Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mississippi River Institute Wednesday, July 30: Engineering Challenges and Closing Activities

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - Day 3

by Steven Beardsley

Cinda brought in a lobster for her reading
Our last day opened up with some fun presentations of personal narratives done from the previous day. Participants were asked to write from the perspective from anything along the river or even the river itself. We had a variety of presentations including: a talking lobster, a rap about the river, and an account of alligators trying to survive in their habitats. The narratives were a fun way of meeting language arts standards, but I also thought they reinforced a greater appreciation for life along the Mississippi River. After sharing personal narratives and a couple Minnesota Science Teacher resources such as MAEE and MNA (, participants went outside to do the “Sum of the Parts" activity.

“Sum of the Parts” & Blue River Activities

“Sum of the Parts” activity

A community along a river

Would you swim in this lake? Fish in it? Go boating on it?
“Sum of the Parts” involved creating a development along the river with just one million dollars. Participants combined their creations to simulate a river with various communities along it. The activity raised issues of pollution from neighboring communities such as oil leaks from cars in parking lots, trash from community centers, and different fertilizers for gardens. Participants also got to think about raising these questions in the classroom and thinking about ways to mitigate pollution through environmental management and more permeable surfaces.

The water gets less clear as more pollutants are added

After “Sum of the Parts,” participants listened to program director Cara read a story about a common river system. When Cara mentioned a specific source of pollution in the story, participants went up to pour that piece into a tub of water. We got some nasty results, illustrating the importance of keeping waterways clean and how difficult it is do so in real life situations.

Engineering Challenges

Several Challenges along the benches

The next part of the day involved a series of engineering challenges. One involved cleaning up the disaster from the last activity, while others included: building paddleboats, developing an irrigation system, cleaning up an oil spill, achieving neutral buoyancy with ducks, and getting off a desert island.

Oil Spill Challenge Group

Hike to Pike Island

David leads us on a trip to Pike Island
For the last part of the day, participants got to vote on which activity they wanted to do. The activities included: a hike to pike island to learn about the geological history of the Mississippi river, more tree investigation through a transect line from the river to the forest, and science notebooks and other miscellaneous topics inside. I got to go on the hike to pike island that had been flooded a month ago. Our own John Shepard kayaked
above the island ( On the hike, David gave a presentation on glaciers and how the movement of glaciers has influenced the creation of the Highway 5 bridge over the Mississippi River and the Mendota Bridge over the Minnesota River. The size of the bridges was influenced by the rivers and the bridges have also influenced the sedimentary rock that has formed along the rivers.

David and his “portable smart board”

Last thoughts on the Institute

Overall, the Mississippi River institute was a great way for teachers to learn about getting their students outside to learn about the ecosystems around them. I remember taking a Conservation Biology class at Hamline that involved experiments in the Hamline gardens and Newell Park. These experiences reinforced my learning but also gave me an appreciation for my community and the natural world around me. It’s important that future generations experience the outdoors because the communities we live in would not exist without the rivers, forests, and other ecological formations that we depend on. I think that the institute provides the unique opportunity to learn more about how to get kids outside, but I also think it’s more than that. Being outside creates not only compassion and goodwill toward the environment but life-long learning in the form of self-directed inquiry.

The Mighty Mississippi

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