Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Mississippi River Institute Monday, July 27: Magnolia Blossom Boat Trip & Forest Inquiry

Monday, July 27, 2015 - Day 1

by Steven Beardsley

The Incredible Journey Begins

Introductions led by David

"Incredible Journey" Activity from Project WET
Today marked day 1 of the  Mississippi River Institute. Participants arrived on a warm and humid Monday to start off a three day experience involving outside inquiry and professional development. The day started off with instructor and participant introductions as well as a  Project WET activity called “Incredible Journey.” I had a chance to experience this activity at the WaterWorks! Institute last year as well, and it involved acting as water molecules going through various stations. The stations simulated various places that water moves through such as the ocean, groundwater, clouds, and rivers. Participants rotated between stations by rolling a six-sided die that had station names on them or the word “stay.” The activity allowed participants to practice using their science notebooks to record how often they rotated between sites or stayed in the same place.

Magnolia Blossom Trip down the River

Lyndon Torsentson describes phenomena along the river
The next part of the day involved a trip down the Mississippi River where participants got a chance to practice utilizing their four senses (sight, smell, touch, and hearing) to record observations and formulate questions along the river. While teachers recorded these observations, Lyndon Torstenson from the National Park Service gave a presentation regarding the history of the Mississippi River along with discussing the formation of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Lyndon also discussed various flora and fauna along the river while bringing in mussels to highlight the quality of the river as well as discussing the effects of invasive species such as Zebra Mussels and Asian Carp. Instructors David Groack and Sil Pembleton also pointed out other wildlife along the river from Swans to Bald Eagles while encouraging questions that highlighted the difference between the water color of the Minnesota and Mississippi River among other questions.
One of many Bald Eagles on the river

Tracy Fredin explains point and nonpoint pollution
After journeying down the river and discussing a couple questions regarding the geological formations and trees, CGEE’s own Tracy Fredin discussed several of the issues affecting rivers and watersheds such point and nonpoint pollution.

Forest Inquiry

Drilling into a tree to determine the tree's age
The final part of the day involved directed inquiry through the forest. We divided up into two groups with one group investigating various questions regarding tree life in the forest and by the river and the other group answering questions regarding the trees themselves such as age, height, and diameter. Last year I had the opportunity to do directed inquiry in the forest, so this year I joined in on investigating tree life. My group was led by Ed and Sil Pembleton along with Tracy Fredin who discussed various ways of measuring a tree’s age, height, canopy coverage, diameter, and type of tree. For instance, Tracy demonstrated how to use a metal device that would enter the tree and take out bark to see the number of rings from the tree’s center. By counting the number of light and dark rings, one can determine the tree’s age.

"Just Passing Through" another Project WET activity
Teachers circle up to learn about phenomena at the river's edge
We also got the chance to learn about other ways of determining a tree’s height through trigonometry and having individuals stand around the edges of a tree’s shade to determine its canopy coverage. Ed also discussed other math related topics such as Fibonacci Numbers and the star that appears on a Cottonwood tree’s branch. Read about the legend of the Cottonwood, which is a Native American story from the Plains Indians: Cheyenne and Arapaho here Legend of the Cottonwood Stars. We concluded the day with another activity "Just Passing Through," which involved half the group acting as water molecules going down a slope while the other half of the group acted as trees. If a water molecule got tapped by a tree they would have to circle around that tree five times before continuing their way down. The activity simulated how water travels down a slope and how trees and other plant life impede water flow. We then finished with a trip through the forest to a beach by the river where participants made observations and learned about how the environment changed around the river.

Concluding Thoughts

The first day was a good start to thinking about the various issues impacting the river, from point and non-point pollution to invasive species, as well as beginning directed inquiry. Participants also got the opportunity to combine various disciplines that included math, science, writing, and reading. I personally thought that recording observations along the river was also a creative exercise that allowed participants to practice using their senses to tell their own story about the river. Moreover, one of the activities that David, the lead instructor, had individuals do for that night was make their own logos that represented the boat trip and forest inquiry. We would have the opportunity to share them the following day.

View along the Mississippi River

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