2019 MCC Water Challenge

Maine EPSCoR partners with the Maine Campus Compact to challenge Maine’s students to think creatively about education and aquaculture

Liz Theriault

Students presenting their projects at the 2019 Water Pallooza event.

All that elementary students need to gain hands-on learning experiences about invasive species in Maine’s lakes is some toy boats, a tub of water, and some glitter. At least, that was the planned proposed by Emily Zider, a participant in the Maine Student Water Challenge, hosted by the Maine Campus Compact in partnership with Maine EPSCoR.

Zider created a curriculum for third and fourth graders in Maine’s elementary schools in order to teach them about the threat of invasive species. Her curriculum aimed to educate students “on the issue of invasive species and to allow for an experiential learning opportunity where students see just how difficult it is to solve the problem once an invasive species is introduced.”

This curriculum  is just one example of the submissions the Maine Student Water Challenge receives. The Maine Campus Compact (MCC), in partnership with Maine EPSCoR, has been hosting the challenge since 2017 with the goal to increase community engagement while transforming campuses across the state to create “better informed, active student problem-solver[s],” according to Sally Slovenski, Executive Director of the MCC.

MCC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reinvigorating the “civic mission of higher education,” according to Slovenski. “MCC recruits student teams, oversees the application process, provides training and support to participants, and organizes” the Water Pallooza Event, where participants of the challenge gather to share their submissions and network with other students and leaders.

The challenge invited undergraduate and graduate students from higher education institutions in Maine to use their imagination, paired with aquaculture problem-solving  knowledge to create an effective and engaging curriculum. The invasive species curriculum developed by Zider exposes elementary school students to invasive species using simple tools: glitter, water, and toy boats.

Students received a small tub of water mixed with blue glitter and were told that the blue glitter represented the natural species already living in Maine’s lakes. Then, students dipped toy boats into red glitter, representing species living in other lakes, and placed them in their tubs of water. Students would then see first hand how the red glitter from the boats would mix with the blue glitter in the water, representing how invasive species from boats mix with natural species. Once the red glitter was introduced, students were asked to try to remove the red glitter. Upon realizing they could not easily remove the red glitter, it became evident to students how difficult it can be to remove invasive species from the real-life setting of Maine’s lakes.

This invasive species curriculum developed for the MCC’s Water Challenge is just one example of the ways Maine’s higher education students are critically thinking about Maine’s aquaculture problems, and how they can help the next generation of Mainers be passionate about finding sustainable solutions.