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Paynesville Press - June 6, 2001

Ecology of rivers and lakes taught

By Michael Jacobson

For the second year in a row, the fifth grades in the Paynesville Area Schools have learned about lake ecology thanks to books purchased by the Koronis Lake Association (KLA).

The fifth graders already covered an ecology unit - Populations and Ecosystems - in the fourth quarter. "It leads real well into the curriculum I cover in the spring," said Mary Stock, the fifth grade science teacher. "That's why we thought it was a good match."

What the lake ecology books add to the curriculum is specifics about the ecosystem around Paynesville. The general textbook talks about deserts and mountains and oceans, while the lake ecology books concentrate on watersheds, rivers, and lakes.

"We're basically buying these books because we think it's important that kids who live next to rivers and lakes learn about the ecology of rivers and lakes," said Peter Jacobson, the president of the KLA and the publisher of the Press.

The unit about rivers and lakes allows for more personal experience with nature and more hands-on learning than, say, a desert ecosystem that the students might never have experienced, Stock and Jacobson agreed.

The books were written for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, but fit Minnesota's ecosystem as well. The book covers the properties of water, the water cycle, the food cycle, what constitutes a watershed, the effects of pollution, and classifying lakes.

Learning things like how the temperature of water changes as the lake gets deeper was easier because the students had personal experience, Stock said. They knew when you jumped in the lake that the water gets colder as you go down. The students were surprised to learn, though, that the water at the bottom of the lake stays relatively stable temperature-wise throughout the year.

Stock said the students were disgusted to learn about septic system pollution in lakes. One of the students' homework assignments was to check on the amount of phosphorus contained in household products at their house and in the stores. "This did open kids' eyes," said Stock.

Learning that fertilizers cause weeds to grow in the lake like they do in people's yards or farmer's fields also made a lot of sense to the students, Stock added.

The flooding this spring offered an excellent opportunity to illustrate how a watershed works. "The kids could understand that water was coming into the lake faster than it could go out. Hence the flood," explained Stock. "I felt it really hit home with the kids. They've lived by the lakes all their lives, but now they better understand the delicacy of the balance."

KLA's goals are to protect and improve the lake, and educating the public, in this case children, helps further those goals, Jacobson said. "Most of all surface water eventually gets to the river. Where we live, that's the North Fork of the Crow River, and that effects the quality of water, the quality of fishing, and the quality of recreation on both Rice and Koronis," Jacobson said.

"We're just happy that it fits into the curriculum at school, and that in their ecology unit, the kids can talk about the rivers and lakes around here," he added.

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