One Month Into Winter

Dear Friends,
I do love the intersection of science and art. I try to lock the two together in my life and teaching. A friend recently introduced me to a remarkable film about the life of a little known, ground breaking artist:  Hilma Af Klindt.  Not only is her art striking and revolutionary for the period, but it reflects the ongoing revelations that were occurring in the natural sciences. Please find time to view this wonderful  film :Beyond the Visible

K-5 Ecology Activities!
On line, full time ecology teaching has forced and allowed me to cover new subject areas, to go deeper and further afield. Remember that all past and current lesson plans and links can be accessed at’s a little sampling of what I am doing :In Kindergarten…. we’re mostly singing and story telling. I wish the whole curriculum could be taught in song and story. I’m beginning to tell the story of Snake and Turtle, the history of our school and river. Children this age love visits from animals (stuffed or live!). We learned about cottontail rabbits this past week in the context of winter survival of animals. The visiting rabbit had long conversations with the kids. They came up with names for the 10 bunnies she’s expecting this spring. I told the kids to look for bunny prints in the snow that was predicted that evening. The next day, Ms. Frieswyk told me the kids were shocked that the snow didn’t appear. “Mr. Leki said it would snow!”
In First grade, we continued with our ninth out of eleven trees. Ash. I taught them the song about the 11 neighborhood trees. One mom recognized it as a corrido, a traditional mexican song form that often includes very emotional crying: “So many ash trees are dying!!! Because of a small emerald beetle.” kids are doing very well, and take the subject very seriously. I recently posted  a gallery of the trees we’ve covered so far. I spent alot of time on the drawings because 1) I have a lot of time to spend, and 2) I want to model the fact that the drawings can be both science AND art, if we work on it. Check them out.  
Second grade is learning our take on the Yoko Ono song “We’re All Water!”  
We are focusing right now on the almost magical properties of water, a result of its interesting atomic / molecular configuration.  We did demonstrations of water’s ability to :diffract white light into a rainbow;diffuse dyes and act as a solvent, witnessing Brownian motion;cohesion ~ we floated a paper clip on water showing surface tension;and adhesion ~ water flowing uphill, against gravity, because of its attraction to the tiny fibers in a paper towel, or the microtubule walls (xylem and phloem) in a tree. Here’s Miles running the experiments at home, on his own!

Third grade Mighty Acorns learned about winter survival strategies of plants, bids and other animals (humans!) We looked at track sheets showing many of the animals that are active in the forest in winter.  Animal tracks in winter are also magical in the sense that they open for us a window into the past. We can see where an animal had been and where it was going to, who or what it met up with and what it did! I asked the students to ask their parents to take them to a wild place, after a fresh snowfall, and to find animal tracks that tell a story:Rabbit tracks in the prairie (hop, hop). Coyotes track on intercept course. Rabbit takes evasive course. Both increase their stride. Rabbit tracks disappear! Sprinkles of blood, rabbit fur!. Coyote walks away!I’m happy to share that Oliver and family visited Sauganash and went skating on the slough!

Fourth Grade Mighty Acorns learned how to ID the invasive species European Buckthorn. Ask them about the 6 ways to know Buckthorn. Sadly we won’t be cutting with our students this winter. But, they would still benefit from a visit to Sauganash to seek out this invader and testing your knowledge.  

Fifth Grade has used the power of graphing to illustrate an example of Population Dynamics, the effect of interactions of species on population counts. In this case we have compared populations of deer, mountain lions and humans, 1800 – 2000. The graph reveals more than numbers. The data set represent correlations, causal relationships between the species, anddisjuncts, moments when normal patterns are disrupted. They beg explanation. Please ask your fifth grader to explain!  

Long nights, music and thanks Dec 13, 2020

Dear Friends,
The seasons are turning. It’s no longer Fall and not yet winter. A week yet to the Winter Solstice. This last week of ecology classes I am going to emphasize song, since song brings us together, even virtually. I hope to plant many earworms that will stay with our students through the break. We have studied so many things these past weeks, on line. The kids are so smart and so dear. I was teaching 2nd grade about  watersheds and how the Chicago river was disconnected from the lake and instead attached to the Desplaines River and Mississippi watershed. We were also talking about the water cycle and how lucky we are that rain water that flows from Chicago to the ocean, picking up a lot of sediment and pollutants, is eventually distilled by solar energy, and returned to us by the clouds. A girl in the class asked, “If the Sun cleans the water by evaporation and distilling, why didn’t it do that when the Chicago River went into Lake Michigan?” Dang! She was listening! Another child asked if a baby skunk could spray their nasty smell. Maybe he was hoping for a baby skunk holiday present. There were a lot of great drawings of our native Turkey, and our endangered native Piping Plover. Remember you can see all lesson plans and  links for each grade level at Thanks to all who contributed to the Waters Today fund raiser and Waters Ecology Program.  One Last way that you could help during this season is to purchase my book: The Fight Between Quiet and Noise. It’s a picture book for people between 3-90+. I had hoped to sell it at the craft fair.  It sells for $10 and all proceeds will go to Waters Ecology Program. Email me to arrange payment and pick up of book. 

Fighting for their Future Dec 1, 2020

Dear Friends, Our students in the 7th and 8th Grade have been engaged in an effort to expand the Montrose Point Dunes Natural Area to provide a safe haven for the endangered Piping Plovers that have nested there for the past two years. We have studied the plovers, watched a documentary, worked at the dune, and remembered our ecology lessons about natural areas being like “islands”. And our students have taken action. Under the guidance of their teachers they have written and sent scores and scores of letters to the Chicago Park District Board, who are deliberating on this proposal.
Tomorrow morning at 11:30 the CPD Board meets on Zoom to take public comment. I will try my best to represent our school, community, and students: their urgency and passion, in my testimony. You can join the meeting at:

Here are my comments:

  Hello. My name is Pete Leki and I am the Director of Ecology programs at Waters Elementary School in Chicago. I want first to commend the CPD and the Natural Areas management groups for the fabulous work you have been doing over the past decade.  I will try to convey to you the sentiments of the 7th and 8th grade classes that have been engaged in advocating for the expansion of the Montrose Point Dune natural Area to accommodate  nesting for Piping Plovers.We have been visiting, working and studying at Montrose Point for more than 20 years. We are greatly invested in securing its health and survival. Our students, in their many messages to the CPD Board express great anxiety that the small enclaves of natural areas that support species like the Piping Plovers  (and many other threatened species) may not be there in the future. Their future. Their future planet may be bereft of the treasures of evolution and biodiversity because we have failed to protect habitat, and halt climate catastrophe. A basic concept of ecology that I teach is that natural areas in our highly developed region act like islands. And we know that islands that are bigger and closer to each other are more likely to sustain biodiversity than islands that are small and farther apart. So we support every effort to expand the “islands”, the natural areas, to improve the odds that diverse life will find refuge there. Montrose Point is a great example of a natural area that is open to the public, and manages to thrive alongside multiple uses. It is a great  bonus for beach goers, cafe diners, and volleyball players to encounter rare wonders of nature on every visit. We ask that you work with the Montrose Point stewards and birding community to guarantee a safe and secure welcome place for the Plovers, and add another piece to the jigsaw puzzle of natural areas that will be needed to sustain biodiversity in our land, into the future.  We will be ready to help.
Below is a link to a video of our students working at Montrose Point  

Be well, stay well, Mr. Leki

Read more at this link about how Waters Students and local environmentalists are working together to convince the Park District to protect the Piping Plover.

Oct 28, 2020- Update on Ecology from Pete Leki

Hello Dear School Community and Ecology volunteers,
This year has seen a fundamental shift in the way our ecology program works.
In previous years I organized field experiences for every class at every grade level. Together we ventured forth into the wild places. I did classes before the trip to prep them, and often after the trip to debrief.  I sent out weekly messages telling my schedule and asking for parent volunteers to help lead the explorations. Those messages were sent to my EcologyVolunteers email list, and often re-printed in Green Notes as Mr. Leki’s Blog, and in the Waters Elementary School website. 
This year all that has changed. I have taken on a full class load (17 classes per week), virtually. All the lesson plans have been posted on the website. These are updated daily, and it is a working document, a work in progress, open to our community.  For the past ten weeks Jules Peterson-Green and I have been producing video segments to use in the virtual ecology program. This means that songs, field excursions, science shorts,  invitations, interviews are all posted and available for our families to view, and re-view.  It has been a big shift for us. Very different and difficult. Our videos make it possible for us to show things, rather than just talk about them, and to introduce our students to places and concepts with a familiar figure guiding them. Because all the clips are available to our school families, we hope that our students are sharing them with you. Each lesson has special messages aimed at parents and families.
We cannot bring your child out to the wild places. But you can. 

This is how the program has emerged. Imagine each segment as part of a cycle that repeats:

Waters Virtual Ecology Program

*Waters Ecology produces lessons and video and present to classes;
  * posts all the lesson plans, resources and messages on website;
     *parents, students, families check out the website and the suggestions for outings;
       *families venture forth to the wild places to explore content provided by the lesson and website;
         *families self document their outings with video, journal work, and/or photos;
           *families and students share their documentation and adventures during classroom meet ups;
              *watersecology adds the new content to the website;
                 *new lessons are created and shared during the next meeting; 
Repeat! Until the end of pandemic!

So, you can see that this year every family has become essential to the student’s experience of field ecology. 
We know that every family cannot go on all the field offerings, but many can, and have. Many have, and will, share with their classmates. 
This puts a special load on parents, but it also opens up a unique role and experience. It is an avenue for families
 to have reason to get out into our wild and special places more often, with a task and a goal in mind, but also with an open-ended invitation to experience
the serendipity of exploration, the surprise of discovery. 

We welcome you to this mutual adventure and welcome your feedback. Remember that the website is a working document and archive of the entire ecology program. Please visit, and re-visit. Learn the songs and sing along. Offer up your own art, poetry and music for us to add.

Our most recent video posting was the story that I normally tell around the campfire at Waters garden, with baked potatoes and hot cider. 
This year it is on video, and we have included a written version for you to use and share.  We hope you enjoy it.

We’re Okay! How are you?  

written copy  

Blessing of the season to all, the first snow on colored leaves, first frost coming, 
 Pete Leki and  the Team Waters Ecology