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Nature's classroom

Murray County Central and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton students joined forces recently to study ecology at Lake Shetek

October 19, 2011
By Jenny Kirk , Marshall Independent

SLAYTON - Fifth-grade students from Murray County Central and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton schools had an integrated opportunity to learn about ecology together outside of the classroom Friday at the Shetek Environmental Learning Center on Keeley Island.

On the cool, breezy day, with freshly-fallen leaves all around, the students and their teachers split into four groups, and then rotated around to the four learning areas. Kids learned about deer populations at the "Oh, Deer" session led by Chrystal Dunker, executive director for Prairie Ecology Bus Center.

"We talk about habitat and animal needs," Dunker said. "It's fun. The kids get to run a relay-type race outside. At the end, they find out what happens to animal populations."

Article Photos

Photo by Jenny Kirk
As part of an educational integration day, Chris Hanson, left, of Murray County Environmental Services, explains the process of measuring the water clarity by using a secchi disk to Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and Murray County Central fifth-graders who joined
together to learn about ecology Friday at the Shetek Environmental Learning Center.

Two students were designated to be deer and headed to the far line, while the remaining group of approximately 25 made a single file on the opposite line. When directed, the students, who were facing away from each other, had to make one of three symbols - either water, food or habitat. On the whistle, the "deer" ran to find someone with a matching symbol, adding them to the "herd."

"They figure out what they need to survive," TMB teacher Gale Otto said. "When they're short of something, they die off."

TMB students Kalley Hoek and Cassidy Smith were all smiles as they ran about, intermingling with the MCC students and under the watchful eye of the "symbol police" - MCC teacher James Wager and TMB teacher Landon Erickson.

The fun-filled educational experience was made possible through integration funding, and is one of two trips the combined fifth-grade classes will take this school year.

"It's good to get outside and learn about ecology," said Brenda Loosbrock, MCC fifth-grade teacher. "If we didn't have state integration funds, we couldn't take some of our field trips."

MCC and TMB have joined together for an integration day at Keeley Island for the past five years.

"The teachers from MCC organized this one," Erickson said. "We'll get together two times this year. It depends on funding every year. We'll organize the trip in the spring."

Last year, the two classes traveled to the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, S.D., which is likely the case again this year.

"It's been great," MCC coordinator Tina Bengtson said of the ecology trip. "Overall, the kids have been good listeners. They enjoy getting out of the building and hearing the speakers."

Courtney Schmitz, MCC fifth-grader, quickly identified her favorite so far.

"I liked the bird session," Schmitz said.

Vicki Doeden, on-site environmental educator, conducted the session called "Eat Like a Bird." Many students, like MCC's Dominic Brown, liked trying to pick up things.

"You had to try and scoop things up using things like a tweezers, a scissors, a spoon and a paper clip," said Ellie Crumrine, TMB fifth-grader.

"We learned how it works with all the different beaks," TMB student Chloe Almlie said.

Another TMB fifth-grader, Cayden Buysse, enjoyed learning about how birds adapt in addition to water ecology, which was presented by Chris Hanson and Jon Bloemendaal from Murray County Environmental Services. But the experience was priceless for another reason.

"I made a new friend," Buysse said, putting his arm around MCC student Cole Ahlers.

Bloemendaal and Hanson talked about water pollution, in the form of fertilizers and other products that affect the groundwater.

"Everyone pollutes the lake in some way, whether it's people who live nearby, farmers or people in town," Hanson said. "Boats stir up the lake, and so do carp."

Crumrine, who lives near Lake Yankton in Balaton, told the group about the time she watched a crane haul up a net full of carp from Lake Yankton approximately three years ago.

"They took a huge net and caught over 1,000 carp," she said. "And, that was only by the boat dock. But the population got a lot bigger anyway."

Hanson told the students that Lake Shetek was approximately 3,350 acres, which makes up one-third of the surface water in the county.

"We used to have more," Hanson said. "We've lost over 9,300 acres because of draining wetlands."

The environmental duo also introduced a variety of instruments used for water measurements, such as a secchi disk and a dissolved oxygen meter, both of which the students had the chance to try out on a dock overlooking Lake Shetek.

"I liked learning about the instruments to take temperatures," Ahlers said.

Ahlers also enjoyed learning about the emerald ash borer at the fourth session, "Good Buddies," run by Marge Anderson from the University of Minnesota Extension office in Murray County.

"I liked learning about the bugs in the trees," Ahlers said.

Anderson educated the students about the three different relationships in the environment.

"There are the ones where the relationship doesn't matter to each other, the one where I need you to survive and then the parasite one," Anderson said.

Afterward, the students played a card game, matching up the appropriate relationships.

"I learned about relationships between nature and humans," Smith said. "Leeches do suck blood, and that's bad for humans."

But getting them together to learn and to appreciate the outdoors and each other is a good thing, Bengtson said.



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