Learning important lessons from nature’s classroom

BEULAH — Students throughout Manistee County enter school classrooms on a daily basis wondering where the information they are studying will be put to use in life.

It is the innovative teacher that can bring the picture full circle for the student by incorporating activities that allow students to see the importance of those studies. Bear Lake science teacher John Prokes is one of those innovative educators who challenges his students with a variety of extra curricular activities.

Cheyenne Buckner and Halie Clarke move debris aside in their collection box to locate the insects. The students were working the Platte River location.

Cheyenne Buckner and Halie Clarke move debris aside in their collection box to locate the insects. The students were working the Platte River location.

When Prokes heard that Benzie County Conservation District specialist Mike Jones was running a special aquatic insect study on Herring Creek and the Platte and Betsie rivers, he knew it was the perfect venue for his students to gain that outdoor classroom experience.

“The Benzie Conservation District puts out a newsletter with a notice that they were going to be conducting their second annual aquatic insect collection,” said Prokes. “This is for collecting insects in the early stage of their lives because they depend on water for their reproductive cycle.”

Prokes said the collection consists of going to specific stations where insects are collected from rocks, logs, the bottom of the banks, vegetation and anything that is in the water that would be potential habitat.

“The goal is collect as many as they can find in a given area,” he said. “The concept is to collect them, preserve them and identify them. What they do is not only get an idea of how many different types of species, but what types are present in each location. The purpose is to monitor and conduct subsequent monitoring in the spring and fall to determine if there is any change in the type and amount of species that are present.”

Prokes said based on that information it is possible to determine the health of a system. It is an indicator if of a good quality stream capable of supporting a lot of fish or a one that is not very favorable for fish habitat.

Students volunteering their time were Anthony Evans, Angel Aguilar, and Jacob Newsom who were at Herring Lake. Students Cheyenne Buckner, Halie Clarke, Khloe Myers and Angelia Myers were assigned to the Platte River. Aiden Mertes, Isaac Hamilton, Paul Hayes and Eli Garcia were on the Betsie River.

Buckner said she she really learned from the experience.

“I really enjoyed it, a lot more than I thought I would,” she said. “It was a difficult thing getting up on Saturday after doing it all week for school, but I’m glad I did it. I found it crazy on all the different critters that you can find in a river. I studied on three different areas of the Platte River.”

What intrigued the Bear Lake sophomore was the way each area they collected differed.

“Our first area of water was a sandy and mucky bottom with logs and plants everywhere and it was shaded,” she said. “We found quite a few there. It was always awesome when you found a huge critter. We found a lot of dragonflies that are pretty big. The second area was in the sunlight and had a rocky bottom and we found the most out of three there. The third area had a mucky dark bottom and wide open, but we found the least amount there.”

Fellow student Paul Hayes said he learned from the experience.

“I really liked being in the river and learning about all of the bugs and insects that live in the rivers that we swim in,” he said. “I would definitely do this again I had a lot of fun being there with my friends. I didn’t know there was any such thing as a fishing spider, but now I do.”

Senior Angelina Garcia said she enjoyed the task she was assigned for the project.

“My job as part of our group was to help wade through the river and gather the insects by taking river samples of certain parts of the river with nets,” she said. “After I collected a river sample in my net, it would then get passed on to other group members in their trays to observe over and pick out all the insects which were all kept in one main container and labeled for study later on. I enjoyed my time helping with this event and would love to participate sometime again.”

Jones said he was impressed that students would give that type of commitment and pointed out young people are needed in projects of this nature because they are the future.

“My big thing about having volunteers do this stuff is that it gets people to realize what is out there in this area,” he said. “We are very blessed with the lakes and rivers that we have and activity of this nature goes a long way in getting people to appreciate what is there. A lot of the people who have taken on the steward role for rivers and lakes are kind of the older generation, so it was good to see these kids do it.”

Prokes said the educational component was priceless.

“It’s out of the classroom and real world stuff in collecting scientific data and making observations that can be used to identify the health of the water resource,” he said. “You wish it would be possible to do this with every single kid. To have kids get up and spend six hours on a Saturday to do this is great and the key thing is the kids were interested in doing it.”



Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

Leave a Reply