Northland teachers get their feet wet

Rivers2Lake is an education program that helps teachers integrate Lake Superior into the curriculum.

081019.N.DNT.Rivers2Lake c01 ONLINE ONLY.JPG
Jessica Gagne, a fourth grade teacher at Churchill Elementary in Cloquet, holds up a water sample while testing it for dissolved oxygen on a NOAA research vessel near Wisconsin Point Thursday afternoon. Tyler Schank /

Those who live on the lake known as gichigami sometimes take it for granted. Rivers2Lake tries to correct that by helping teachers better understand it so they can help their students learn about the largest Great Lake, Lake Superior.

Rivers2Lake is an education program through the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension. The program helps teachers integrate the Lake Superior watershed into their classrooms. Last week a group of teachers participated in the Rivers2Lake Summer Institute, a weeklong outdoor class that kicks off the yearlong program.

Nicole Moon teaches fifth graders at Four Corners Elementary in Superior. She is originally from Forest Lake, Minn., and when the opportunity presented itself to learn more about Lake Superior, she took it.

“I think it's just really important to learn about our area so we can bring it back to our students because they're the future,” Moon said.

On Thursday, Moon put on some waders, grabbed a net and began a search for invertebrates along Wisconsin Point. This was part of the water-quality testing the group of teachers had been doing all week along the St. Louis River from Toivola to Lake Superior. The groups also tested the turbidity, or cloudiness, of the water as well as the pH, or acidity, of the water.


Gallery: Rivers2Lakes

“We've been doing this every day, taking a water quality point at a different spot along the river,” said Deanna Erickson, education coordinator for the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve. “So we’ve been taking the same parameters and the same conditions of the water every day in a different spot and we've been moving down from the upper watershed to the middle watershed to the mouth of the river to Lake Superior.”

Erickson focuses on teacher professional development for place-based learning. As part of the Rivers2Lake program, teachers who participate will continue to get support from the Reserve throughout the school year.

“We meet with teachers twice a month. We go teach in their classrooms and we get to know their kids, with the intent of really bringing the Lake Superior watershed into the classroom and across disciplines,” Erickson said. “We know people and the projects going on so we try to bring those real things that are happening in the community into the classroom. So if you're learning about forests you're not just learning about rainforests, for example, you're learning about the forest at Wisconsin Point.”

About half of the teachers participating this year are from the Superior School District, and Erickson said that’s because they work very closely with the district.

“We have been working with the district to help them with next generation science standards,” Erickson said.

Teachers Camille Lemler (left) and Nicole Moon search for invertebrates that help indicate water quality Thursday. The invertebrates are classified by pollution tolerance. The presence of certain ones can indicate higher or lower levels of pollution. Ellen Schmidt/


Moon had heard about Rivers2Lake through the district and said it has been a great experience so far.

“Just the amount of people that we've met and the things that we've heard are all really important things,” she said. “I think that's a great thing about having the support from the Rivers2Lake staff, to have them help us boil it down into something that we can first process through and then figure out how to share that at a level that will engage students.”

Moon said the weeklong summer class has been well worth it.

“I would tell everybody to try it,” she said. “It will only help what you're doing and the more we can learn and share with our students, the better off we all are.”

To learn more

For more information about the Rivers2Lake program, visit . The application process for next year is expected to open in April.

Adelle Whitefoot is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.