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Fifth Grade Students Tackle Three Environmental Issues of our Day: Asian Carp, Urban Coyotes and Air Pollution

On the first day of summer for Naperville’s District 203 schools, 15 students from Maplebrook Elementary School spent the afternoon at Knoch Knolls Nature Center presenting projects that they had worked on all semester.

Their teacher, Ms. Cathy Kaduk, explained that they wanted to share what they learned with their family and friends and were eager to gather at the Nature Center to do so, even on the first day of summer vacation.

Benny Tietjen shows his group’s model of the electric barrier preventing Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan.


Lauryn Albertini demonstrates her group’s Pac Man game illustrating automobile air pollution, created by Joey Rubas.

How it began

The students participated in Project IDEA (Increase and Develop Excellence in Academics), which is District 203’s program for gifted students.  Earlier this year, Ms. Kaduk contacted Angelique Harshman, manager of the Knoch Knolls Nature Center, to find out how the Nature Center might serve as a resource for the children as they studied current ecological problems. After meeting at the Nature Center with Ms. Harshman, the class continued their work on three environmental threats: Asian carp approaching Lake Michigan, urban coyotes, and air pollution from automobile exhaust.

The students divided into three groups, each of which studied one of the issues, proposed one or more creative solutions to the problem, and developed interactive presentations and games to share what they learned with their peers, with younger kids, and with adults.

Asian Carp

The first group demonstrated a model, made by Benny Tietjen, of the electric barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal that blocks Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan. Benny explained that the barrier is working to keep the fish out of the lake, but that it is extremely expensive.  He added that the Army Corps of Engineers is working on a less expensive version with a double barrier.  This group also ran a magnet fishing game, with models of different species of carp, to engage younger kids.


Asian Carp group members (L to R): Benny Tietjen, Gianni Kochari, Rachel Soon and Maya Moore

Urban Coyotes

The second group presented a poster about coyotes and offered a predator/prey trivia game. They learned that, with wolves now absent from our area, coyotes are the largest natural predator and play an important role in the food chain, helping to control rodents and small deer. Some of the ideas that the students mentioned as ways to cope with coyotes included trying to relocate coyotes to a large forested area, reminding residents not to leave garbage out at night or to leave their dogs out at night, and teaching people how to react safely to an approaching coyote. 

The urban coyote group in front of their poster and table with a display of animal pelts to the right. From left to right: Morgan Purl, Alex Raymundo, Laila Epelbaum, Graham McAninch, Jacob Varghese, Nick Santiago; Ethan Hidajat is not in the picture – he came for the later shift, after this picture was taken.

Air Pollution 

The third group looked for a way to use the waste heat from a car’s exhaust system to power the car. They also proposed using a carbon filter to clean the exhaust to prevent air pollution. They explained that it might be possible to use a thermal electric converter to generate energy from the car’s exhaust and developed a PowerPoint presentation to show how this would work.  They also created an Energy Quiz Game and Pac Man game to illustrate how cars cause air pollution.


Andy Webb and Joey Rubas present a PowerPoint about their “Gasmaster” concept.

Seeing the students’ enthusiasm and hearing their detailed explanations of complex issues impressed me. It’s exciting to see how Knoch Knolls Nature Center can foster intelligent passion for our environment in our students, from the preschoolers who attend Toadstools and Pollywogs preschool to the older students who come to study and wrestle with the challenges we face in our urban environment.

An Invitation


The Naperville Park District invites other schools, scouts and nature clubs to visit the Nature Center and to partner with us in learning about and caring for our natural resources.

Everyone is invited to visit Knoch Knolls Nature Center, which is free and open to the public every day this summer.  Explore the exhibits, walk the trails, or register for a nature program. 

Save the Date

A special recycled art exhibition, entitled All for One! is coming to the Nature Center August 8-16. You can participate in the workshop and help collect recycled bottles this summer to build a unique sculpture.


Lucy Slivinski, the artist who created the mill sculpture at the entrance of Knoch Knolls Nature Center, will bring an exhibition of her art to Knoch Knolls Nature Center August 8-16.


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