May 17, 2018

Kansas City Educator Workshop, May 10-11, 2018

By: Claire Hassler, Missouri River Relief

Last week, Missouri River Relief (MRR) was in Kansas City for a two-day educator workshop. Three teachers from the Kansas City area gathered with us to learn more about the Missouri River and how they can integrate the river into their classrooms. The teachers’ students ranged from elementary, to middle school, to high school. Regardless of the different ages of their students, all the teachers were eager to learn and bring exciting new content to their classrooms.

Ready for a day on the river!
Day one: 

Where is the best place to start a Missouri River educator workshop? On the river! We did just that. Our group met by the boat ramp of Kansas City Riverfront Park. After all the teachers arrived we introduced them to our crew: Kristen Schulte (MRR education director), Jeff “Boot” Barrow (MRR executive director), and myself, Claire (MRR education assistant intern). The teachers also went around the circle to talk about their goals for the workshop and their history
with the Missouri River. One of the teachers and I had never been on the river before, so all of us were excited to get out on the boat.

After a safety talk and life jacket fitting, we were off! While Jeff motored us downstream, everyone got acquainted with the river. We shared observations that started with “I notice, I wonder, It reminds me of…” At one point we noticed a memorial site for a fisherman, which included a giant bobber and some flowers. We wondered if that was his favorite spot on the river and how often he went there to fish.

We enjoyed incredible views of the Kansas City skyline from our boat. It was the perfect mixture of city and nature.
As we headed back upstream, Kristen taught about the history of the Missouri River. We visited the rock ledge that “gave birth to Kansas City” because it was the first place where everyone would dock their boats. The teachers lamented that the rock is only accessible from the river as they would’ve loved to bring their students out to see it.

Kristen shows the teachers the rock ledge that helped found Kansas City.
We learned about the ecology of the Missouri River and how it has changed over time, both naturally and artificially. Kristen taught us all about wing dikes, which have been a huge driving force of change along the Missouri. Wing dikes are rock ledges that jut out from the riverbank and were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control the width of the river and keep the current away from the bank. The teachers had fun guessing where the wing dikes were located under water, looking for rock piles on the bank or debris floating in the river that seemed to be caught on something under the surface.

The group pulled over on a shady bank to learn more about ecology of the Missouri River.
We ate lunch at Kaw Point, where the Missouri River and Kansas River intersect. As we were pulling up to the bank, Asian carp leapt out of the water to greet us. Luckily, none landed in the boat! We munched on chicken salad sandwiches and M&M cookies, applied fresh layers of sunscreen, and talked about the joys and hardships of teaching, all while gazing at the beautiful Kansas City skyline.

One of our teachers poses by a statue of Lewis and Clark during our lunch break at Kaw Point.
After lunch and while our food digested we did a “walk and talk.” We hiked around Kaw Point while Kristen asked us questions, which we then discussed in pairs. We talked about living things on the banks of the Missouri River and at the bottom of the river, and how the various environments impact the way species live and adapt. We even saw some snow birds!

Kristen shows the group a map of varying depths of the Missouri River during a “walk and talk.”
For the second half of the day we focused on the pallid sturgeon. Eager to escape the heat, Jeff drove the boat to a shady bank where we could get out and relax in the sand. We passed around stations that had activities relating to the pallid sturgeon’s life cycle and hunting behaviors. Kristen also told us about planning and management strategies regarding the pallid sturgeon, as it is an endangered species.

Teachers examine different kinds of sturgeon, held up in jars by Kristen.
We took one last river cruise back to the boat launch and then the teachers departed, ready to rest up for another day of learning on Friday.

Day two: 

On Friday morning Kristen and I met the teachers at the MU Extension Office in the River Market District of Kansas City. We would spend the day in the classroom learning how to apply the knowledge from the day before.

To start off, Kristen shared a structured outline of a Missouri River lesson plan with the teachers to help guide them with their own lesson planning. We also went over how people learn and modeled that with an activity and lesson about food webs in the Missouri River.

Teachers listen and take notes as Kristen presents the Missouri River lesson plan.
We let things simmer and took a tour of the Arabia Steamboat Museum. We learned about how people navigated the Missouri River in the 1800s with steamboats, and how dangerous a steamboat journey really was. Here’s a wacky fun fact: When the Arabia sunk, it was buried so quickly with sediment that everything was pristinely preserved, even the food on board. So when the crew excavated the site 132 years later, they found perfectly good buttermilk, pickles, and Champaign. They even ate the pickles and drank the Champaign themselves!

An enthusiastic tour guide introduces us to the Arabia Steamboat Museum and all the unburied treasures inside it.
As tasty as 132-year-old pickles sounded, Neopolitan pizza was more our speed. We headed to Il Lazzarone Pizzeria for lunch. The pizzas were served individually, so we thought we’d never be able to finish all of our food. As it turned out, that wasn’t an issue. Each of us finished every last bite.

We all gasp about the size of our pizzas and wonder how we’ll ever finish them all.
For the final stretch of the educator workshop, the teachers drafted and modified lesson plans to incorporate what they’d learned about the Missouri River the day before and make learning more experiential for their students. All three of the teachers decided to go above and beyond and tackle modifying an entire unit instead of just one lesson. After they had time to work on their plans individually, we convened in a group and each teacher shared what they had come up with.

We ended the workshop with a group reflection. Each teacher had come with different experience and prior knowledge of the river, so each got something different out of the last two days.
River and eager to bring it into the classroom to inspire their students too. The teachers said their experience was enriching and they felt more comfortable and capable teaching about the Missouri River in their classrooms.

If you would like to learn more about MRR educator workshops, please contact Education Director Kristen Schulte at, and check out our education program page for registration information, financial aid opportunities, and upcoming events. See you on the river!

Missouri River All-Stars, March - May 2018

By: Claire Hassler, Missouri River Relief

For the second year of Missouri River All-Stars, Missouri River Relief (MRR) partnered with the University of Missouri College of Education and engaged 125 fourth graders from Columbia Public Schools in after school programs. The goal of Missouri River All-Stars was to activate students’ innate sense of wonder and natural curiosity to explore the Missouri River, while increasing their knowledge and understanding of the river to deepen their connection and sense of responsibility to its care and stewardship.

Four schools participated in Missouri River All-Stars this year. Each school had four after school programs from March to May 2018 and one on-the-river field trip on April 29. During the after school programs, students learned about the Missouri River ecosystem and the impact that humans have on the river. They did this by going through stations, collaborating with their peers and problem solving. During the field trip, students also went through stations and got to experience the river firsthand. All-Stars also included a teacher curriculum development program that helped teachers collaborate with each other and integrate the river into their classrooms.

A group of excited students getting ready for their day on the river. Lifejackets – CHECK! 
After School Programs: 

In the first lesson, Discovering the Missouri River, students worked in groups to learn about claims, evidence and reasoning. They practiced making claims using evidence and reasoning through a picture walk. The students examined photos from a news article and then predicted what the article would be about. Next, students got in small groups to read and discuss the article “Our Missouri River.”

Students discuss “Our Missouri River” with Darcy Higgins, the All-Stars program instructor.
The second lesson, Structure and Behaviors of the Pallid Sturgeon, used four stations to engage students in the exploration of the adaptations and behaviors that help the pallid sturgeon, which is an endangered type of ray-fine fish, survive in the Missouri River.

In one station, students used a model of the pallid sturgeon’s life cycle to review important factors of transitioning from one life stage to the next. In another, the students drew predictions to explain how the pallid sturgeon is adapted to feeding on the dark, sandy bottom of the river. In a third station students created their own questions and defined problems based on observations of the historical range of the pallid sturgeon. In the last station, students watched a short video about the pallid sturgeon’s larvae drift and created Venn Diagrams of the survival and challenges the larva face.

Darcy Higgins poses questions for curious fourth graders during the after school program.
In Forces that Shape the Pallid Sturgeon Decline, the third lesson, students faced the question of how human alterations to the river have affected the pallid sturgeon. Students went through four stations and learned about how damns, sediment, channelization, and water-flow have brought change to the Missouri River.

Students discover the effects dams have on rivers by building their own models.
Field Trip: 

On April 29, the students had an on-the-river experience. The focus of the day was Recovery Plan for the Pallid Sturgeon. The students arrived at Katfish Katy’s at 10 a.m. and divided into four groups. The groups participated in two stations, had a break for lunch and then finished off the day with two more stations.

Students spent the day outside on the Missouri River All-Stars On-the-River day, experiencing the river firsthand and applying what they learned in the after school programs.
The first station, Experience the River, was a boat ride that incorporated spectacular views of the Missouri River for a one-of-a-kind learning experience. Students observed the differences between a chute, a nursery, and a channel on the Missouri River.

Students are ready to set sail for a boat ride!
The second station, Through the Eyes of a Scientist, was hosted by Dr. Ben Herman, who is with the University of Missouri College of Education. The station examined the relationship between students’ observations from the boat ride and what they learned during the after school program.

Classroom knowledge and real-life experiences intertwined during the Through the Eyes of a Scientist activity.
The third station, Through the Eyes of an Explorer, bridged the connection between art and science. Students learned about research conducted by Lewis and Clark and looked at their early paintings of the river. Students then used watercolors to document their view of the river.

Nothing beats lounging along the riverbank! Students use watercolors to paint the Missouri River, much like Lewis and Clark did.
The fourth station, Meet a Fisheries Biologist, introduced students to Carrie Elliot, Dave Combs, and Aaron DeLonay, who work with the U.S. Geological Survey and are helping to recover the pallid sturgeon. Students also got to practice the real-life research techniques the scientists are using.

Carrie Elliot and Dave Combs, biologists with the U.S. Geological Survey, teach students about their research techniques.
The students packed up and headed home at 2:30 p.m., ready to apply all their newfound knowledge in the final after school program of Missouri River All-Stars.

Teacher curriculum workshops:

Another facet of the All-Stars program was a behind-the-scenes teacher workshop. In the workshop, teachers used their Missouri River All-Stars experiences to develop and adapt their own lesson plans about the Missouri River. The teachers met once a week for four weeks at the College of Education office to collaborate and plan.

Teachers learn together with the MU College of Education
The NGSS-aligned environmental science and engineering based lessons were implemented in their classrooms and compiled into curriculum packs to be made available for other teachers.

Wrapping Up: 

The fourth after-school lesson, titled Scientific Arguments for Pallid Sturgeon Management, took place after the field trip. It addressed how scientists use claims, evidence and reasoning when debating solutions, specifically regarding pallid sturgeon recovery. In this lesson, the students split into two groups and developed their own solutions for pallid sturgeon recovery. Their plans included evidence and concepts addressed in previous lessons. Students had to consider the short and long term effects of their plans, who would be affected and what the next steps would be once their plan was put into action. The two groups then presented and debated their plans. The lesson concluded with students reflecting on how their views of the pallid sturgeon issue had changed since the beginning of the Missouri River All-Stars program.

Collaboration is key when it comes to problem solving and pallid sturgeon management.
The Missouri River All-Stars program was a smashing success this year, and we’re already planning for the 2018-2019 program. Stay up to date on information and contact Kristen Schulte, MRR’s education director, at and check out our All-Stars page.

November 17, 2017

Words of Wisdom to The Next Education Assistant

In the summer of 2017, Missouri River Relief was blessed to have Leif Nordstrom join the ranks as full-time seasonal education assistant intern.  At the end of his positions, we asked Leif to share a few “words of wisdom” to the next education assistant.  

The Missouri River Academy, one of MRR's major events of the year
To the Next Education Assistant Intern,
SPLASH! Wake up! You’ve fallen into the Missouri River with no life jacket, no boat, no help, and it’s up to you to make it back to shore. This scenario might be analogous to the feelings you experience during your first day as the Missouri River Relief (MRR; get used to that acronym, it’s going to come up ALOT over the course of the next few months). This is completely normal, so take a breath, and remember where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going.
For me, working as the MRR education assistant was the first ‘office job’ I had ever had, as I spent my years as an undergraduate working in the food industry. Admittedly, I was very nervous on my first day. What helped me the most was reflecting on these thoughts: where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. As I’ve discovered in life, self-awareness is critical to success, so acknowledging my past experiences as well as my ambitions for the future helped me by bringing my unique collection of skill-sets and experiences to the forefront. Then I took a breath, settled into my new office job, and put those skills to work.
I would like to present the next education assistant with a challenge: over the next few months, you will spend each day working on something different. Now, you can view this challenge in two ways: an inconsistent annoyance, or a unique opportunity for growth. While you won’t be doing something entirely different each day, this challenge represents an ideology that will be helpful to ascribe to, both at MRR and in life. View each day as a new opportunity. As you’ll find in the Words of Wisdom bullet points below, I ask you to always be moving, both mentally and physically. This is a method that I picked up while in the food business, but can easily be translated to work in an office, and resonates with this ‘new day’ ideology.
To begin each day, look over your projects list and identify what you think is the most pressing. This will change regularly, as your work is going to be built around upcoming events, with a few long-term projects peppered in-between. For example, if there is a multiple-day education event happening within the next two weeks, you will likely be working on preparing paperwork, gathering materials, or writing a press release. After you’ve picked a project, dive right into it. The reason the Education Coordinator chose you as the intern is because of your talents, and one of the greatest benefits of the job is the freedom you are afforded to utilize your unique skills to create, so don’t neglect your intuition when working on projects. That being said, you should keep an open mind, as a more complete work will be found through collaboration with the Education Coordinator and other MRR staff, which means incorporating outside ideas and editing.
While the goal of the projects list is to establish your independence – in other words, so that you don’t have to bother the Education Coordinator every second asking for things to do – I like to check in with the Education Coordinator a few times a week, and at least ask them what they are working on for the day. This is an informal way to get familiar with the type of work the Education Coordinator does, but also an opportunity to get to know them better. I recommend you see this job in two ways: an opportunity to learn professional skills in a unique setting, but also the chance to meet some really friendly people. Take time to get to know both the Education Coordinator and the other MRR staff; they want to get to know you.
The Educator Workshop, another one of MRR's major events of the year. 
As the Education Assistant, your primary focus is MRR education. This includes two major events: the Educator Workshop and the behemoth, also known as the Missouri River Academy. Both events will require a great amount of preparation, and you will help the Education Coordinator to carry out these events, assisting in various ways, such as taking pictures, setting up for meals, serving as a deck-hand, and more. Much, much more. The greatest advice I can give regarding these events is to stay calm, and always be present. You won’t always be in the forefront and in fact, you will spend most of the time in the background. But always be doing something, and keep an eye out for any way that you can make Kristen’s job easier.
In addition, keep notes on what can be improved and what you think has gone especially well. This internship is a two-way street: you are helping MRR, but they are also helping you. The Education Coordinator sees this internship as a great opportunity to teach and help you grow as a professional so the Education Coordinator will be challenging you, and asking for your thoughts and recommendations.
Now let’s get down to the brass tacks, there are a few things that I learned along the way as well. 
  •  The meaning of ‘Schlepping’. – The physical action of moving items up, down, and around from one place to another. Usually involves stairs, sweat, and multiple trips. When schlepping, keep in mind that after you have schlepped items to one place, you will eventually have to schlepp them back.
  • When traveling to an MRR event where you will be camping, ensure that you are adequately prepared. This includes - but is not limited to - a raincoat, boots, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, extra shoes/socks, and a tent.
  • Take 15 minutes to talk with MRR Staff about tying knots. Practice these… they will prove VERY useful as a deckhand.
  • Be prepared to serve as the MRR ‘head of culinary operations’. Duties include chopping watermelon, slicing Hawaiian Sweet Rolls, and schlepping coolers of food.  As head of culinary operations, it is imperative that when picking up a HyVee online order, always remember to check that ALL ITEMS are included.
  • At times, you will be required to drive an MRR vehicle and tow an MRR boat. When doing so, remember that your turns should always be wide.
  • When ordering food for 123 people, do not hesitate to greatly exaggerate the serving size presented on the container.
  • When posting on the River Notes blog, make sure that you have ‘filtered’ your text through a simple processor (notepad) and always upload photos using the Blogger website. NEVER copy and paste pictures into Blogger.
  • When possible, use resources you can already find in the office. The office bookshelf or the Education Coordinators book collection can provide some great information.
  • When using files from MRR file sharing service, make sure that others are not currently making changes to that document. This will create a duplicate file and can be very confusing.
  • When packing shirts for the Academy, check that the sizes are not youth sizes (unless you want them to be).
  • Before, during, and after an event, always make sure that the MRR camera is loaded with batteries, including at least one set of back-ups.
As with all things in life, there’s only so much I can tell you, and you’re going to learn best through experience. Take whatever aspects of this short narrative as you like, but I ask you to remember one thing: be excited! You’ve been given a great opportunity as the MRR intern, and if you view the next few months through that lens, you’re going to walk away with a tremendous experience.

View this job as a challenge to show that you can swim, even with no life jacket, boat, or help; give it your all, and I assure you that you will make it to shore with a sense of great accomplishment and satisfaction.

So, with that, I wish you good luck, and I’ll see you on the river!


Leif Nordstrom
2017 Education Assistant Intern

To learn more about Missouri River Relief's internship program, visit