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Environmental fair brings science to life for students

Minnesota Zoo employee Alexandria Tasa shows sixth-graders from southwest Minnesota an opossum from the zoo.

SLAYTON -- If the number of sixth-graders jumping out of their seats to volunteer for cockroach-holding duty was any indication, the 19th annual Environmental Fair was a hit.

More than 1,000 students from 11 districts in southwest Minnesota attended the yearly event Tuesday and Wednesday at the Murray County Fairgrounds.

Each group of sixth-graders attended five different sessions where they learned about recycling, trees, animals, wetlands, water quality and even whales.

The goal of the fair "is to let students study natural resources in a setting that will give tem the opportunity to see, touch and sometimes taste what they are learning about," described a news release from Murray County.

"There's a direct connection for students who are studying the rocks or soils," said Luverne teacher Doug Dooyema. "There's not only a science connection, but there's a geography and social science connection going on, too. We talk a lot about recycling and why there's a need for recycling."

Dooyema's students especially enjoyed "Water Jeopardy," during which they had the chance to answer questions about the water cycle.

"Looking at the animals was most exciting for me," said Worthington Middle School student Criscelia Jimenez. "We've learned about the environment, animals and how plants grow."

Another presenter "told us what happens when there's a fire and how fire starts in the prairie," added classmate Manuel Dominguez. "We learned about the rivers; some are really clean because they're natural, and others are really dirty because people dump (pollutants) in them."

Also attending were students from Adrian, Brewster, Ellsworth, Fulda, Heron Lake-Okabena, Edgerton, Hills-Beaver Creek, Jackson County Central, Mountain Lake, Murray County Central, Windom, St. Mary's School in Worthington and Worthington Christian School.

"Bird watching is the No. 1 sport in the country right now," Howard Paul of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told the group of students gathered around his display of Minnesota's different duck species.

"What about video games?" one asked.

"I don't consider that a sport," he responded. "This is why we have an environmental fair, to get kids interested in nature."

Paul was one of several presenters who attended the fair. Educators from the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Minnesota Zoo, the Prairie Ecology Bus Center and area Soil and Water Conservation Districts were also among those leading the sessions.