Bottom’s Up!: Aquatic Teacher Training on Lake Champlain

It’s a great feeling when people whom you invite on an adventure say, “Sure!” and jump in the boat with you. This has been the case with LCMM’s latest on-water workshop for educators, a program we’re calling Bottom’s Up!

Bottom’s Up!

Bottoms-UpBottom’s Up! is an aquatic science teacher-training workshop that LCMM has orchestrated with the help of a number of enthusiastic partners.  It’s funded by a generous grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency that brings you weather forecasts, marine sanctuaries, and coastal fisheries management, among other things. The NOAA grant is called B-WET, which stands for Bay Watershed Education and Training, an environmental education program that promotes locally relevant, experiential learning in the K-12 environment.

Our good fortune started with an invitation by Shelburne Farms to use a space in their well-appointed Farm Barn for hosting one of these training workshops. We also were delighted to find that, as we got the word out to schools and environmental education programs, over 15 teachers registered on-line for our Chittenden County-based training session. On a mid-October morning we all settled in with coffee, to an airy, wood-paneled room with plenty of natural light and excellent kitchen and restroom facilities, all in a castle-like setting – what more could you ask for?

Lake Champlain Ecology

Ben Mayock and I, co-leaders for Bottoms-Up!, were lucky to be able to schedule Lake Champlain Committee’s staff scientist Mike Winslow to come first thing that morning to speak to teachers about Lake Champlain’s ecology. Mike dived right in 100,000 years ago and brought us through the lake’s glaciation, floods, and other geologic and ecological upheavals, and then in short order opened up the floor for a fruitful session of Q&A. Participants had a lot of questions for him!


On the Water

The day’s good start was matched by fine autumn weather for launching our fleet of canoes in Shelburne Bay and toodling up the LaPlatte River. There, Ben and I demonstrated some elements of LCMM’s On-Water Ecology program: measuring water turbidity with the world-renowned Secchi disk, collecting plankton, and seine-netting for littoral-zone (i.e., near-shore) fish. The teachers clearly loved being out on the water and getting their hands wet.

Aquatic Literacy

Our goal was far beyond hawking our own wares, however, so we included Erin DeVries, theUniversity of Vermont’s Watershed Alliance Education & Outreach Coordinator, in the mix. After participating educators paddled back to shore in canoes, Erin was waiting for us to give a quick overview of the “Aquatic Literacy” she brings to schools, and the activities she leads with students so that they can investigate the invertebrates that are remarkably accurate indicators of health or impairment in streams.

Watershed Stewardship

Those outdoor morning offerings provided teachers a basic primer of some water quality assessments they could undertake in the field with their students. Next, we returned to Shelburne Farms where we were welcomed by Marty Illick, the Director of the Lewis Creek Association, and Ned Swanberg, the Mapping and Planning Coordinator for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. After joining us for a localvore lunch, topped off with baguettes from the O’Bread Bakery right next door, Marty gave a passionate talk encouraging teachers to involve their students in field work that can make a difference in watershed stewardship.

Ned, who has long experience helping Conservation Commissions and other small organizations use maps to their advantage, offered a brief slide show explaining how rivers behave in their “corridors.” Although the Vermont DEC for many years has been urging communities to leave room for rivers to move more flexibly in their floodplains, Tropical Storm Irene underlined this need dramatically! Ned brought these broad concepts into concrete terms by walking the educators through an exercise that measures riparian buffers. Using maps, random number tables, and rulers, teachers bent down over their tables and got to work just like good students! The buffer-measuring exercise proved interesting and yielded results pretty quickly, so it is likely we will work with Ned and probably Erin as well to formalize this activity.


Let’s Go Fishing

Last but not least, Karl Hubbard, a certified instructor for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Let’s Go Fishing program, demonstrated some activities that kids love. The avuncular and good-humored angler sat down with participants to “construct a pond” out of felt and various cute little models of rocks, plants and critters, thus demonstrating essential parts of an aquatic habitat. He also spoke about fishing ethics, tested us on our fish identification skills, and then took us outside to try some rods and reels. Casting for plastic lawn fish was a high point!

Overall Ben and I felt it was a fantastic day filled with substance, including the lunch of chili, squash-ginger soup, salad, and the most important food group of all: chocolate.

We are extremely grateful to all the presenters who joined us in offering meaningful ways for educators to engage their classes in aquatic investigations. We hope this is just the beginning of an effort to jointly provide Vermont schools with all the tools they need to offer rigorous curricula that take kids outside to learn about their local streams, ponds, wetlands, and lakes.

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