By: Kristen Schulte & Leif Nordstrom
Missouri River Relief (MRR) was in St. Charles, Missouri to host an Educator Workshop. This event brought teachers from around the Midwest, including formal and informal educators. There were eleven lucky participants, each one as excited as the next to be learning more about the Big Muddy and ways to spread that knowledge to others. The two-day workshop focused on both connecting participants to the Missouri River as well as detailing ways to integrate this knowledge into their classrooms and/or programs.
After setting up registration at the boat ramp, participants began to arrive. Once everyone had signed in, Kristen, MRR education coordinator, organized us into a circle for introductions. The crew, including Jeff Barrow (MRR executive director), Jan Weaver (Missouri Environmental Education executive director) and myself (Kristen Schulte, the education coordinator), provided the participants with a brief background of ourselves, followed by the educators talking a little about themselves and their reason for coming. Although the individual reasons varied, they all shared an excitement to learn. After the introduction, we got everyone fitted for life jackets, and set off down-stream, with Jeff manning the wheel. Along the way, we made observations about the river, using “I notice, I wonder, It reminds me of…”
Next, we talked about the Missouri River watershed and the social, economic, and environmental factors that influence it. Captain Jeff also provided some background on boat navigation, describing the various signs along the riverbanks that are used by motorists to identify the depth and current direction. We talked about the history of the river and how it has changed over time, both naturally and artificially. Specific focus was given to dams and channels, where I described both the benefits and detriments of each.
We had lunch at back at the boat ramp from the Katy Bike Stop and then motored downstream, eventually finding an island to settle into. While we explored the island, I prompted the educators to guess what the bottom of the river might look like. We then moved to a shady spot on the side of the river where we talked about the Pallid Sturgeon and participated in activities which related important information about the endangered fish. Once we returned to the boat, I explained the various planning and management strategies for chutes, and how they are intended to assist the Pallid Sturgeon and other at-risk wildlife. Finally, we motored back to the boat ramp, where we briefly reflected on our first day on the Big Muddy before departing.
This day, we spent our time on land at two locations: the Greater St. Charles Visitor Center and the Lewis & Clark Boat House & Museum.
Day two was spent off the river and focused on student learning and understanding, as well as ways to integrate this information into the classroom. To begin, Kristen provided a template for what a Missouri River lesson plan might look like, igniting creativity throughout the educators for their own lesson plan construction to come.
Then, we discussed the ways in which people learn, as well as how to integrate this into your lesson plan. We engaged in peer to peer and group discussion with a demo of a Missouri River lesson plan in-between. Then, we meet with a tour guide from the St. Charles Historical Society. We explored the red brick roads of St. Charles and its connection to the Missouri River. We ended our tour with a delicious lunch at Magpie’s Café.
After lunch, participants began working on lesson plans of their own. Educators were asked to bring copies of one of their own lesson plans, either to edit or to add new content. Participants used the knowledge gained from day one of the workshop to craft a unique lesson plan of their own! Topics included settlement along the Missouri River, biodiversity on the Missouri River, and people’s impact on the Missouri River.
Next, participants used giant post-it notepaper as a canvas for their lesson plans, which they then placed on the wall around the room. Individually, educators went around the room in a 'gallery walk activity', observing their colleagues work, and providing comments for praise and potential improvement by placing a post-it note on the lesson plan.
To conclude our day, we gathered to discuss what we learned. As a whole, participants appeared to hold a deeper connection to the river when we ended than when we began. Some claimed that they would seek ways to incorporate more place-based learning into their classroom, while others reveled in the sheer complexity of the river and its many accompanying ecosystems. One permeating theme: the combination of joy and excitement that comes from being on the river. Using the Big Muddy as a vessel, we explored the complexities of student learning and understanding, while developing foundational knowledge of the river itself and its many influencing factors.
If you would like to learn more about MRR educator workshops, please contact Education Coordinator Kristen Schulte at [email protected] See you on the river!