Hartford-Sumner Elementary School 5th Graders Survey Bear Pond

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Guest blog post by Gretchen Kimball, teacher from Hartford-Sumner Elementary School.

With the support of the Vital Signs Freshwater Mini-grant, a team of almost fifty 5th graders accepted the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Lake Stewards of Maine’s invitation to prevent unwanted invasive aquatic plants from invading our lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. The primary objectives were to promote stewardship of our local communities and provide an authentic learning opportunity for students to feel capable, responsible, and proud. We endeavored to educate students about the conventions of scientific investigation and excite them about possible careers in the area of environmental science.

I feel confident we achieved our goals! One student wrote, “If we don't keep watch invasive plants could take over Bear Pond and spread to other lakes. Native species will die and so will the animals that eat them for food. A benefit for me is that it lowers the chance of spreading invasive plants to our pond where I like to swim and fish. I would be sad if I couldn't swim or fish because of invasive species!”

For the second year, the students of the Nezinscot Valley Region of RSU 10 surveyed Bear Pond, the largest body of water in our community. The project, originally established in the spring of 2017, was scheduled this school year for the fall when vegetation would be more plentiful for exploration. The investigation focused on Maine’s top eleven most unwanted plant species:, Water Chestnut, Yellow Floating Heart, Fanwort, Variable Water-milfoil, Eurasian Water-milfoil, Curly-leaf Pondweed, European Naiad, Brazilian Waterweed, Hydrilla, Parrot Feather, and European Frogbit.

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“I would be glad to engage in a survey of Bear Pond again next year! It was a unique, educational experience and we can learn even more if we did this sort of thing again. We learned about invasive species, the pond, and had a lot of fun while learning. The survey itself allowed us to figure out if there are invasive species in Bear Pond which helps us keep the ecosystem of Bear Pond healthy,” explained a fifth grader at the conclusion of this year’s survey.

Prior to our field work, students completed research of the eleven species and became familiar with their negative effects on pond ecosystems. They also learned the characteristics for each species in terms of the depth at which they grow, leaf shape, leaf arrangement, and leaf edge. In addition, students prepared for the survey by learning a variety of data gathering methods that included quadrats and bucket-scopes and over the course of the first three weeks of school came to think of themselves as Citizen Scientists. Thanks to GMRI and Lake Stewards of Maine we had wonderful resources to guide and conduct our study.

As luck would have it September 21st, the day of the survey, was wet, cold, and blustery. Not to be deterred, however, the students, their teachers, and ten parent chaperones were excited. Following a short whole group meeting, each team departed for their field study site on the pond; some walked and other team members transported gear via canoes as they spread themselves out over a quarter mile area. For several hours they worked to complete their mission and most groups returned with aquatic plant samples for in depth analysis back at school. We had lunch, swam, and played a little volleyball before returning to school after a day of meaningful work.

“We learned how to be citizen scientists! I would like to do some more work like that, but on a warmer day!” responded one of the kids in a short survey following our work at the pond.

After much debate over four particular species, students entered their data in vitalsignsme.org. They conducted peer reviews, revised and edited their work, and after quality checks published their findings. While they had specimens that some students thought might be Hydrilla, Yellow Floating Hear, Parrot Feather, and Eurasian Milfoil, they were happy to reach a consensus and report that they DID NOT find any evidence of invasive aquatic plants in Bear Pond.

Lots of students were overheard saying, “I’m really glad that there are no invasive plants in Bear Pond!”

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Sketch by M. Klotz

Following our survey students immediately began to plan ways to share their data. Their publications and presentations informed the community about the dangers of invasive species, raised awareness about Maine’s 11 Most Unwanted freshwater aquatic plants, and educated the public about the value of inspecting boats and removing all plants and animals, draining the water, and appropriately disposing of bait. They published their information on the class Facebook Page, in vitalsignsme.org, and in the local newspaper, the Advertiser Democrat. They created and posted flyers in the town halls and local businesses and are still working on an informational poster to display in the kiosk at the Bear Pond Boat Launch next spring. In addition, a small group of students made a presentation to 300 students and parents at a Monday Morning Meeting and another group intends to present to the Bear Pond Improvement Association in June of 2019.

“I thought we were supposed to be helping the pond be clean and healthy, when the pond was actually helping us by teaching about invasive species, what invasives are, and what tools we can use to see if our pond has been invaded.” Many students expressed gratitude for the opportunities the investigation provided.

This blog post can’t begin to convey the impact authentic science has on our students. Thanks, Gulf of Maine Research Institute and Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund!

The Vital Signs Freshwater Mini-grant is generously supported by a grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund (MOHF). MOHF is a program through which proceeds from the sale of a dedicated instant lottery ticket (currently Moose Money) are used to support outdoor recreation and natural resource conservation. For more information visit MOHF.