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Wild Rice in the Classroom

‘Growing’ classroom experience connecting students to water and native plants

The goal of the Wild Rice in the Classroom project is to engage local teachers and K-12 students in conservation efforts to enhance native wetland plant communities in the Bay of Green Bay coastal wetlands and beyond. The project brings native aquatic plants, emphasizing Manoomin (in Ojibwe) or wild rice, into classroom spaces to enhance place-based and experiential learning. Students are introduced to the ecology and cultural importance of wild rice and plant seeds in buckets to care for in their classroom or school greenhouse. Access to Manoomin in learning spaces lends itself to diverse subjects, including science, math, indigenous studies and traditional ecological knowledge, agriculture, wildlife conservation, art, and more.

Following the classroom experience, resulting Manoomin “plugs” are transplanted at appropriate wetland sites within the greater Green Bay ecosystem to enhance aquatic plant diversity and provide food and habitat for fish and wildlife. Field trips to visit wetlands or transplant are welcome and encouraged! Students growing and caring for wild rice gives classes the opportunity to see their work in action and build a relationship with the water resources and wetlands in their communities. Coordinators are also working with tribal partners to elevate cultural knowledge and experiences as part of the project given the strong relationship of Manoomin to indigenous communities in Wisconsin.

This project is a cooperative effort between UW-Green Bay’s Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Program, a grant received from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program, and additional support from Ducks Unlimited.

Project Overview

Wild Rice in the Classroom began with a pilot project in March 2020 with 6th grade students at Parkview Middle School in Ashwaubenon. Students did an amazing job starting their plants in the classroom- which had to be “rescued” when schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Plants were raised in the UW-Green Bay greenhouse and videos sent to the students to provide progress updates. The resulting mature wild rice plugs were planted at L.H. Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve in Suamico in May 2020 as part of a wetland restoration effort there and as an educational opportunity for the broader community.

In August of 2020, a teacher workshop was held at L.H. Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve to emphasize the importance of Manoomin to the watershed and indigenous tribes and to share the procedure for their classroom planting. Teachers that attended took home the supplies needed to plant wild rice for the following school year.

In 2021, participants experienced challenges with viability of seed, but 7 teachers participated with their students to help troubleshoot and work through setbacks. One class at Green Bay East High School cared for wetland plugs donated by Stone Silo Prairie Gardens, which UW-Green Bay staff and students planted at Barkhausen in May 2021. The program has expanded again for 2022, with 17 teachers representing 14 schools participating, spanning elementary to community college levels and 4 counties in northeastern Wisconsin.

Project Contacts

Interested in learning more or know of a teacher in northeast Wisconsin who might like to participate in Wild Rice in the Classroom? Contact us! Lynn Terrien, Lower Fox River Watershed Monitoring Coordinator, Amy Carrozzino-Lyon, Green Bay Restoration Project Coordinator, Phone: (920) 465-5029

Local high school students plant wild rice as part of UW-Green Bay program.

Wild Rice, Watershed Restoration and Hands-on High School Learning

As a first-year science teacher at Aldo Leopold Community School in Green Bay, Wis., Mark Valentine was looking for experts to help him teach lessons about our environment and ecosystems. He found the perfect way to fulfill this goal: growing wild rice in the classroom.

Valentine was one of 17 teachers and more than 400 students from 14 schools who participated in the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay’s Wild Rice in the Classroom program during the 2021-2022 school year. The program engages local teachers and K-12 students in conservation efforts that enhance native wetland plant communities in the Bay of Green Bay coastal wetlands and beyond.

Students from Aldo Leopold Community School were eager to plant the rice they grew in their classrooms.

Teachers are given all the materials — lights, buckets, growing medium and wild rice seed — to successfully grow the rice. They also learn about the historical, cultural and ecological importance of Manoomin (wild rice in Ojibwe). 

“The students and I learned so much about the importance of wild rice for indigenous people and the ecosystem where it grows,” Valentine says. “It felt extra special to be a part of the process of helping to restore this plant to the watershed.”

In May 2022, UW-Green Bay staff and students hosted a series of field trips to L.H. Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve in Suamico, Wis., where teachers and more than 100 students transplanted their plants as part of a wetland restoration effort. In addition, students learned about freshwater turtles and met a painted turtle education ambassador, participated in a nature walk, and engaged in an interactive activity with Atlas Science Center staff to simulate the environmental and economic impacts of invasive species.

“Students were able to actively participate in the growing and planting of a native species to combat a non-native. This activity gave them a sense of ownership of their environment and what they did does matter,” says Lynn Ponto, a teacher at Weyauwega-Fremont High School Science in Weyauwega, Wis. “Being able to plant under the guidance of professionals allowed them to feel the importance of protecting the diversity in our environment.”

Students also learned about diverse water science career experiences. Valentine says listening to UW-Green Bay students share their stories about pursuing degrees and careers in the natural resources inspired his students. 

“Many of my science students dream of following similar paths in the future!” he says.

The field trips were supported by UW-Green Bay’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology, Atlas Science Center, Brown County Parks, and Ducks Unlimited, with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program and NEW Water.

This year, the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin provided funding to UW-Green Bay to expand the program and further develop an educator network that will link water-related research activities in the region; help teachers share curriculum, best practices, data and resources; and fuel continued engagement in water science and student career development.

These kinds of collaborations are important to Dave Landers, a sixth-grade science teacher at Pulaski Community Middle School in Pulaski, Wis., and Kelly Koller, technology integration specialist at Bay View Middle School in Green Bay. They facilitate an after-school program called Great Lakes Explorers, which connects students to the Great Lakes watershed. The wild rice program was a fantastic activity for the group.

Students learned about wild rice and ecosystems in various ways throughout the school year. Photo courtesy Dave Landers.

“Students really enjoyed planting our wild rice at Barkhausen, learning more about the cultural and scientific significance of wild rice in our area and doing other ecosystem-related activities,” Koller says.  

Landers says place-based experiences engage and empower students to better understand the ecosystem, gain a cultural perspective and then take action within their local watersheds. It could also prompt them to explore water-related careers.

“One of the highlights was surely putting on the rubber boots and getting their hands wet and feet dirty as they seeded and later planted the wild rice,” he says. “This experience is a great example of using the outdoor learning classroom to foster and engage students’ natural curiosity and wonder.”