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PORTER — A Discovery Charter School teacher was among nearly a dozen educators who participated in a Water Education for Teachers, or WET, Workshop at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and took those activities back to the classroom.

Project WET incorporates activities and resources around Asian carp and aquatic invasive species that threaten regional waterways. The Lakeshore's Project WET mission is to reach children, parents, teachers and community members promoting awareness of water and empowering community action to solve complex water issues.

Discovery Charter School, near the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, gives students an opportunity to explore the world around them through activities like hikes and exploring local waterways.

Discovery Charter School fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Tuck said the workshop gave educators a chance to try out a variety of hands-on activities she can use to teach her students concepts about watersheds, wetlands, water quality, water chemistry and aquatic life.

Tuck said the activities also are interdisciplinary and utilize social studies, language arts, math, science and reading.

Last week, Tuck used a massive inflatable Earth, provided by Project Wet, to talk to her students about what percentage of the Earth's surface is made of water and what percentage is land.

The answer: About 71 percent of the Earth is water and 29 percent land. 

The youngsters rolled the inflatable Earth around the room and each one put their fingers on a spot to see if they touched land or water.

The students also learned that Lake Michigan is the third largest Great Lake by surface area and one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. Water also exists in the air as water vapor, rivers and lakes, in icecaps and glaciers, in the ground as soil moisture and in aquifers.

Tuck explained to her students that water quality is very important, and they talked about the difference between quality and quantity. How do those two words tie in together and how to they interconnect, Tuck asked her students.

"Not everyone in the world has good water to drink," she told her students.

Tuck said her students hike through the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore almost weekly, and come spring there's a favorite pond that all of the school's students visit and study.

"We all do a pond study, and this year it will be in May," she said. "We check the pond to make sure it's healthy. If it's full of frogs, tadpoles, turtles and other living organisms, that's a sign of good health. We'll go back there with nets and collect samples and identify the little insects floating in the pond."

Fourth-grader Elaina Markwart said she really enjoys exploring the woods at Discovery Charter.

"In fourth grade, we choose a tree to inspect and observe," she said. "We journal about our hikes during the entire fourth grade. This year, I observed an oak tree. I also like identifying the birds in the National Lakeshore forest and not being cooped up inside the classroom."

Though fourth-grader Noah Haubold said his favorite class is gym, he also likes the experiments he and his classmates get to do in school.

Camp Tecumseh

The Discovery Charter School fourth-graders do an overnight at Camp Tecumseh in Brookston, Indiana, every year. The group went this year in mid-April.

Elaina said students had a chance to go from station to station doing fun activities the pioneers would have done more than 200 years ago.

"For example, we made candles out of melted wax, built a ladder to go over an imaginary river, saw animals such as cows, horses and a goat that if we were pioneer kids, we would have had to take care of," she said.

"We fished on the Tippecanoe River, made johnnycakes and became pathfinders. At the cabin, we got to pick our own bed and before camp, we got to choose who we wanted in our cabin. We also had amazing food for our meals." 

Tuck said the overnight trip to the camp gives students an opportunity to experience what life was like in say, 1811.

"We tie in science and there's a station that even has a watershed there," Tuck said. "It gives us a chance to talk about Lake Michigan and the watershed of Lake Michigan."

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.