linked to the history of the river. Minneapolis became the milling capital of the country by harnessing the power of nearby waterfalls, while Saint Paul became a port city for ships traveling down the river. Overall, the journey engaged our senses and allowed us to raise questions about certain phenomenon like -- why are there more bald eagles and great blue herons out now as opposed to years before?

Directed Inquiry
David explains Forest Inquiry and Question
The second half of our day was spent doing "directed inquiry." In this part we divided into two groups, one led by David, Karl, Sam, and Maria; and the other led by Sil and Ed. The former was a forest inquiry designed to gather data about the local ecosystem through a transect line that ran 100 meters from the river. The latter involved analyzing the water cycle in the trees. I participated in the transect line activity where we were given the question: “How does the forest ecosystem change as you move away (perpendicular) from the river?” My group tried answering this question by identifying various trees along different 10 meter markers from the river while calculating size by determining the diameter at breast height. We compared our results in the end, leading to further questions and ideas about how to use the activity in the classroom.



Concluding Thoughts

Results from various groups
The first day involved a beautiful boat trip down the Mississippi River and research within the flood plain forest. I learned a great deal about the importance of experiencing the Mississippi River first-hand before engaging in directed inquiry. It’s important to have a big picture understanding of the area before investing time in a particular research topic. I like to think of it as getting a chance to enjoy nature and feeling inclined to learn more about it and the various processes at work. Working together to answer and come up with questions is even more enjoyable with that common experience and makes the learning all the more satisfying. 

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