BELGRADE LAKES — Luke McLaughlin has been on the Maine Lakes Society’s floating classroom many times, but that didn’t stop him from enjoying another trip on Great Pond.
McLaughlin and the rest of Carolyn Watkins’ third-grade glass from Mount Vernon Elementary spent Wednesday at the Maine Lakes Resource Center as part of the LakesAlive program.
“I just like seeing what’s in the water,” Luke said while checking out his discovery under a microscope device called a Ken-a-Vision. “It’s really fun.”
The class split into two groups for the day. While one group was on land using nets to scour the shoreline for crayfish and other invertebrates, the other students were on the 30-foot Melinda Ann pontoon boat, which is outfitted with innovative instruments and hands-on activities.
“It’s so fun seeing them out here,” said Cheryl Daigle, executive director of the Maine Lakes Society. “They’ve had a good comprehensive experience.”
After a sun-filled 15-minute ride on a picturesque day, all eight students helped drop a brand new anchor into the water before beginning the activities. Peter Kallin and Phil Mulville led the students in several experiments, including using a plankton tow, a water temperature comparison test and a water clarity test.
McLaughlin, 8, and classmate Micah Sealsberry, 9, were the first to use the plankton tow, which is a net-like device that is dropped into the water to collect samples of life. In their first try, the pair filled a small container with water that had several worms and plankton. McLaughlin and Sealsberry liked the plankton tow so much they did it a few more times before the trip ended.
Gloria Mrazik was amazed during the water temperature test. Mrazik dropped a water sampling device and recovered samples from two different depths. Each sample was put into a bucket, and students compared the temperature in each by putting their hands in the water.
“Wow, that one is so cold,” Gloria exclaimed after putting her hand in the bucket containing water from below the thermocline, a thin layer in a large body of water in which temperature changes more rapidly with depth than it does in the layers above or below.
“Some of the students are really, really into it,” said Kallin, president of the Maine Lakes Society. “They are totally engaged and asking questions or pointing things out.”
Students used a Secchi disc and aqua scope to measure water clarity while laying on their chests and leaning over the edge of the boat, an experiment Kallin said was the most scientifically important of the three. Mulville, who captained the boat, cautioned students that water clarity doesn’t necessarily indicate the health of the body of water, an idea the students were interested to consider.
Jennifer Jespersen, member of the Maine Lakes Society executive committee and owner of an environmental consulting and eco-design company, said the nature-based learning, which began last year when the students participated in “Bugs in the Classroom,” immerses the students in the environment.
“It gets them outside exploring and observing, and our hope is that they can become future lake stewards,” Jespersen said. “I told them to slow down and look around and be a part of the outdoors.”
Watkins said her class had been looking forward to the trip and talked about it for the last several weeks. A lot of students don’t have the chance to get outdoors, she said, so a day like this is important.
“Anytime you can have kids doing hands-on activities, it really makes the learning that much deeper,” Watkins said. “They hold onto what they learn a lot longer (when it’s hands-on).”
The students also wrote in a nature journal, participated in a scavenger hunt and used a watershed model inside the resource center to conduct an experiment on storm runoff. Before heading back to school, the class used what they learned to create a large mural to be displayed at their school before it’s featured at the Maine Lakes Conference at the Unity College Center for the Performing Arts at the end of June.
Jason Pafundi — 621-5663