Mrs Mosher

What’s at the bottom of Seneca Lake?

The answer is a lot. Vessels. Shipwrecks. Stories. History. Which means there’s also a lot to learn about. Which is perfect if you are South Seneca Middle School Sixth Grade science teacher Donna Mosher. 

In 2019, Mosher was boating in the Sampson Marina when she saw the R/V David Folger research vessel from Middlebury College Vermont docked in a slip at the Marina.  

Her teacher's radar went up immediately.

“I live on Seneca Lake right next to Sampson, and I make a practice of teaching my science students about science in the Finger Lakes region – I had to know,” she recalled. “Within days, I contacted Art Cohn (from Vermont), whom I had discovered was the Principal Investigator and lead scientist/researcher on the project underway on the vessel.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Cohn and Mosher began communicating regularly about his research and ways she could get her students "in the know.” They had a mutual goal: education. The culmination was Mosher writing lessons for the New York State Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor (NYSECNHC). 

“Art passed my name on to Lead Educator at The NYSECNHC, who then contacted me to write some lessons for them regarding Art's research on Seneca Lake and its connections to the Erie Canal, of which there are many highly significant connections,” Mosher explained. 

“I jumped on the opportunity to do this work,” she continued. “ I spent the summer doing the writing, then prior to final publication, which is currently happening, I wished to try the lessons out on my own students.”

That last part is happening right now in real time – and so far, Mosher said it’s been a huge success. The lessons have an overall title: "A Walk Across the Bottom of the lake."  It entails a "picture walk" for students from pictures taken directly from Cohn's primary sources documenting his research – specifically, his "Final Report" from his 2019 work. Mosher aims to give students an overview of the bathymetric studies happening (water depth studies revealing geologic features of the lake bed) and the archaeological discoveries revealed as a result of the bathymetric studies. 

She also teaches her students about the Erie Canal era vessels in the 1800s that Cohn and his team of scientists discovered sunken and lying on the bottom of Seneca Lake, and very importantly, how those vessels/discoveries tell a story of the history and heritage of the life, times, economics and people of the era.

“The goal is to inform and get students excited about the scientific research taking place right here in their own backyards...Seneca Lake,” Mosher said. “ I take students on a ‘picture walk’ across the bottom of Seneca Lake. Students look at pictures of Art's findings sitting on the bottom of the lake, and they make inferences and conjectures based on the evidence presented... a form of "investigation." 

Mosher said when she thinks about being able to teach lessons about something that is so close to the school, it makes her feel extra excited – because she knows her students will be more tuned in. 

“I cannot tell you how many times, in my years of teaching my students about science in the Finger Lakes  region where students have asked, ‘I wonder what you would find if they drained the lake?’"   

Having students that are engaged makes Mosher’s job a little bit easier, and a lot more fun.

“I want them to be ‘thirsty’ to know! I want them to have a love for learning,” she explained. “ I hope they feel excited to learn science. I hope through my own excitement, they sense the importance of learning and how fun it is to learn.  The details and knowledge they take away from this curriculum are beautiful and wonderful, but the real beauty is when my students experience that ‘thirst’ to learn more independently.  That's when I will feel like I have done my job as an educator.”

Recently, Mosher's class had a live Google Meet session with Art Cohn himself. They got to meet him and interview him. They asked him questions about his research.  Everyone involved had an amazing time.

"Both he and they loved it!" Mosher said.