Opinion | Want Michigan kids to learn science? Take them outside.

Kathleen Bushnell Owsley is president of the Bosch Community Fund

In my work, I am observing a growing movement in hands-on, project-based learning that combines environmental topics and problem solving. This is a prime opportunity for quality education and building stewardship for our natural resources and community assets.

Research from the Education Evaluation Collaborative shows that place-based education efforts not only leave teachers and students feeling more energized, but also foster vibrant partnerships between schools and communities and improve social and economic vitality. Students benefit from this approach as it brings the written page into a greater context. If students are learning about a water ecosystem, for instance, what better way than to visit a local pond or stream to observe how species, plants and other living things are dependent on one another?

Through the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, young environmental stewards launched a comprehensive study of Lake Huron’s water quality to increase awareness of its importance. Fourth- and fifth-grade students investigated biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) indicators at several sites. Students analyzed and interpreted data they collected and shared it through the Great Lakes FieldScope, a web-based mapping, analysis, and collaboration tool that engages volunteers and emerging scientists.

Over at Friends of the Rouge, the organization engages thousands of students each year through hands-on science education and provides meaningful service-learning opportunities to get further involved. The Rouge Rescue event is one of the nation’s largest annual clean-up events. Each year, citizens and students throughout southeastern Michigan gather at sites around the watershed for a day of restoring and celebrating the Rouge River.

Meanwhile, at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, the Freshwater Forum’s Water on the Go! program is offered throughout Michigan. Originally funded by a grant through the Consumers Energy Foundation, this program brings freshwater education into Michigan classrooms. Programs engage students in fun presentations and hands-on learning about water science and protecting the Great Lakes.

Through funding from the Bosch Community Fund, design-thinking Water on the Go! programs are offered to teachers and students in the sixth- through eighth-grade range in communities including Farmington, Farmington Hills, Flat Rock, Livonia, Plymouth, Canton and Warren. 

Each of these programs integrates Next Generation Science Standards and is designed to challenge students to engineer solutions to real-world problems facing the Great Lakes through the creation and testing of prototypes. 

On the west side of the state, the Plaster Creek’s Stewards Green Team is doing noteworthy work with students. The Green Team collaborates with urban youths on the topics including runoff reduction into the Grand River, watershed restoration and training in green infrastructure (GI) job skills. Green workforce development focuses on a downstream community (Plaster Creek watershed) and one upstream community (Rogue River watershed). The Green Team summer program will train participants in GI design, installation and maintenance. By working alongside Plaster Creek Stewards and Trout Unlimited/Rogue River staff and volunteers, participants will be exposed to urban watershed issues and their relevance to environmental justice. The program is also a potential model for youth empowerment with other upstream-downstream watershed organizations.  Ultimately, the Green Team educates at-risk youth about watershed and environmental justice issues while training participants to develop job skills.

As funders (and parents), we at the Bosch Community Fund have a long wish list as it relates to eco+STEM education. We hope to shed light on the important work of our partners to raise interest by students, parents and educators to integrate this into their curricula and communities. We strive for this type of educational experience to become the norm versus the extraordinary for all Michigan students, so they have the experience of project-based and place-based education that aims to encourage their passion to become good stewards of their environment. 

Finally, we hope to bring other partners along to create more momentum, energy and resources to collaborate, connect and gain strength together. Understanding where we have attention and resources - as well as gaps - is key to building awareness and inclusion so that all our young people see a role for themselves in supporting their community and environment.

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Brooke Baker
Tue, 07/09/2019 - 8:23am

Thank you and the Bosch family for the outstanding work you are doing! Bringing science to life and valuing the importance of hands on learning and problem solving is a true investment in our youth and our great state.

Jeff McNally
Tue, 07/09/2019 - 8:41am

This is nothing new; science teachers have been doing this for many years. The problem has always been the lack of funding. So this so called "growing" movement is in fact a treasured practice. When I taught high school biology, we took students outside for many different activities, including monitory the water quality of Flemming Creek and the influence of rainwater retention ponds on the stream.

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 9:07am

Hard to reconcile this headline with the reality of the Flint water crisis, the theft of water by Nestles, the total breakdown of our infrastructure, unaddressed issues with pfas, and the pollution in Rockford by Wolverine and the failure to address line 5. True, these were banner years for the wealthiest among us. Sure that the politicians had a banner year with bribes left and right from fossil fuels, fracking, expansion of foreign intervention in everything. The loss of union jobs thanks to Snyder's signature on the "Right to Work" bill. It would take a book to list all the self serving actions by the wealthy. and elite during Snyder's time in office.

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 2:08pm

For the most part, Michigan's economy is still moving at snails pace in many counties. I owned a construction company there and was forced to close my business in 2003. I moved to FL in 2004 because there was a lot more work at that time, but by 2010 that too was affected by the recession.

Fast forward to 2018; except for 2 new gas stations, the little town I lived in still looks the same as it did in 2004, very little growth. I can't imagine trying to make a living in my trade there.
There are however pockets of good economy in some areas, which is hopeful but I seriously doubt if MI will ever see an economy like it had in the 1990s. At this point it doesn't matter to me because I've since retired from the construction business.

I still think if it wasn't for the NAFTA trade deals the whole nation would be much better off, however things change and humans need to roll with the changes, but still, stupid trade deals and poor policy lead the way to the devastation of the rust belt. We were warned about how NAFTA would create a giant economy sucking death blow, but politics and deals ignored the warnings.

So here we are 2019 hoping economics will get back to previous levels. Imagine if you will, where we'd be if Obama or some other ilk was still running things into the ground. Say all you want about Trump, but you have to admit we wouldn't be where we are today if it wasn't for the major pivot in policy.

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 9:27am

WE had this 40 years ago. Great fun for kids who's interests run this way and they'll will never forget it. That's great thing about giving parents options to choose what fits their kid the best.