Project Background

Students to Stewards Background

Partnership logos of MiSTEM Network, EGLE, and MDE.


Michigan is the Great Lakes State, bordered by 4 Great Lakes, hundreds of miles of freshwater coast, and containing over 11,000 inland lakes and thousands of miles of rivers and streams. Michiganders have a deep connection to water through our culture, economy, and way of life. Despite this connection, many Michigan residents lack basic knowledge about the Great Lakes, watersheds and about how water resources are directly affected by the decisions and actions of people. Michigan schools can play a key role in supporting freshwater education and closing this knowledge gap by incorporating experiential and place-based learning techniques into curricula. Teaching STEM concepts using place-based, problem-based, and project-based approaches with a focus on Great Lakes literacy principles is critical to fostering the future water stewards, leaders, and decision-makers in Michigan. This approach can also be used to address Michigan’s gap in STEM career planning and workforce development starting with K-12 education. 

Leveraging a Freshwater Context to Build Connections

From Students to Stewards project places student voice and choice as the center of student learning. A water focus tied to STEM education, built over a child’s educational life and into adulthood, can serve as the basis for place-based learning and scientific knowledge. The place-based approach engages students through their socio-cultural contexts and brings their internal assets to the foreground. Place-based, authentic-experience education techniques can inform water literacy in the classroom through the framework of the Great Lakes Literacy Principles. These principles were developed based on the Ocean Literacy Principles.  

There are many examples of Michigan educators and schools with successful water and Great Lakes literacy programs addressing the water literacy gap and providing strong foundations for students and educators using place-based education principles to effectively connect the experience to learning. For instance, Alpena schools have utilized the area’s proximity to the Great Lakes, rich maritime and shipwreck heritage, and local engineering capacity to develop a STEM curriculum focusing on robotics, maritime culture, and water sciences. Schools in the Great Lakes State have an opportunity to develop similar programs linking water literacy to STEM concepts, which is critical to fostering future water stewards, leaders, and decision-makers.  

This project will demonstrate the potential of place-based approaches that integrate content across various subjects to improve stewardship behavior, provide an engaging context to motivate school performance, and ensure that all students can meet or exceed the state’s challenging career and college readiness standards. The project will demonstrate how incorporating Great Lakes and Water Literacy principles into K-12 school curricula and educator professional learning through a place-based approach will help schools strengthen their continuous improvement processes and improve student performance. By connecting experience to learning, the project will help to grow critical foundational water knowledge for a rapidly-changing world, in which an understanding of effects of coastal influences, climate, water affordability and availability, emerging contaminants, and water shortages on a global scale is increasingly essential for informed, effective citizen stewards. 

This project will engage schools to reimagine their systems to support this pedagogical approach for learning with a Great Lakes focus. The project will include a field test grant opportunity for the 2020-2021 school year for participating entities to demonstrate strategies and best practices for grounding learning in the context of freshwater access and incorporating Great Lakes and Water Literacy principles into the whole child, school, and community models. The focus is on integrating place-based water literacy principles into local continuous improvement plans as a viable solution to addressing whole child, school, and community needs.  Evidence from the field tests will be used to support future integration of this and similar instructional strategies into continuous improvement plans developed out of the Michigan Integrated Continuous Improvement Process (MICIP) with a focus on addressing the learning needs of the whole child, school, and community. 

Local education agencies (LEAs), including intermediate school districts, public education agencies, and colleges and universities are eligible to apply to participate in the field testing effort.  Non-profit and for-profit entities or federal, state, and local units of government with experience in water literacy education are also eligible to apply, provided that they are part of a consortium that includes one or more LEA.

MI STEM Network Goals

This project will also help achieve the MiSTEM Network’s goals to make Michigan a leader in STEM education by empowering educators to engage all students in deeper learning that is relevant to students’ lives and transferable across contexts.  The Michigan Department of Education and the MiSTEM Advisory Council have identified Place-Based Education (PBE) as one promising practice that fosters deeper learning and allows for rich, authentic career exploration opportunities that are local to where students live.  

As the Great Lakes State, it only makes sense that the careers and PBE contexts that are relevant to all in our state are related to water. This makes water PBE contexts a major priority for the MiSTEM Network to develop across the State of Michigan.

Page last modified January 31, 2022