Kids take science to the field
Northbrook Junior High seventh grader Sam Heydt cuts down some sand willow plants, an invasive species that needs to be removed, as part of Ecology Day at Techny Prairie October 18, 2012. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 1, 2012 4:58PM
NORTHBROOK — Northbrook Junior High School seventh graders spent a half day at Techny Prairie doing the hands-on work of environmental scientists.
They conducted river and pond water quality tests, worked with Park District crews to cut down invasive species, and wrote about what they learned under the direction of seventh grade science teachers Pam Mendelson, Shannon Zajac and Mark Frye.
Mendelson said they wanted to give the students a real world application and experiential culmination to their ecology unit.
“We were working on restoration efforts for the Trail Through Time with the park district. A lot of the students walk that trail and some of them also live in that neighborhood,” she added. “We wanted them to see those long term effects. They can go back in a year and still see the results of their work.”
The students were excited about the activities, because they supported what they’ve learned in the classroom, Zajak said.
They had learned about buckthorn, an invasive species, which they were looking forward to cutting down. They were disappointed when they had only sand willow, another invasive species, to destroy.
The students also performed water quality testing on both Anetsberger Pond and the Chicago River, and hypothesized about which they thought would be more polluted.
They conducted another water quality test for macro invertebrates – little insects, worms and mollusks in the river. Then they compared those tests to see whether the chemical test and the macro invertebrate test agreed.
“Two years ago when we did this, a lot of students didn’t think the Anetsberger pond would have much pollution, because it is separate. They understood that the river, because it goes through different areas, might pick up pollutants from sewage or dumping,” Mendelson said. “Fertilizer is not something they intuitively think of as a pollutant, but there are more nitrates in the Anetsberger pond than they thought.”
The important thing was to find out what the data was saying about the water quality in the neighborhood and in Northbroook, she added. This goes back to what the students learned about bio diversity and how important that is, as well as what it means to the eco system in Northbrook.
Reede Norlie, 12, said it was such a different kind of experience that he might look into environmental science as a career.
“I really liked helping out the community and working together to do it,” he said.
Hannah Whitlock, 12, said some of the most important things she learned were about different organisms, their habitat and how to help the environment.
“I also learned that I could apply the lessons I learned in class to the real world and make a difference in the environment,” she said.