November 26, 2019

Developing Missouri River Days: Pre & Post Curriculum

By Kristen Schulte and Carly Hopkins

Sunglasses on and covered in unidentifiable bug bites after attending National Great River Research & Education Center (NGRREC) training week, Carly drove down I-70 to her research placement: Missouri River Relief. Carly would spend the next 9 weeks developing and piloting a pre-post curriculum for "Missouri River Days" a half-day field trip that takes the entire 4th grade on the Missouri River in Columbia Public Schools. 

No big deal. She had written some educational material before and thought she knew generally how it was going to go. Research, write, go through 2-3 drafts, and call it done.  She even thought she could complete the project way ahead of schedule. 

Turns out, learning how children best learn and writing lesson plans around a certain layout was all new to Carly.  In the past, she had written things more to just have concepts flow from one another and kind of wrote a lesson plan based on that format.  Kristen, the Education Director of Missouri River Relief soon taught her the importance of having set understandings, knowledge, and skills you want students to walk away with along with specific exercises for them to use while learning.  The hardest part of all was letting go of any previous concepts about curriculum and diving headfirst into relearning about proper development.

Observing lessons being pilots by Russell Blvd Elementary Teacher
Carly then piloted these lessons with some local grade school teachers during their summer school sessions.  This may have been one of her favorite parts of the whole internship. She shared that "there’s something amazing about seeing your work unfold. The feeling of hearing the teachers read the words that went through countless revisions, and the kids absorbing it, falls nothing short of complete elation."

The teachers gave Carly their feedback through surveys, and she tweaked lessons accordingly. She shared that "the most impactful part of it all was actually getting to compile all the lesson plans and supporting material to be distributed in the local grade schools".  

Thanks to Carly's hard work and effort, Missouri River Days is now a two-part experience that combines a pre-post curriculum that is standard-based with a half-day field trip on the Missouri River at Cooper’s Landing.
  • Part One: Pre-Post Curriculum: There are two pre lessons and one post.  These lessons are each 35 minutes in length and are meant to introduce the students to topics they will encounter on the field trip. The lessons are also interdisciplinary and align to 4th Grade Columbia Public School standards.  
  • Part Two: Field Trip: The field trip is offered during three specific times during the fall and spring school year, allowing schools to choose a date in either the specified fall or spring semester that best fits their needs. During the field trip, students will leave their lab coats and pocket protectors behind; to do science, Missouri River Relief style. They will investigate the mysteries behind the longest river in North America and learn what makes it tick. 

Students learn about the Missouri River during the summer school pilot

Part One: Pre-Post Curriculum Overview
You might be wondering what standards and activities are involved in each of the lesson plans. below is an overview of each of the lessons. 

Pre Lesson 1: Forces that Shape the Missouri River

Overview: This lesson uses historic photos of the Missouri River to engage students in the exploration of how humans have changed the Missouri River.

Columbia Public School Standards: 
4th Grade Social Studies
  • Describe how Missouri has changed (and stayed the same) over time. 
4th Grade Science
  • Students will be able to analyze & interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features. 
Lesson Objectives: 
  • Students will understand the complexities of our relationship with the Missouri River.
  • Students will know how the Missouri River has changed over time.
  • Students will be able to explain how humans have impacted the Missouri River. 

Pre Lesson 2: Missouri River Geography Affects Us

Overview: This lesson uses scenario cards to explore students' understanding of weathering and erosion, and to spark a discussion about how the Missouri River shapes where we choose to live. 

Columbia Public School Standards: 
4th Grade Social Studies
  • Students will be able to explain how Missouri’s physical geography affects the way its citizens live.
4th Grade Science
  • Make observations and/or measurements to provide evidence of the effects of weathering or the rate of erosion by water, ice, wind, or vegetation.
Lesson Objectives:
  • Students will understand the weathering and erosion that shape the Missouri River.
  • Students will know how the Missouri River’s geography affects the way we live.
  • Students will be able to identify the various effects of weathering and erosion.

Post Lesson 3: The Art of Storytelling with Science Practices

Overview: This lesson explores the value of storytelling in science and the structure of a personal narrative while encouraging students to reflect on science practices they engaged in during the “Missouri River Days” field trip. 

Columbia Public School Standards: 
4th Grade Social Studies
  • Describe how Missouri has changed (and stayed the same) over time.
4th Grade Writing
  • Students will be able to recognize and compose narrative texts (e.g. personal narrative, memoir, short fiction, biography).
Lesson Objectives:
  • Students will understand the value of a personal narrative.
  • Students will know key components of a personal narrative. 
  • Students will be able to write a personal narrative based on their own experiences. 
Students learn about the history of the Missouri River during the summer school pilot

Below are comments from Columbia Public School summer teachers that piloted the lessons:



“I would definitely use these lessons in my classroom again. The students were able to recall the information and were for the most part engaged throughout the entire lessons.” 

 “The pre-lessons would help the students be more aware of what they are observing on the actual Missouri River Days.  It gives them some good background knowledge that they can build upon during the field trip.” 

“The lesson plans were engaging and students were interested in the material….The information was very relevant to students, as they will all participate in the Missouri River Days trip.”

For 4th grade Columbia Public School teachers, the pre-post curriculum has been compiled into binders with supporting material already printed and has been provided to the science department. Binders were dropped off at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year with the science department materials. 

If you have a problem locating the pre-post curriculum binders, please contact either Mike Szydlowski at mszydlowski@cpsk12.org / (573) 214-3945 or MRR Education Director, Kristen Schulte at kristen@riverrelief.org / (573) 443-0292.  

Carly presenting her Research Project at the National Great River's Research & Education Center Symposium 




August 11, 2019

Ebb & Flow: 2019 Education Assistant Reflection & Words for the Next

By Katie Hathaway

Hello all!

This summer has really been one for the books. As hard as it is to believe, my time with Missouri River Relief is coming to an end, so I'm writing one last blog post reflecting on my time as the Education Assistant.

On my first day of work this past spring, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect walking into the Missouri River Relief office. I had known of River Relief for some time, and been around the organization before- attending various fundraising events and briefly chatting at random tabling events- but I never leaned in enough to know just how amazing this organization actually is.

That first day, I remember feeling nervous, but very eager to jump into my role as the education assistant. At the time, I was just finishing up the last month of my senior year at Mizzou, getting ready to graduate, and gearing up for a summer on the river with Missouri River Relief- I had no idea that Mother Nature had different plans for the river.

A very beautiful, but very flooded Missouri River photographed during Missouri River Academy
My internship coincided with the 2019 flood, meaning throughout the summer, nearly every event and program planned had to be rescheduled for the fall. Miraculously, (or not so miraculously, because I was working with Kristen, Steve, Kevin, and Melanie) we still ran multiple successful programs, including a summer camp about the Missouri River, without actually ever getting on the river.

Every day the Boonville and Jefferson City flood gauge were checked and discussed, in hopes that the river had crested, and that the water level would drop before X, Y, and Z events. Things didn't necessarily go according to plan, and this summer involved a lot more days in the office than we all expected, but I had the chance to really immerse myself in so many projects, developing educational resources!

When the river finally went down enough in late July, the staff was kind enough to take the NGRREC intern, Carly, and I out on the river for a sunset cruise, and it was more than worth the wait! I can't thank them enough for giving us that experience.

River sunsets are hands-down the best sunsets.
We may have not have been able to get out on the river more than once, but I seriously can't imagine this internship being any better. I have so much love for Missouri River Relief. There’s not really a way to convey just how meaningful this experience has been, but I will try my best!

Being the Education Assistant has been transformative for me in a number of ways, and I learned a lot this summer, but here are some of the biggest take-aways:

I learned to let go and embrace being in the moment 

I am someone who will read and reread every lesson leading up to a program so I can nail every point perfectly. While that can be helpful to a certain degree, you have to be prepared to lose the script sometimes. Over the summer, I was able to get much more comfortable in doing so by really immersing myself in the lessons and doing my own learning about relevant topics on the side. There are so many resources at Missouri River Relief to help you learn and better prepare you to teach!

I saw first-hand what a community-based organization looks like

This organization really lends their time, energy, and resources to the community in so many ways outside of just scheduled events and programs. During the height of the flooding this summer, the staff were constantly out helping with flood relief wherever needed.

They've also built their own community, the Missouri River Relief Crew. Coming from all walks of life, every member of the crew is so authentically themselves, and so dedicated to helping carry out Missouri River Relief's mission of connecting people to the Missouri River. Any time we needed extra hands to get through a project, River Relief could send out an email asking for help, and undoubtedly, crew members would be there to help in whatever way they could. I feel so lucky to have been welcomed into this community. It really has been so special to be apart of. They may work on a local scale, but Missouri River Relief's impact goes beyond the city of Columbia.

My favorite crew member, Tallia, during our staff sunset cruise!
Over and over this summer, I learned how important it is to be able to adapt when doing place-based education

I learned it will probably rain the one day of the week you have planned to take kids out for a hike and teach them about the Missouri River, but you just bring a rainjacket and find dry spaces along the way to give lessons! 

Kristen has said Missouri River Relief is usually on "Plan E" because Plan A, B, C, and D didn't work out, and that may have especially been true this summer because of all the flooding, but that never lessened the amount of work, thought, or energy that went into every program. I was amazed to see how much effort went into developing back-up plans, and how well MRR programs were able to adapt to whatever Mother Nature threw at them.

To escape the rain, we found a pavilion to watercolor underneath during a day with Missouri Young Birders Club!

Running a non-profit is a lot of work

The 4 full-time staff – Kristen, Kevin, Steve, and Melanie- along with the bookkeeper Katy- work extremely hard. They are more dedicated to the work they do than I think it’s possible to express in this blog post, but each of them is truly inspiring. They give so much of themselves to their work, and I’m so grateful I’ve gotten the chance to work alongside some of the most knowledgeable stewards of the Missouri River this summer.

I realized just how much I love working with kids

During my first few weeks, River Relief’s afterschool program for 4th graders, Missouri River All Stars, was wrapping up. I had the opportunity to observe one of the last lessons, and I was blown away by how knowledgeable and engaged the kids were. At one point they were suggesting their own solutions for how to manage the endangered Pallid Sturgeon in the Missouri River! I was so in awe of the kids, and that feeling of amazement never changed throughout all the student programs I had the chance to be a part of.

Words will not be able to do Missouri River Academy justice. I loved being apart of this camp. The kids that attended were all so special and blew my mind in every single way. They were goofy and curious, and the 5 days of Academy were so meaningful to them. I loved watching each of them get absorbed in all the activities we did, try new things (like electrofishing!), and build friendships with each other. By the end of camp, all the kids were talking about how excited they were to come back next year, and I found myself starting to strategize ways I could disguise myself as a camper next summer so I don't miss out on the magic of Missouri River Academy.
I loved getting to know all 21 of these campers. I can't wait to see what their future holds!
Knowing you have a hand in helping shape the next generation is really indescribable. Implementing education programs is very tiring work, but it's next to impossible to not pour your heart into every program when you see the impact they have on kids.

Kristen is an unbelievable mentor 

She’s inspiring, hilarious in a way that makes you question how someone can just be that funny on the spot, VERY dedicated to her work, determined, and I hope she knows I’ll always look up to her. My growth as an environmental educator is very much because of her, and I will never be able to thank her enough for this opportunity.


Kristen giving her "I notice, I wonder" lesson! I loved observing this lesson- I hope I can implement it for myself in the future! 

To the Next Education Assistant- 

Welcome to one of the greatest organizations there is! Prepare for an experience unlike any other- you will laugh a lot, and make some of the best memories, but you will also work extremely hard during your time as the education assistant. Here are some things I learned along the way that might be helpful for you to know as you step into this role:
  • Throughout your internship, really take in the way presenters and staff give lessons and communicate information- note things you want to incorporate into your own teaching style. Half the time I would just think to myself, “Oh I liked that. I want to remember that for the future”, but it’s so much more beneficial to actually have ideas written down.
  • During education programs, it can be intimidating to follow Kristen after she gives a phenomenal lesson, but that’s okay- dive into it anyway, it's the only way to improve yourself!  
  • After every lesson you give, make note of what you want to improve on and what you want to continue with in the future. Ask for feedback from Kristen as well. 
  • You will meet so many people who will share their livelihoods as presenters, and while they’re really there to teach the students, lean in and pay attention to their presentations as well. There is SO MUCH to learn. When else are you going to have the opportunity to learn about migratory birds, electrofishing or nature journaling? 
  • This is maybe the most important piece of advice I will give- get every recipe you can from Kristen because she is an amazing cook. Thank me later for this.
  • When you’re not out helping run programs, you will be primarily at the office, and that can take some adjusting to if you haven’t had an office job before, like me. Something that was really helpful for me was to think back to the advice of the interns before myself and remember that the days of this internship are numbered. You’re only going to get this experience once- so go all in. Do everything you can to make the most of your time at Missouri River Relief.

Missouri River Relief was my first taste of “the real world” after graduating college, and wow, did I luck out. I'm not entirely sure where life will take me next, but Missouri River Relief undoubtedly helped me get there.

July 31, 2019

A Brief Snapshot of My Summer as a National Great River Research & Education Center Intern with Missouri River Relief


By Carly Hopkins

Sunglasses on and covered in unidentifiable bug bites after attending National Great River Research & Education Center (NGRREC) training week, I drove down I-70 to my research placement city: Columbia MO.  Admittingly, I was a little nervous.  I attend school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and had never visited Columbia before.  Looking back, it was such a waste of nerves – Columbia turned out to be amazing!  The downtown area radiates life, and there never seems to be a shortage of things to do.  However, the crown jewel of the town is undoubtedly Missouri River Relief.

Unlike my nerves about Columbia, I was just mostly excited to start work with Missouri River Relief.  Once I got my placement email from NGRREC, I immediately researched all about the program.  From their website and news clippings, it seemed like Missouri River Relief was run by passionate people that wanted to make heartfelt changes in their community.  That ended up being entirely true, but what I didn’t know was exactly how much heart, sweat, and blood goes into making their mission happen.

Headquartered in a cozy office, you couldn’t find a place filled with better people.  I could write paragraphs about each of the people I worked with – along with Indigo and Baby, the two office dogs - but for the sake of (relative) brevity, I won’t.  I would be remised; however, if I did not mention my supervisor, the education director of Missouri River Relief, Kristen Schulte.

With her unmatched wit and sharp mind, you honestly couldn’t ask for a better supervisor.  On the first day of meeting each other, we sat down and discussed what I would be doing that summer.  I would be mainly focusing on one event that Missouri River Relief puts on called Missouri River Days.  Missouri River Days is a half-day field trip on the Missouri River that takes the entire 4th grade on the Missouri River in Columbia, Missouri.  My primary mission over the summer was to write pre and post curriculum for teacher’s use. This would also be the area where I would develop a research project.

No big deal.  I had written some educational material before and thought I knew generally how it was going to go. Research, write, go through 2-3 drafts, and call it done.  I even thought I could complete the project way ahead of schedule.

Boy was I wrong.

Learning how children best learn and writing lesson plans around a certain layout was all new to me.  In the past, I had written things more to just have concepts flow from one another and kind of wrote a lesson plan based on that format.  Kristen soon taught me the importance of having set understandings, knowledge, and skills you want students to walk away with along with specific exercises for them to use while learning.  The hardest part of it all was letting go of my previous conceptions about curriculum and diving headfirst into relearning about proper development.

Observing lessons being pilots by Russell Blvd Elementary Teacher
We then piloted these lessons with some local grade school teachers during their summer school sessions.  This may have been one of my favorite parts of the whole internship - there’s something amazing about seeing your work unfold. The feeling of hearing the teachers read the words that went through countless revisions, and the kids absorbing it, falls nothing short of complete elatement.

The teachers gave us their feedback through surveys, and we tweaked lessons accordingly.  Their comments also helped establish my research project that looked at ways to interweave formal education into and informal learning experience.  But the most impactful part of it all is that we actually get to compile all the lesson plans and supporting material to be distributed in the local grade schools.  As I type this, piles of binders, laminating paper, and plastic envelopes sit beside me ready to assemble once the lessons are done being printed.

Leading the introduction to the Missouri River Creative Art Project 
Although my main project was the curriculum development for Missouri River Days, I also helped write short lesson plans for a creative art project for Missouri River Academy.  Missouri River Academy is an overnight camp that connects 8th-12th graders to the Missouri River.  I was a little hesitant about the camp – I had never been in charge of leading high schoolers before and was worried they would be difficult to handle.  Instead, I was met by an incredibly smart and eager to learn group of kids.  Even though we weren’t able to go on the river (due to flood stage), it was still a fantastic experience.  Watching so many kids having fun while actively learning about the environment was heartwarming.  I was even blown away by what they ended up creating in the creative art project! I learned that kids – whether they be the 4th graders in Missouri River Days or high schoolers at Academy – will never stop surprising you.

Guiding students on their Missouri River Creative Art Project
It was also just fun being back at a camp again – it was very nostalgic of my other camp experiences and made me remember what kind of experiences made me first fall in love with the environment.
That pretty much summarizes it all.  I wish I could tell you about every single event that happened during my internship, but there simply isn’t time.  It’s your turn to make your own Missouri River Relief stories.  But there is some advice that I can share with you that I learned from my internship experience.

 Some snippets of advice for future NGRREC interns

  1. Be open to learning new things – even if you think that you already know it.  Believe me; you don’t know it as well as you think you do.
  2. Organize your file folders first thing.  The number of documents you will save and download will surprise you.
  3. Although sometimes an 8-hour workday may seem endlessly long, just remember that the summer is unfairly short (I can’t believe my internship here is already ending). When that mindset doesn’t do the trick, music and a snack can help.
  4. Have some more confidence in your work.  Everyone is incredibly busy and if you can solve smaller problems on your own it will make everything run much smoother.
  5. Pick your research project and outline exactly what you are going to do early.  I had never done a social science project before, which proved to be more difficult that I originally anticipated. 
  6. Explore Columbia and everything it has to offer (if you’re an ice cream fanatic like me, go try Sparky’s)

But most importantly remember how lucky you are.  Not only to be an intern for NGRREC but that you got the opportunity to work with Missouri River Relief.  I am incredibly biased in saying this, but it’s the best placement of all the projects you could have gotten.

Presenting my Research Project at the National Great River's Research & Education Center Symposium