COLLEGEVILLE - Over 200 7th and 8th grade students braved some cold temps to get a crash course in central Minnesota wildlife and conservation today.

The fourth annual ProjectEARTH conference was held on the campus of St. John's University.

The program pairs middle school students from 10 area schools with nature professionals for hands-on activities collecting, observing and discussing wildlife.

Kurt Mead is a naturalist and one of the volunteer presenters, who focuses mainly on water flies.

Mead says his goal is to show kids that insects and larvae aren't scary, and are extremely vital to healthy ecosystems. He says this is his 3rd year as a volunteer instructor, and he looks forward to the students' reactions most of all.

The conference features thirteen different breakout sessions and keynote addresses from on topics ranging from lakes and wetlands to fishing to prairie habitats. The students then get the opportunity to journal about what they learned throughout the day.