The stream that gurgles through weedy banks near Allendale Middle School isn't very big or very fast. But it's the ideal real-life laboratory for sixth-graders such as Noah Tameling, Isabella Reister and Taylor Kulikamp. Taught by science teacher Keith Piccard, the students don waders, grab flexible mesh screens and wade into the creek to learn about stream ecosystems up close and personal.

"I could bore my students to death just talking about stream ecosystem attributes. But why learn all the facts and whatnot about science unless you can apply it?" Mr. Piccard asks. "If you can't get your hands dirty in science, then you're just learning ridiculous facts so you can be really good at Jeopardy."

Mr. Piccard requires a lot from his students, but they're rewarded when their research is studied by science professionals and included in Michigan Department of Environmental Quality water quality reports to the federal government.

"The students see that what they're doing is going to be evaluated, what they're doing matters, what they're doing is important," says Grand Valley State University Professor Peter Riemersma, whose college students critique the younger students' work. "(It) challenges them and gives them a taste for what science really is."

For Noah, Mr. Piccard's class isn't just about learning science. It's an adventure.

"It is really cool to walk outside our classroom and then see the stream. Because it's so much fun just to go in it," the sixth-grader says. "Everyone thinks it's just a blast."

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