Watershed Wisdom

Watershed Wisdom is an interdisciplinary course offered at Shorewood High School.

The goal of Watershed Wisdom is to broaden students’ understanding of Home by exploring the problems within and the potential of their local waterway, the Milwaukee River Watershed. The class has been part of the SHS curriculum since 1998.

Atwater Beach

For their efforts, students in Watershed Wisdom earn one English credit and one Physical Education credit.

After Paddling

The course has been a tremendous success. Many Watershed Alumni point to this class as a crystallizing moment in their lives. These students have gone on to pursue careers in environmental science, environmental education, and environmental justice. They have become model citizens of their watersheds.

Students Present Papers
at Urban Ecology Center

Watershed Wisdom has been featured in Ripples (the Shorewood H.S. school paper), The Milwaukee Journal / Sentinel, and on the television program Outdoor Wisconsin. We have also received two certificates of recognition from the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2001 Eric Gietzen was awarded the Jarvis E. Bush Award for excellence in teaching writing, and in 2002 he was awarded the Outdoor Educator and Stewardship Award by The Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers, a local environmental organization.

A brief description of the class:


During the first few weeks of Watershed Wisdom, students in the class are oriented to goals and objectives of the course via class field trips and lunch meeting discussions.

The field trips include visits to our local water filtration plant on Lake Michigan, the sewage treatment plant (also on Lake Michigan), the Urban Ecology Center at Riverside Park, a natural history tour of Milwaukee’s downtown and Third Ward, and an entire school day devoted to study and discussion of Aldo Leopold’s essay “The Land Ethic” at Hubbard Park in Shorewood.

Our lunch meeting discussions focus on a wide range of watershed issues, including urban sprawl, observation journal entries, and important details regarding our summer expedition.


In June, shortly after regular-school final exams are over, the students in Watershed Wisdom spend 11 days traveling through the Milwaukee River watershed at a human pace, on a human scale. On day one of our class, we bike 47 miles north to Kohler Andrae State Park. On day two, we bike from Kohler Andraeto Mauthe Lake. From Mauthe Lake, we hike south for one day on the Ice Age trail, then spend the remainder of the course paddling downstream on the Milwaukee River, following the watershed to the harbor in downtown Milwaukee. Along the way we conduct lessons in natural history, human history, biology, literature, adventure travel (including “Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics”), and intrapersonal skills.


When the expedition is over, students produce several original pieces of writing based on their experiences in the watershed. Each year students present their work in a public reading. The general public was invited to attend this year’s public reading and celebration on October 15th at the Urban Ecology Center, in Riverside Park.

The Marriage of Watershed Wisdom with Internet Adventures

There are many visions of great appeal evoked by images of students learning how to create their own on-line magazines to offer the people their poetry and prose, photos and graphics, regarding Watershed Wisdom.

  1. Create Your Own On-Line Magazine
    • Web Mastery as Easy as E-Mailing
    • People Are Tired of Commercialized Media
  2. Inspire Your Friends to Create On-Line Magazines of Their “Passion”
  3. Possibly Earn While You Learn
Last edited by TeganDowling. Based on work by Godsil and eric.  Page last modified on October 28, 2006

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