Article by Preston Spencer, Statesville Record and Landmark. Reprinted with Permission.
Lake Portal offers STEM-based lessons at Allison Woods
Allison Woods wants to see the students of Iredell County on a boat, surrounded by science.
A couple months ago, the Allison Woods Outdoor Learning Center, situated off of Turnersburg Highway, began offering a program called Lake Portal, in which students, Scouts and adult groups can learn about the ecosystem of a pond on the property and take and test water samples while on a boat.
“This is a little more than just a lab exercise,” said Brain Fannon, education program coordinator at Allison Woods. “Because it’s an open-ended environment, the results are not pre-determined here. Not every group will have a cookie-cutter experience. This is actual research.”
Lake Portal is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) based program, with the goal to introduce students to using scientific tools to gather information about the world around them. The program is open to middle and high school groups, and Fannon said he hopes they find students who have never been on a boat or done hands-on experiments.
“We’re hoping to give students the chance to experience that, and certainly not all are going to go into oceanography or marine biology, but it broadens their experiences,” Fannon said. “It’s not just about teaching science. It’s about providing experiences that you don’t have in the Piedmont, North Carolina.”
Allison Woods is using a 24-foot “research vessel” for the offered excursions. Upon arriving, visiting groups learn about the interface between the land and the water, and then hop aboard. On the boat, Fannon aids in the use of an underwater camera and sonar unit to teach about how water changes with depth. Those on the field trip also take water samples and test for various factors.
“Most people just see lake sand ponds as a flat surface and never really think about what’s going on beneath that surface,” Fannon said. “With the tools on the boat, we open a window to look down.”
To schedule a Lake Portal trip, call Allison Woods at 704-873-5976. The program is designed for groups of eight to 20 people. Cost is $15 per person. Community and private groups are welcome, and two weeks to a month’s notice is needed. The whole program takes about an hour-and-a-half for a group of 10, and twice that for a group of 20.
Fannon, a former marine biologist who worked on commercial fishing boats in Alaska, said Lake Portal is “not intended to be just another field trip,” but rather a chance to see research “as it is done professionally.”
“It’s not just asking the question,” Fannon said. “(It’s) how do we answer it? How do we look at our environment and get information?”