Rush City High School science teacher Eric Telander believes students are more likely to recall and apply scientific concepts learned through hands-on activities in the field.
After all, that’s how he likes to learn, and the experience can be a memorable one.
The Rush City Education Foundation takes pride in opening doors and students’ minds to educational opportunities through grants and scholarships. One grant allowed Telander and more than 70 of his eighth-grade Earth science students to collect and analyze water samples from three locations along Rush Creek on May 6.
This field investigation connected what the students did outside with what they had been reading and hearing about in the classroom. Through a scientific process, they set out to answer how human activity impacts water quality in Rush City.
“An activity like this gives students an authentic look at what scientists do when conducting research,” Telander said. “Students learn how good research leads to questions and data collection.”
Telander noted he’s been wanting to do a study on Rush Creek for the past five years. Some of his questions have been: Where is it coming from? Where is it going? And how are human activities affecting our resources?
The grant afforded enough equipment to last 20 years, Telander projected, so he and future students can compare and contrast water speed, clarity and overall health on at least an annual basis through sample water quality kits. The kits can test for nitrates, phosphates, pH levels and dissolved oxygen.
“It gave kids the ability to see how much of this is in the water,” Telander explained. “They used digital pH meters and transparency tubes in testing water clarity.”
He credited Casey Thiel and the Chisago County Soil Water Conservation District for their guidance and helping him figure out what equipment to get.
“They were eager to see the results. It has the potential to help the soil and water district,” he said.
The students zeroed in on three Rush Creek locations. Two were in residential areas near Bulrush golf course and the third was on city park land.
The findings, according to the students’ teacher: Phosphates and nitrates were particularly high, which can indicate runoff of human activity, such as detergents and fertilizer.
“It can be harmful if (the levels) are too high,” he added. “The result can be green water or algae blooms in the summertime.”
Telander did note that his class’ readings were only ballpark estimates.
“As we got to the park (the third location), we found out the water is not as healthy,” he said. “We’re not exactly sure what’s causing that; we can’t pinpoint it. We do know we need to think about slowing (some levels that were tested) into the water. We talked about remedies, not pointing fingers.”
Telander said students also gained a perspective of Rush Creek in that it empties into the St. Croix, which empties into the Mississippi, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. “So what we do here in Rush City can have a larger impact,” he said.
Eighth-grader Cody Johnson said the field investigation was fun and admitted his surprise over learning the speed of the water.
“Just being outside in the fresh air makes it easier to learn,” he said.
Classmate Katelynn Hilton said she enjoyed going down to the creek and checking for water quality.
“It’s more than just a creek,” she said. “We measured … hydrogen (levels) and found different bugs, including a scud, which is a tiny crawfish.
She added: “It’s more hands-on.”
For Reagan Daas, another eighth-grader, she learned about the relationship between water and people and how one can impact the other.
“It was fun,” she said of the outdoor experience. “We get to see (the environment) and what it does. I know I can remember it better.”
Telander learned a few things, too, from the experience.
“The kids loved being outside,” he said. “I learned new ways to teach this to them; it’s the same material, but in a different environment.”
He added, “It’s so important to get kids outside with what’s being taught in the classroom. Kids don’t absorb that information from a textbook. An outdoor activity is so much more meaningful. That’s how I learn the best — hands-on, real-life experiences. I remember those field trips. They are memorable and help you learn something.”
Thanks to another grant, Telander was able to take seventh-graders to the University of Minnesota’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in Bethel.