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 

September 27, 2017

Common Trees of the Missouri River Bottom: A Guide for Students

Ready to Download Now! 

The "Common Trees of the Missouri River Bottom: A Guide for Students" was created by Missouri River Relief and was designed to be used by elementary and high school students. The goal of this guide is to provide an engaging, hands-on experience for students beginning to learn about Missouri River floodplain trees. To download directly visit: MOSpace Institutional Repository

Tree Fun Facts

Comparing and contrasting the different types of leaves
How do trees access the internet for our new educator resource “Common Trees of the Missouri River Bottoms: A Guide for Students”? They log on! To learn other fun facts about trees of the Missouri River Bottom see facts below or download the guide. 
Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)
  • Their cotton-like seeds are dispersed by the wind, and can be found along the waterline on sandbars and river banks.
  • A fast-growing tree, which can grow to over 100 feet high.
  • Require flooding or other disturbance to regenerate.
  • Eagles build their nest in these trees year after year, because the large branch size can withstand heavy weights.
  • The Missouria Indians, whose name means “People with Big Canoes”, used these trees for their dugout canoes.
American Sycamore (Platanus accidentalis)
  • The bark flakes off of this waterloving tree.
  • One of the largest eastern hardwood trees.
  • Small mammals, like raccoons and possums, live in the cavities of the trunk.
  • Holds its round “pom-pom” seed clusters throughout most of the winter.
Common Hackberry (Celtis accidentalis)
  • Grows really tall on floodplains. 
  • Pioneers used its tough, flexible wood for cabin floors.
  • Attracts winter birds, such as the robin and mockingbird that eat its fruit.
Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)
  • Named for the silvery underside of their leaves.
  • Wood Ducks and other birds like to make nests in the limbs.
Box Elder (Acer negundo)
  • The name Box Elder comes from its former usage in the manufacture of wooden crates, pallets, and boxes.
  • These trees, related to maples, help to shelter wildlife and stabilize stream banks.
  • Often confused with poison ivy because the leaves can grow in sets of three.
Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)
  • Another common tree you may encounter along the Missouri River is the White Mulberry tree, a native of Asia.
  • Fishermen often set their lines under fruiting mulberry trees because catfish feed on these berries.
  • If you squeeze the leaf stem, you may see some white sap.
  • The fruits ripen in spring, and can be eaten raw or used for cooking.
Black Willow (Salix nigra)
  • Honey tree--beneficial to bees.
  • Provides food to ‘browser’ animals, such as deer, beaver, and rabbit.
  • During the American Revolution, the wood of black willow (and of other willows) was made into fine charcoal, which was then used to make gunpowder.
  • This is one of many species of willow found in the Missouri River floodplain
  • Willows are one of the first trees to colonize new sandbars after a flood.
River Birch (Betula nigra)
  • Tend to grow in clumps of multiple trunks, often in groups of three
  • Seeds are food for small mammals and birds
Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
  • Bur Oaks have the largest acorns of any oak tree in North America.
  • The slightly toxic acorns were boiled several times before being used as food by many Native American tribes

How to Use this Guide

4th graders exploring the Missouri River bottom. 

While the trees included in this guide can be found in many Missouri River floodplain forests, the list is not exhaustive for all locations. Many Missouri River floodplain trees can be very tall with leaves out of reach; as such, we formatted this guide to focus on bark providing the most direct identifier for the students. Tree bark is at student level! Because many guides focus on leaves and stems to identify trees, we understand that this is a unique approach to learning tree species. 

Thank You for Your Support

Using all our senses to explore the Missouri River bottom. 

Big thank you to Kevin Tosie, Student – University of Missouri, Columbia Leif Nordstrom, Student – University of Missouri, Columbia and Ann Koenig, Urban Forester – Missouri Department of Conservation and Felicity Dykas, Head of Digital Service Department- the University of Missouri who made this guide possible. 

To learn more about our educational resources visit our web page

September 20, 2017

St. Charles Educator Workshop; September 14th-15th, 2017

By: Kristen Schulte & Leif Nordstrom, Missouri River Relief

Missouri River Relief (MRR) was in St. Charles, Missouri to host an Educator Workshop. This event brought teachers from around the Midwest, including formal and informal educators. There were eleven lucky participants, each one as excited as the next to be learning more about the Big Muddy and ways to spread that knowledge to others. The two-day workshop focused on both connecting participants to the Missouri River as well as detailing ways to integrate this knowledge into their classrooms and/or programs.

Day One:

After setting up registration at the boat ramp, participants began to arrive. Once everyone had signed in, Kristen, MRR education coordinator, organized us into a circle for introductions. The crew, including Jeff Barrow (MRR executive director), Jan Weaver (Missouri Environmental Education executive director) and myself (Kristen Schulte, the education coordinator), provided the participants with a brief background of ourselves, followed by the educators talking a little about themselves and their reason for coming. Although the individual reasons varied, they all shared an excitement to learn. After the introduction, we got everyone fitted for life jackets, and set off down-stream, with Jeff manning the wheel. Along the way, we made observations about the river, using “I notice, I wonder, It reminds me of…”

Educators make "I notice" observations on the river.
Next, we talked about the Missouri River watershed and the social, economic, and environmental factors that influence it. Captain Jeff also provided some background on boat navigation, describing the various signs along the riverbanks that are used by motorists to identify the depth and current direction.  We talked about the history of the river and how it has changed over time, both naturally and artificially. Specific focus was given to dams and channels, where I described both the benefits and detriments of each.

Educators watch as a dredge pulls sand up from the bottom of the river. 
We had lunch at back at the boat ramp from the Katy Bike Stop and then motored downstream, eventually finding an island to settle into. While we explored the island, I prompted the educators to guess what the bottom of the river might look like. We then moved to a shady spot on the side of the river where we talked about the Pallid Sturgeon and participated in activities which related important information about the endangered fish. Once we returned to the boat, I explained the various planning and management strategies for chutes, and how they are intended to assist the Pallid Sturgeon and other at-risk wildlife. Finally, we motored back to the boat ramp, where we briefly reflected on our first day on the Big Muddy before departing.

Educators learn about the Pallid Sturgeon through learning stations. 
Day Two:

This day, we spent our time on land at two locations: the Greater St. Charles Visitor Center and the Lewis & Clark Boat House & Museum.

Peer to peer discussions on how people learn. 
Day two was spent off the river and focused on student learning and understanding, as well as ways to integrate this information into the classroom. To begin, Kristen provided a template for what a Missouri River lesson plan might look like, igniting creativity throughout the educators for their own lesson plan construction to come. 

Demo of a Missouri River Lesson Plan 
Then, we discussed the ways in which people learn, as well as how to integrate this into your lesson plan. We engaged in peer to peer and group discussion with a demo of a Missouri River lesson plan in-between. Then, we meet with a tour guide from the St. Charles Historical Society. We explored the red brick roads of St. Charles and its connection to the Missouri River. We ended our tour with a delicious lunch at Magpie’s CafĂ©. 

Tour of early settlement on the Missouri River in St. Charles, Mo.
After lunch, participants began working on lesson plans of their own. Educators were asked to bring copies of one of their own lesson plans, either to edit or to add new content. Participants used the knowledge gained from day one of the workshop to craft a unique lesson plan of their own! Topics included settlement along the Missouri River, biodiversity on the Missouri River, and people’s impact on the Missouri River.

Next, participants used giant post-it notepaper as a canvas for their lesson plans, which they then placed on the wall around the room. Individually, educators went around the room in a 'gallery walk activity', observing their colleagues work, and providing comments for praise and potential improvement by placing a post-it note on the lesson plan.

Transfering our lesson plans to poster board for peer feedback. 
 To conclude our day, we gathered to discuss what we learned. As a whole, participants appeared to hold a deeper connection to the river when we ended than when we began. Some claimed that they would seek ways to incorporate more place-based learning into their classroom, while others reveled in the sheer complexity of the river and its many accompanying ecosystems. One permeating theme: the combination of joy and excitement that comes from being on the river. Using the Big Muddy as a vessel, we explored the complexities of student learning and understanding, while developing foundational knowledge of the river itself and its many influencing factors.

If you would like to learn more about MRR educator workshops, please contact Education Coordinator Kristen Schulte at See you on the river!