From Classroom to Community: Mount Ararat Students Dive into Real-World Research

A crowd of 70 parents and community members gathered at the Topsham Public Library on February 29th to hear the Mount Ararat Advanced Biology class students present the results of their 2023 fall field research conducted at the Cathance River Nature Preserve.  

For nearly twenty years, CREA has partnered with biology teachers Glenn Evans to pair students with community mentors, so students have the opportunity to do real world research in their own backyard. As we all know, hands-on learning is always much more fun than learning out of a textbook! Every Thursday morning in September and October, students and mentors gathered at CREA’s Ecology Center to pick up equipment before heading out to collect data on everything ranging from water quality to plant diversity on the heath. 

At the presentations, students described their hypotheses and procedures followed by a poster session during which attendees viewed student posters and learned about their findings. The class offers these (mostly) high school sophomores a unique opportunity to do real world data analysis that has value to the community. Students can access data collected by classes in prior years, so they can compare results over time.  For example, projects assessed the health of tributaries of the Cathance River, plant diversity on the Heath, the spread of invasive species, and more. 

It also gives students the opportunity to be surprised by their results. For instance, counter to their hypothesis, the forestry group learned that trees on a dry site with shallow soil grew more during a prior dry year than they did during the recent very wet year. It was cool listening to them speculate that it might be due to the trees in that site being better adapted to dry conditions than wet.  

This is learning at its best – students wrestling with the practical challenges associated with data collection while experiencing the appeal of work that has real value to their community. 

After 19 years of teaching and spearheading this partnership, Glenn Evans is retiring at the end of the year, but we are delighted that Rebecca Norklun, his co-teacher this year, is planning to continue the class next year. 

We are grateful to Battelle for providing financial support for this program and to Stantec for printing the student posters.  

You can view the recorded event here.

Thank you to our 2023 mentors: 

  • Fred Cichocki – Survey of the ecological diversity of the Heath 
  • David Reed – Fishless pond survey 
  • Shane Duigan & Kevin Doran – Forestry plot study 
  • Glenn Evans – Tributary study 
  • Adam Gravel & Stantec – Mammal study 
  • Nancy Sferra – Invasive plants 
  • Rebecca Norklun – Fish survey of the Cathance River 
  • John Berry & Susan Fenn – Migrating bird study