Sammi Eubanks, a Stewards AmeriCorps VISTA member, shows a dragonfly larval phase from the South Chickamauga Creek.

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Tennessee Aquarium hosts freshwater science "summer camp" for teachers

When it comes to understanding the importance of preserving a river or stream ecosystem, nothing beats getting your hands dirty and your boots wet.

Except perhaps having a biologist studying alongside you and making a compelling case for its protection.

During the inaugural River Teachers workshop, more than a dozen educators are discovering ways to incorporate freshwater science and conservation education into their curriculums. Their packed schedule of activities includes lesson plan development, professional certification and plenty of hands-on field work alongside scientists from the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute.

"We want to show them where they can take field trips but also things they can do in their own school yards and neighborhoods so they have a variety of options to take back to their students," Hayley Wise, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute's watershed educator, said in a news release.

River Teachers began Monday, July 10 and runs through Friday, July 14. Fifteen educators from schools across Bradley, Hamilton and Whitfield counties signed up for the program.

During the five-day workshop, they'll snorkel in the Conasauga River, learn about water quality monitoring in Chickamauga Creek, evaluate fish populations in the Hiwassee River and discover ways to bridge art and nature in the classroom during an activity with a local artist.

Through River Teachers, participating educators will receive certification, lesson plans and course materials from Georgia Adopt-A-Stream, a regional citizen science water quality monitoring program, and Project WET, a national organization focused on promoting "action-oriented water education."

The Conservation Institute's new freshwater science center opened last fall on the banks of the Tennessee River.

Ever since, one of the Aquarium's primary goals has been to "showcase how incredible the rivers and streams of the southeastern United States are," according to Anna George, the Aquarium's Vice President of Conservation Science and Education.

"During River Teachers, we will use these beautiful habitats right here in our backyard to help teachers make complex science topics and conservation challenges more relatable for their students," George said. "Our regional students will not only gain experience in thinking like scientists, they'll also have the tools they need to help us protect the water that provides a high quality of life for all of us."