Ecosystem project gives students hands-on learning experience

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - CHAMPAIGN -- A third grade teacher is bringing a whole new ecosystem into his classroom. He's been building and taking care of coral reefs with the help of his students. 

This project has grown a lot through the last few years. It's been a learning experience. If they don't know how do to something, they Skype in a marine biologist or someone else to help the figure things out. But they've done a lot already.

At Stratton Elementary, Brandon Rutherford's third graders have a lot to learn, but that's how they like it. They spend time talking things through. Then they get to experience learning firsthand.

"One of our main corals is this green one," said Aly Hassid. "It's called a green star polyp."

The coral reef is in the corner, but it's the centerpiece of a lot of their lessons.

"I didn't know a lot of this before and it's just my first couple weeks and I already have learned a lot," said Alice Bell.

The kids learn to feed, clean and take care of the fish and everything else that grows in there.

"When students have the ability to grow and care for living things, it really helps them flourish themselves," said Rutherford.

"It's experiencing it, so you know more about it, because you're literally seeing what it's like," said Samantha Lowry.

Once they know what it's like, they dive a little deeper into their lessons.

"You may wonder what they looked like when they were babies and they were actually little microscopic animals," said Evani Pluta. "That is called plankton."

"Plankton make oxygen, which is very important," said Bell.

On top of that, they learn how their own ecosystem impacts reefs in real life.

"Scientists say, 'hey, maybe we should only catch just 10,000 a year, but people were like, 'no, we don't want to do that,'" said Lowry.

"Each year, students work to kind of add another piece to the puzzle, so it's actually like a living thing that continues to grow," said Rutherford.

The kids even do their own research to show others what they've learned.

"We can teach grown ups and kids about how we work," said Nipun Bhatia.

No matter what your age, there's always more to know.

Their project is supported by donations and fundraising by those kids. If you want to get involved, click here.

If you want to see the reefs for yourself, you can visit Stratton Elementary in Champaign or the Champaign Public Library.


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