by Aisha Liebenow
“You love what you know.”
This is how Susie Hoffman, Director of the Center for Conservation Leadership (CCL), described the interest that the Lake County high school students showed during Trout Lake Station director, Tim Kratz’, presentation at the North Lakeland Discovery Center.
She continued, “You know how when we first came [to the Discovery Center] and you weren’t so fond of bats, and now after our trip yesterday you think they are pretty cool?” Today, this was the exact reaction these students were having to Tim’s presentation on lakes and their ecosystems. Before being exposed to this set of knowledge, they had no idea how interesting or relevant it was to their own lives in the suburbs of Chicago.
“You love what you know…” From what I have learned in Life Sciences Communication, this idea is often one of the problems with science education. Exposure to knowledge actually doesn’t correlate with active support of a scientific idea. Opinions are based on upbringing, past experiences, religion, and a lot of other factors. New knowledge can persuade you to change your previously construed beliefs or, in most cases, simply strengthen them. This creates a polarizing effect to which there is no middle ground.
Despite all of this, Tim’s presentation was generating a spectacular display of pure young intrigue. A show of sincere curiosity that led the students to questions scientists are asking right now about pollution, the environment, and climate change:
“Will this get better?”
“How long until a lake is unusable because of pollution?”
“Are planting trees and recycling enough to make a difference?”
“Why are environmentally friendly products [frustratingly] more expensive?”
So why were they so engaged? Why isn’t society more like these 9th and 10th grade students?
Maybe the secret to CCL isn’t the new knowledge it provides its students, but the new experiences.
Susan showed me entries to the running diary that they are keeping for the program. One student, Tara Guo, wrote, “I have fallen in love with Nature.” To me, this perfectly illustrates a reaction I’ve seen in many who experience the splendor of the Northwoods, (including fellow CFL blogger Emily Hilts) and it is certainly a feeling that I am experiencing here at the station.
Emily was up at Trout Lake Station a couple of weeks ago and graciously offered to show me one of her favorite places up north: Crystal Bog.
Normally on a rainy day, my first thought wouldn’t be to trudge out into a wet, bug-ridden swamp land. But with a little convincing and Emily’s bright enthusiasm, I found myself zipping up my rain jacket and putting on my rain boots with an open mind.
After a short drive to a nearby campground, we headed down a trail, then pushed our way through a field of brush and found ourselves on wet spongy ground surrounding the lake. “This is sphagnum,” explained Emily, “it creates a walkway which separates you and the water below.”
Which to me, wasn’t a very comforting thought. One wrong step would send me plummeting into tens of feet of water with limited light to direct me back to the surface. But, trusting Emily’s assurances, I ventured out onto the bouncy platform.
I was immediately in awe of the color and intricacies that I saw in the foreign landscape. I saw delicate blue and white flowers, and brilliant red (and carnivorous to boot) pitcher plants. And I could not get over the fact that I was essentially standing over a lake, with mere tendrils of green and red to keep me from taking a swim.
This experience immediately stood out over all other experiences I have had so far in “Nature.” It was a turning point of not only appreciating the fact that it exists, but also knowing that I want to be a part of keeping it alive and healthy. And it all happened, not because Emily told me about Crystal Bog, but because she took me out and showed me. Suddenly, I knew the place. At least a little bit.
I think that this is what CCL student, Tara Guo, must have felt after her visit to the Northwoods, and it is a feeling I hope everyone gets to have at least once in their lives.
I was so impressed with the intelligence and respect that I saw in the students from CCL. Being a part of Trout Lake Station and the University of Wisconsin, where we have the opportunity to share our knowledge and the secrets Nature has shared with us, makes me incredibly proud of the work we do. I am honored to say that I was a positive influence in their learning experience, love of science, and drive to make this world a better place.
These are the first-hand ‘Notes from the Northwoods’, as UW – Madison undergraduate student, Aisha Liebenow, dives into the world of science, ecology, and aquatic systems. Follow her throughout the summer in her Northwoods immersion at the UW Center for Limnology – Trout Lake Station in Boulder Junction, WI.
If you would like to learn more about the CCL, and the programs that they provide, check out their blog at – http://www.centerforconservationleadership.org/blog