Riders Build Ecosystems

ST. MARYS — At St. Marys Intermediate School on Wednesday, students saw the creation of over 100 different ecosystems.

As Kristy Guy’s fourth-grade science classes have been studying ecosystems, they brought the subject to life with their “Engaging Ecosystems” project.

“It’s living and nonliving things in an environment and how they interact,” Guy said. “We’re building a forest habitat and freshwater habitat.”

The students used soda bottles — the bottom was filled with water and either a fish or a snail, and the top got dirt, a plant, a stick (to represent a living tree), fake lizards and snakes, and a real live cricket. Guy is a veteran of doing this project with students, but this was the first year for a new twist.

“This year we have added onto it, taking ecosystems and relating it to Grand Lake St. Marys,” she said. “I asked the kids how could we use our ecosystems to learn about (the lake). With some brainstorming, the kids know that the lake is green and covered in algae, so that led us to putting different liquids (oil, detergent, fertilizer, sulfur, ammonia) into the ‘our lakes’ and seeing if algae develops.” 

In doing these tests, students will also learn about the watershed, canal, continental divide, rare/endangered animals, nuisance/invasive plants, lake erosion, algal blooms, lake history, and solutions to improve the quality of the lake. 

Guy said she believes it is important to teach students about the lake.

“It’s a local fixture in their community and some of them are going to be here forever,” she said.

During the course of the project, which will take students three weeks to complete, students will present what they have learned to the Lake Improvement Association and hear a presentation from a state park naturalist on watersheds.

The impetus for expanding the ecosystems project, Guy explained, was a change to the Standard and Poor’s standards, which are now encouraging project-based learning in schools. The two main points are, she said, that the project is student-led.

“Students are asked how they can use their ecosystem to learn about Grand Lake St. Marys,” Guy said.

The second point is to share what they have learned with the community.

This project would not be possible, Guy said, without the MAC grant the school received from the McDonald’s in St. Marys.

The excitement in the classroom was easy to see as students discussed with one another wether they hoped for a snail or a fish — as they could only have one — and how they planned to continue the project at home and add more living and nonliving things to their ecosystems.

“So far I’ve learned living and nonliving things interact and that’s what makes an ecosystem,” Zach Steva said. “I can give you an example — fish use plants to breathe and the fish can’t breathe through air. My favorite part is some of the experiments we’re doing.”

Tricia Yahl said she was excited to be doing a hands-on project that was very interactive.

“I have learned how plants and animals work together to live and that a fish uses its gills to get the oxygen out of the water, because the plant produces the oxygen and some of it goes into the water and the fish can use it,” she said. “And the snail can help keep the water clean because it sucks the rocks.”