What can you learn by putting on a pair of waders? Tracey Marchyok’s students at Ann Arbor Learning Community discovered the ways water and land use impact stream ecology and, in the process, became deeply invested in their Huron River watershed. They studied macroinvertebrates, conducted chemical, biological and physical stream monitoring techniques, learned stream mapping and assessment, dove into nature drawing and journaling, and a whole lot more! Get the full story, below.

Teacher Team/Teacher Affiliate: Tracey Marchyok

Essential Question: What is our responsibility to each other and the land?

Community issue or need addressed: Stream remediation and habitat preservation

Tracey Marchyok is a veteran SEMIS Coalition teacher who has engaged in deep watershed investigation, stewardship and reflection with her students. With the help of project partners like the Huron River Watershed Council and the Leslie Science and Nature Center, they have completed several place-based projects in the past, including water quality monitoring, macroinvertebrate studies, stream assessment, an erosion pin study, a freshwater boat tour and NOAA Scientists in the Classroom.

Water studies occur over the course of the full year, supplemented by additional place-based activities with other themes that expand students’ connections with nature and opportunities for stewardship, like nature journaling, a camping trip and grade level gardens. Ms. Marchyok is one of a team of educators at AALC using place-based pedagogy to help students gain a sense of place and deeper knowledge of their community and academics at every grade level.

Partners and Resources 

SEMIS Connections:

  • NOAA facilities and experts (Great Lakes Education Program, Michigan Sea Grant)
  • Water monitoring experts from the Huron River Watershed Council
  • Resources used from outside sources:
  • Annie’s Big Nature Lesson from Leslie Science and Nature Center

Community Partners:

  • The Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC) has been a partner in Ms. Marchyok’s classroom for several years, specializing in water monitoring techniques.
  • The Leslie Science and Nature Center (LSNC) was the site for the Annie’s BIG Nature Lesson immersion experience, the week-long camp experience for AALC students. 
  • Ms. Marchyok was awarded a grant from Women in Philanthropy at EMU to expand the experience to include all AALC 4th/5th-grade classrooms. 
  • The Great Lakes Education Program is a service of Michigan Sea Grant, and provides lessons and field experiences for students, like the freshwater boat excursion. 
  • The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) is an office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) located in Ann Arbor. NOAA-GLERL specializes in researching the physical, chemical and biological processes that occur within the ecosystems of the Great Lakes. NOAA-GLERL scientists visited the classroom and spoke with students about such themes as Great Lakes shipwrecks and aquatic bugs.

Other teachers/school staff involved in PBE at the school:

  • Drake Meadow has offered a permaculture course elective to AALC middle school students. Students learn permaculture and stewardship basics through a unique entrepreneurial classroom model.
  • Tammy King has been integral in designing the K–1 butterfly garden space as well as working with the entire staff to coordinate all of the garden projects.

Outcomes for students’ learning:

As part of the Interdisciplinary Water Stewardship Projects, students have been thinking more and more about water use, land use and the impact on stream ecology. Due to the students’ interest in the water on and surrounding the school site, Traceyand her community partners planned lessons integrating the investigation of where water goes, mapping their school site and monitoring how different land use affects stream hydrology and health.

At the end of the school year, students presented to the Washtenaw County Water Commissioner and another County Commissioner on their Mallets Creek Study findings. Their presentation of Malletts Creek data, with support from the Huron River Watershed Council, was instrumental in getting the City of Ann Arbor to put the section of Malletts Creek behind AALC on its environmental remediation list.

Students presented on their nature journals at the SEMIS Community Forum as their culminating experience. In the future they will use their study to consult with a tennis club that has purchased property adjacent to the school near Ellsworth and State St., which might threaten their natural habitat trail and garden projects. They plan to engage the property owners, City government, and the Huron River Watershed Council and find solutions to help preserve this natural area and the health of Malletts Creek. The success of this project relied on strong teacher leadership and a strong community-led focus on watershed health.

Outcomes for Educator Professional Development:

As a core member engaged in SEMIS since its inception, Tracey has evolved to creat sustainable programming links to multiple disciplines. Annie’s Big Nature Lesson provided the foundation of immersion place-based experience for Tracey’s students. Tracey’s watershed focus has transformed from water monitoring into action-based projects and a youth civic engagement focus. The 2013 Summer Institute provided Tracey the opportunity to train her students to lead place-based education sessions, further improving her student-centered focus. The following Powerful Place-Based Educator characteristics illustrate her growth in the SEMIS Coalition:

  • Finding and inviting experts and community members into your classroom
  • Using an inquiry approach
  • Helping students connect with nature and develop a sense of place
  • Creating lessons and projects that provide for student voice and student driven inqiury
  • Helping students to take action to protect, preserve, re‐vitalize a place
  • Putting students in the position of “teacher” (e.g., during Community Forum, PBE conference,
  • Summer Institute, presentations to their community).
  • Helping students to see themselves as part of a watershed and the Great Lakes community
  • Conducting meaningful community mapping/inventory activities
  • Understanding and teaching science concepts
  • Involving families in place‐based projects

Methods for student data collection:

  • Chemical, biological and physical stream monitoring techniques
  • Nature journaling

Assessment measures:

  • Stream mapping (understanding and interpreting maps, scale, etc.)
  • Nature drawing and journaling (indicated more detailed stream drawings after nature immersion experience at Leslie Science and Nature Center)
  • Presentations at SEMIS Community Forum shows ability to educate the public on their research

Interdisciplinary tie-ins:

  • Students read the book “Paddle-to-the-Sea” to deepen their understanding of Native American history and culture in relation to Great Lakes stewardship
  • Regularly drew macroinvertebreates



S.IP.04.11,12/S.IP.05.11 Make purposeful observations of the natural world. Generate questions based on observations.

S.IP.04.14/S.IP.05.13 Use tools that aid observation and data collection.

S.IA.04.12 /S.IA.05.12 Share ideas and evaluate data and claims about science through purposeful conversation in collaborative


S.IA.04.13/S.IA.05.13 Communicate and present findings of observations and investigations using evidence.

S.RS.04.18/S.RS. 05.17 Describe the effect humans and other organisms have on the balance of the natural world.


4 – H3.0.8 Describe past and current threats to Michigan’s natural resources; describe how Michigan worked in the past and

continues to work today to protect its natural resources. (G, C, E)

4 – G5.0.1 Assess the positive and negative effects of human activities on the physical environment of the United States.

4 – P4.2.1/5- P4.2.1 Develop and implement an action plan and know how, when, and where to address or inform others about a

public issue.


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of

reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


5-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.

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