June 23, 2017

Missouri River Sunset Excursion, June 15th, 2017

By Leif Nordstrom, Missouri River Relief

All aboard! Thursday night was another first for Missouri River Relief (MRR), as we teamed up with Columbia Parks and Recreation to host a Missouri River Sunset Excursion. This event invited Columbia area residents to join us for an evening filled with food, facts, and fun, while we enjoyed an intimate sunset cruise along the majestic Missouri River. 16 courageous guests joined us for the cruise, as we beat the heat, River Relief style. 
We were treated to a delicious fried fish dinner, accompanied by some scrumptious sides which had been crafted by our very own Kristen Schulte (MRR Education Coordinator), including her famous broccoli salad, creamy potato salad, and irresistible strawberry-rhubarb pie. We got to know each other the old fashioned way – around the dinner table – as Kristen presented a brief introduction to MRR and its crew, including Jeff (Executive Director), Steve (Program Manager), Mel (Assistant Program Manager), myself (Leif, Summer Intern), and of course, Baby (Mascot – see adorable pictures below). 

After dinner and introductions from the guests, we made our way down to the ramp to board, and divided the group onto two boats. While we didn’t let the heat ruin our night, I feel comfortable speaking on behalf of the group that we were all eager to feel what the MRR crew likes to refer to as the “river A/C”. As we cruised along, you could feel the relaxation washing over the group. With the A/C cranked up to a comfortable breeze, guests looked out onto the sparkling colors of the river, basked in the yellow-orange light of the fading sun. 
As we motored towards a river bank, Captain Jeff began to point upwards, identifying an eagle that was hovering over the trees. Passengers gazed in awe, and as we approached the bank, we were able to locate the large nest of this majestic bird. Jeff explained to passengers that as the years go by, the nest continues to grow larger. 
After our eagle-excitement dwindled, we brought the two boats together, to listen in as Kristen spoke about the various ways that the river has changed over time. Using historical pictures, guests were asked to make observations about the Missouri River between time periods. Kristen used this as an opportunity to describe several man-made constructs that have been used in the past to alter the river, including channels and wind-dikes. 
We then motored upstream, passing by towering bluffs that were decorated with lush, green vegetation. Once we brought the two boats back together, Steve provided a brief history lesson about our particular location, as we were within sight of Torbett Spring. It is believed that Lewis and Clark had once ventured by this spot, which is decorated with several archaic pictographs left behind by an ancient people. Unfortunately, most of the pictographs were destroyed during the construction of the railroad above, where the Katy Trail now stands. 
Next, Kristen asked the guests what they thought the bottom of the Missouri River might look like. Using maps provided by NGSS, she described how the texture of the bottom is very unique, and is continuously changing as the current rolls along. 
As the sun began to dip behind the trees, we made our way back to the landing at Katfish Katy’s. Once back on land, Kristen briefly described some of the planning and management strategies that are currently being used to maintain the Mighty Mo, and its many organisms that call it home. With that, we were off, capping an educational, but relaxing, sunset cruise. 

To stay up to date on all of MRR’s exciting programs, make sure to check out our education programs page, and subscribe to our e-newsletter. 

See you on the river!


June 19, 2017

Missouri River All Stars, Fall 2016 - Summer 2017


Darcy Higgins leads a group discussion.
Overview:
During the 2016-17 school year, 4th grade students from five Columbia Area Public Elementary Schools had the fortunate opportunity to participate in the Missouri River All Stars after-school program, hosted by Missouri River Relief (MRR). The goal of the program was to engage student’s innate sense of wonder and natural curiosity to explore the Missouri River, while increasing their knowledge and understanding of the Missouri River to deepen their connection and sense of responsibility to its care and stewardship. 
Students use maps to learn about the Missouri River.
During the program, students learned about the Missouri River by working in teams to develop their own knowledge of the Missouri River. The program was divided into five lessons, four taking place in the classroom and one on the river. The lessons are founded upon MRR’s Core Education Curriculum, which seeks to develop students’ understanding through three distinct contexts: Knowledgeable Ecologist, Insightful Historian, and Conscientious Community Member. These ‘roles’ guide our lesson plans, and facilitate an environment that is diverse and abundant with substantive information, which results in a well-rounded educational program. 
Eager curiosity flows through this excited group of students.
The first lesson, titled Connecting to the Missouri River, serves as an introduction to the program. In this lesson, students began to explore their own connection to the river by expanding their sense of wonder and curiosity. Using several maps, students learned about different historical perspectives of the river, and how uses of it have changed over time. 
Students construct maps detailing the life cycle of Pallid Sturgeon.
The second lesson, Behind the Scenes of the Missouri River, shifted the attention towards ecological factors that influence the river. Students explored the interconnectedness of the river’s ecosystem, and how diversity helps shape the ecological balance. Focusing on the Pallid Sturgeon, students followed the life cycle of an organism, and how it reacts to both abiotic and biotic factors in the river. 
What's a better way to learn than through hands-on experience?
The third lesson, Forces that Shape the Missouri River, built on the ecological aspects learned in lesson two, but added human factors, and how economic, environmental, and social systems interact with the river. Focus was placed on human actions, and the immediate impacts that can have a cumulative and long-lasting effect on the river. Artificial constructs, such as dams and channels, were the centerpiece for activities in this lesson. 
Students join together in exploration.
The fourth in-class lesson, Connecting Others to the Missouri River, sought to strengthen students’ sense of responsibility and care to the Missouri river. Students identified ways in which the watershed is a shared resource, and how impacts can be felt in communities that are many miles apart. Focus was placed on environmental stewardship, and developing skills that students can readily apply, strengthen, and share with their family, friends, school, and community. Significant historical figures, such as Aldo Leopold and Mark Twain, ignited students’ creativity as they worked in small groups to design possible solutions for ecosystem restoration or trash clean up. 
Students find shade as they listen in.

Field Trip:

The final lesson for the All Star program was an all-day outing on the Missouri River, taking place at Katfish Katy’s in Huntsdale, MO. Beginning at 10 AM, students arrived and were split into groups of 25, rotating between four different stations in 40-minute intervals. 
Questions abound during this engaging discussion.
The first station, Experience the River, was a boat ride on the Missouri River, where students were privileged to spectacular views, as well as in-depth information about the channelization of the river. 
With life jackets secured, students get ready for a boat ride on the Mighty Mo.
The second station, Through the Eyes of an Explorer, had students take a journey back in time. Hosted by local artist, Gale Johnson, students investigated the journals of Lewis and Clark, and made watercolor sketches using the river for creative inspiration. 
Gale Johnson speaks to the students about Lewis and Clark
The third station, Meet a Fisheries Biologist, allowed students to interact with some of the fish that call the Missouri River home. Dr. Rosenberger, a professor at Mizzou, accompanied by some MU students hosted a presentation that described the work that professionals are doing to help the river’s ecosystem. 
Students gather around for a closer look at some Big Muddy fish.
The fourth station, Birds of the River, provided students with tons of information about different birds that live along the river. Paige Witek, from the Missouri River Bird Observatory, guided students as they investigated the natural history of birds and how they have specifically adapted to the river ecosystem. 
Smiles all around after the boat ride.

After all groups had a chance to participate in the different stations, students departed at around 2:30 PM. What a great send-off this was for this year’s All Stars, serving as a fun and engaging culmination of the program.  MRR plans to provide an All Stars program for next year’s class as well, so to stay up-to date on information, make sure to contact Kristen at kristen@riverrelief.org and check out our All Stars page
Sad to see you go! Students gather before departure.
See you on the river!

June 14, 2017

Educator Workshop: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

"Hi Kristen,
I am interested in learning more about the Missouri River, and would like to attend your workshop, but I don’t know if I have the time or money to do so. My question is, can I register for just part of the workshop? And are there any financial aid awards you offer to attend the workshop? 
Thanks in advance,
Joe Six-Pack"

Hi Joe,
Nice to hear from you! I believe I can answer your question in full. To be inclusive of different schedules and interests, we have created the option of participating in one day or both days of our workshop. However, to maximize the benefits of this workshop, we highly encourage participants to register for both days, as each day brings a unique experience. Each day includes lunch, instruction, materials, and supplies. Specifically, on the first day, an on-the-river experience by motorboat will be included. For a complete breakdown of the tuition costs, please refer our website page titled, “Integrating the Missouri River into Your Classroom”. We’d love to see you for both days of the workshop, but at River Relief, we believe some time is better than no time, so make sure to contact us prior to registering to ensure that we can best fit your needs. 
Next, I’d like to respond to your question about financial aid… We have it! The amount of aid we have to provide will vary based on the year that we are doing the workshop, but River Relief is proud to offer a select number of participants in need the opportunity to attend our workshops at little to no cost. Applications for financial aid can be found on our website riverrelief.org as well as deadlines, registration information, and program schedules. Our financial aid is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, so make sure to stay up to date on deadlines and other application news by subscribing to our online mailing list.
Hope this helps, Joe, and we’ll see you on the river!
Best regards,
Kristen
"Hi Kristen,
I’d like to know more about the actual content of the workshop. That is, what is it, specifically, that I will be able to take away from attending?
Sincerely,
Jane Doe"

Hello Jane,
Thanks for reaching out to us! Short answer: TONS of information about the ‘Mighty Mo’, as well as ways to develop and implement this information into your curriculum. Long answer: I don’t want to spoil all the surprises, but we will spend roughly half our time on the river, learning about the historical significance of the area, geographical information, and how artificial and natural processes have changed the river. 
The second half of the workshop will be spent indoors, exploring the various ways that students learn. Specific attention will be directed towards promoting student discussion and observation, as well as strategies for successful question-building. Popular learning theories in the field will be considered and applied through participant activities, such as games and partner exercises.  In addition, each educator will be asked to bring a lesson plan that they currently teach and feel they could connect to the Missouri River. During the workshop, educators will have the opportunity to adapt and design their lesson plans and present out to their fellow workshop participants.  
More information can be found on our website riverrelief.org including financial aid applications and deadlines, registration information, and program schedules. I hope to see you at the next workshop. We promise you won’t leave empty handed! 
All the best,
Kristen
"Hello Kristen,
Your workshop looks like a lot of fun (and educational!) but I teach in an informal setting and am unsure of how much practical use I’ll be able to gain from the workshop in my specific field. My question to you: 
Is the workshop designed for just formal educators, or does it cater to informal educators as well?
Thanks!
Michael Scott"

Hi Michael,
Great question! We design our workshops with both formal and informal educators in mind. For those coming from a formal teaching setting, we discuss information that can be readily converted to the classroom and will comply with Next Generation Science Standards. While this can be useful information for all educators, we also include various outdoor activities that informal educators may be more comfortable with using in their own work setting. On day two of the workshop, specific focus will be given to teaching outdoors, where we discuss activities from day one in the context of instructional strategies and methodology.
On a more tangible level, the Missouri River lesson plan that participants develop during the workshop is not restricted to be informal or formal; rather, we encourage educators to craft their lesson plan in a way that will best fit their situation. In sum, we don’t choose one setting or the other; our workshop will offer pieces that both formal and informal educators will be able to obtain practical use from. 
I hope this gives you a better understanding of what our workshops are all about, and make sure to stay up to date on all of our programs by subscribing to our e-newsletter at riverrelief.org
See you on the river!
Kristen

June 13, 2017

Omaha Educator Workshop, May 21-22, 2017

By: Leif Nordstrom, Missouri River Relief


Missouri River Relief (MRR) was in Omaha, Nebraska to host an Educator Workshop. This event brought teachers from around the Midwest, including formal and informal educators. There were eight 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. 

Ready, Set, Omaha!


Day One:

For the weekend, our MRR crew camped with the turkeys and deer at Lake Manawa State Park, outside of Council Bluffs, Iowa, settled just across the Missouri River from Nebraska-Iowa state line. The first day began bright and early Sunday. We traveled to The Narrows State Park, in Council Bluffs, to launch our boat, and then motored down-river for three lovely muddy miles to the Lewis and Clark boat landing on the Nebraska side of the river. The marina is situated just East of downtown Omaha, and the cityscape provided a scenic backdrop for the day.

Teachers gather around as Kristen begins introductions

After setting up registration at the marina, participants began to arrive. Once everyone had signed in, Kristen, MRR education coordinator, organized us into a circle for introductions. The crew, including Kristen, Jeff Barrow (MRR executive director), and myself (Leif, MRR summer intern), 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 eagerness 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…” which included some unexpected observations, such as the howl of a gorilla (a teacher later cleared this up, explaining that the Omaha Zoo was situated along the river). 

Kristen uses pictures to describe the Missouri River watershed

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 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 Kristen described both the benefits and detriments of each. 

Participants let the breeze flow over them as they take in the scenery 

We had lunch at the Narrows State Park, then motored downstream, eventually finding a chute to settle in to. While we floated along, Kristen prompted us to guess what the bottom of the river might look like. After we took off our sea legs and made it on land, we talked about the Pallid Sturgeon and participated in activities which related important information about the endangered fish. Once we returned to the boat, Kristen 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 marina, where we briefly reflected on our first day on the Big Muddy before departing. 

Day Two:

Back to the classroom for the educators on our second day of the workshop. This time, we spent the day at Fontanelle Forest Nature Center, a nature center in Omaha. 

Entrance to Fontanelle Forest Nature Center

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. 

Creative minds fill the classroom on the second day of the workshop- educators, unite!

Then, we discussed the ways in which people learn, as well as how to promote discussion and encourage students. To illustrate this, we engaged in a group activity where we used a script to act out different teaching scenarios. Each of the three scripts described a different type of instructor, with techniques ranging from teacher-centered to nature-centered, with tons of fun in-between. 

Masters of their craft, educators participate in the activity using a cookie for fake scat!

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 trash reduction strategies, animal adaptations, and tree identification.

Lesson plan close-up
Next, participants used giant post-it note paper 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. 

Educators provide constructive feedback to one another

To conclude our day, we gathered outside 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.

The group gathers for one last time before departure

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