Attack Packs: Making Invaders Real

Each Attack Pack includes examples of famous Great Lakes invaders that can disrupt water quality and food webs.

Credit: John Karl/UW Sea Grant

April 21, 2014

By Aaron Conklin

Ask just about any teacher, and they’ll tell you hands-on, experiential learning tops lectures and reading assignments any day of the week. That’s a big part of the reason Sea Grant has Attack Packs available for Wisconsin educators to borrow and use with their science-minded students. 

What’s an Attack Pack, you ask? It’s an attractively designed backpack, packed to the zipper with information on aquatic invasive species (AIS), from the threats they pose to our Great Lakes environments and strategies to stop their spread. Each pack includes examples of famous invaders like the zebra mussels and the rusty crayfish, preserved and encased in easy-to handle acrylic  blocks. There are handy fact sheets and a USB flash drive filled with lesson plans developed by the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network. Of course, the most visceral and popular piece of the pack: An actual sea lamprey, preserved to ensure its disturbing, slimy effect.

Erin Hunter, a science teacher at East High School in Madison, borrowed an Attack Pack last fall for the limnology/oceanography course she teaches to 10th through 12th graders. She found the pack’s contents especially useful for her unit on invasive species in the Great Lakes.

“I liked that the pack was easy to use, and that I could show off examples of various species to the kids,” said Hunter, who also adapted her curriculum to include invaders that trouble lakes in her home county. “They liked it because some of the organisms were bigger or 'grosser' than they had thought, and it made them real for the students in a way that showing them pictures on the Internet wouldn't have.” 

It’s that “making it real” part that gets to the core of what the Attack Packs are all about. Preventing the spread of AIS cost millions of dollars each year. The potential water-quality and food-web devastation AIS can wreak in our lakes if left uncontrolled could be even greater. That’s why educating the public—and the next generation of lake and river users—is so important. 

“Combatting invasive species is one of the top priorities of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which provided funding for the Attack Packs,” said Kathy Kline, Sea Grant education outreach specialist. “By making the packs available for free checkout, we hope to educate as many students as possible about the importance of stopping the spread of invasive species.”

Kline, Wisconsin Water Librarian Anne Moser and AIS Outreach Specialist Tim Campbell frequently use the Attack Pack in presentations and public talks to student groups. If you’d like to borrow one and check it out for yourself, complete this form.