In his thirteen years of teaching, Muscatine High School teacher Justin Johnson has found that hands-on experiences help his students truly grasp the concepts they study. After winning a $500 Bridgestone-Bandag Classroom of the Quarter Grant (CQG), he can now give his AP environmental science classes unparalleled experiences by creating aquatic ecosystems right in his classroom.
Each quarter, Bridgestone-Bandag awards one grant to a Muscatine Community School District (MCSD) classroom who applies for their assistance with a classroom project. In Johnson’s case, he requested funding to set up and maintain aquatic ecosystems to let students experience firsthand some of the topics they will learn about in his environmental science class. He detailed, “the money will be used to purchase needed equipment and living specimens to replicate fresh, brackish, and saltwater communities in ecosystems the environmental science class is designing.”
Once Johnson installs the ecosystems and introduces fish to them, environmental science students will have opportunities to design experiments and monitor their results using live fish in habitats as close to those found in the wild as possible. The opportunities will help students truly understand the ideas they read and discuss in class and help them see why they matter in the real world. “These aquatic ecosystems are durable learning tools that bring a level of realism to the concepts studied in environmental science that don’t exist from simply reading about them or interpreting data from others’ research, Johnson explained. “Students creating them develop a tremendous sense of ownership and, consequently, have a vested interest in their wellbeing. That passion will hopefully remain as they move on and motivate them to advocate for economically feasible practices that take into account the environmental cost,” he added.
Along with helping students truly immerse themselves in environmental science, these new aquatic ecosystems will also help older students help younger ones develop an interest in science. Johnson shared, “environmental science students will mentor ninth grade biology students during the second semester’s ecology unit, utilizing what they developed as a springboard to pass the fundamental aspects of what’s been learned to their freshman counterparts.”
With the supplies and animals for his class’s new aquatic ecosystems on the way, Johnson feels overjoyed by the support he received from the CQG. “This support will do a great deal to help bring something to life that would have otherwise been studied out of research papers and text. This is an opportunity you don’t often see in many school districts, and I am very grateful,” Johnson said.