Teacher Training: Learning about Water

Last Saturday was the second in our series of Saturday teacher trainings for the Improving Teacher Quality Grant from the Title II New Mexico Higher Education Department, which NMWC is hosting in conjunction with Northern New Mexico University. Last month we discussed geology. This month we moved on to a very important topic in New Mexico- water!

We headed up to Abiquiu Reservoir. NMWC is fortunate to have a fantastic partner in the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) at Abiquiu Dam, and a few rangers helped out with training.

Two teachers practice drawing landforms on plexiglass.
Two teachers practice drawing landforms on plexiglass.

Our first activity was one of our favorites- drawing landforms while looking through plexiglass. As in River Classroom last week, simplifying the shapes of the landforms allowed our teachers to notice important differences in the scenery around us. They correctly identified the path of the Rio Chama upstream by noticing the Rio Chama canyon.

Sketching landforms at Abiquiu Reservoir.
Sketching landforms at Abiquiu Reservoir.

We also examined maps of New Mexico and discussed not only the concept of watersheds, but which watersheds we live and go to school in.

Next we headed into the Abiquiu Lake Visitor Center, where ranger Austin Kuhlman explained how USACE manages our water. Most people don’t realize that the Rio Chama and Rio Grande carry more than just native water. The San Juan-Chama project carries water across the Continental Divide from the western San Juan mountains.

A map of the San Juan-Chama project.
A map of the San Juan-Chama project.

Ranger Kuhlman also explained a few intricacies of the Rio Chama ecosystem, including what USACE is doing to prevent the spread of zebra and quagga mussels.

Ranger Kuhlman displays a length of PVC pipe that is covered in quagga mussels.
Ranger Kuhlman displays a length of PVC pipe that is covered in quagga mussels.

After a quick lunch break, we grouped back up for a brief overview of acequias. Tim Seaman, the commissioner of the Abeyta-Trujillo Acequia, shared his knowledge of the acequia system and its history.

Tim Seaman explains the ins and outs of acequias
Tim Seaman explains the ins and outs of acequias.

After all of this talking, it was time to get outside and move. We set up three stations. The first station used some really neat stream table activities from the River Cutters workbook, which was generously loaned to us by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History. These complete kits are available to be checked out by local teachers. They use diatomaceous earth as a medium, which is unlike any other stream kit I’ve seen. They’re small and portable, easy to use in groups, and in my opinion, they are very, very effective at teaching many concepts.

One of the stream tables set up.
One of the stream tables set up.
These kits are doubly fun because you can get your hands messy!
These kits are doubly fun because you can get your hands messy!
Red "toxic waste" has leached into our river!
Red “toxic waste” has leached into our river!

The second group used several different methods to test water quality in the river. Dr. Brenda Linnell from NNMU helped out with this group.

Dr. Linnell explains the chemistry of testing water quality.
Dr. Linnell explains the chemistry of testing water quality.

The final (and let’s face it- most popular) group learned how to wade in the river and collect benthic macroinvertebrates. Dr. Pedro Chavarria helped out with this group and explained how to identify the tiny bugs.

Ranger Naranjo helps collect benthic macroinvertebrates.
Ranger Naranjo helps collect benthic macroinvertebrates.
Almost everybody got in the water.
Almost everybody got in the water.
Two teachers examine benthic macroinvertebrates in a kick net.
Two teachers examine benthic macroinvertebrates in a kick net.

We found some very interesting benthic macroinvertebrates this time.

Giant benthics!
Giant benthics!

There were quite a few fly fishermen around, and one of them showed up his fly box. These little guys look familiar!

A box full of fake benthic macroinvertebrate.
A box full of fake benthic macroinvertebrate.

All in all, it was a fabulous day. The weather was gorgeous, everybody was engaged, and I think we all learned a lot. Next month we’re on to wildfire!

Christy

Lake vs. River Ecosystems

Yesterday was Wednesday, and that means River Classroom! We missed two of our scheduled trips this month due to PARCC testing, but fortunately we were able to reschedule and make up one session yesterday. Students met at the picnic area below Abiquiu Dam. Our mission: explore the Rio Chama and Abiquiu Reservoir!

We’ve taken many trips to the Rio Chama this year, and most of these have examined the river or its water in a somewhat myopic way. We’ve tested water quality, identified benthic macroinvertebrates, surveyed vegetation, calculated river velocity, and learned all that we can about this riparian ecosystem. This trip was all about placing what we’ve learned in the larger context of the Rio Chama watershed.

Exploration Step 1: Climb the very steep hill adjacent to the picnic area.

Students head up the steep hill.
Students head up the steep hill.
Headed up!
Headed up!

Climbing this hill was really fun for all of the students. A few scampered up quickly. Many were challenged by the terrain. Everybody practiced great route finding and teamwork. Once at the top, students were excited to explore.

Exploration Step 2: Look at rocks!

We took ten minutes and searched the hillside for the most amazing rock we could find. Each student selected one, and then we went in a circle and discussed their rock. What type do you think it is? How do you think it may have formed? This was a nice review of the types of rocks and the rock cycle, which we covered last year.

Exploration Step 3: Discover Landforms and Watersheds

Our next task was to draw the landforms around us. We complete this activity with many of our groups because it’s an effective way to notice shapes.

A group of students outlines the landforms across the canyon.
A group of students outlines the landforms across the canyon.
Students draw the landforms down canyon.
Students draw the landforms down canyon.

As students completed their drawings, we discussed what we saw. What are those mountains in the distance? Why is there a canyon right next to us? What caused the Espanola Valley? What is a watershed? Surprisingly, many of the students had not heard of a watershed. We discussed this concept in depth, and then we pulled out a map of New Mexico. Students identified our current location, identified where the Rio Chama starts, and found where the Rio Chama merges with the Rio Grande. We discussed water usage- why should we care about this water?

Next it was time to hike back down the hill for the students’ favorite activity: lunch!

Headed back down the hill
Headed back down the hill.
students in a row
Students all in a row!

After lunch we had a short discussion of the Rio Chama. We made a list on the white board of characteristics of the riparian ecosystem. Everybody had great suggestions. After this discussion, we headed up to a completely new location- Abiquiu Reservoir!

Exploration Step 4: Hike along Abiquiu Reservoir

We went for a hike on a trail from the Visitor’s Center. Students had instructions to notice how the lake and its surrounding area differs from the Rio Chama.

Headed down an easier trail this time.
Headed down an easier trail this time.
It was a gorgeous day for a hike!
It was a gorgeous day for a hike!

At the campground, we took a minute to look out at Abiquiu Reservoir. I asked the students, “Where is the Rio Chama?” Everybody pointed toward the dam. Nobody could figure out where the upstream branch of the Rio Chama was. Again, we looked at the landforms, and several students figured out that it must be in the canyon to the north.

Checking out Abiquiu Reservoir.
Checking out Abiquiu Reservoir.

We also discussed the dam. Why is it here? What is its purpose? What animal in nature also builds dams (a resounding shout of “BEAVER!” answering this question)? Unfortunately, we were soon out of time, and we had to head back to the Visitor’s Center, where we did our reflections out of the wind. Students were asked to draw diagrams of a riparian ecosystem and a lake ecosystem and explain how they are different. As usual, they did a great job.

This student included a key.
This student included a key.
Another fantastic river ecosystem
Another fantastic river ecosystem
Most students included macroinvertebrates in their riparian ecosystem.
Most students included macroinvertebrates in their riparian ecosystem.

It was another great day in River Classroom, and we can’t wait for our next trip to the Rio Chama!

Christy

Valles Caldera Adventure

The great thing about taking an Earth Sciences class in New Mexico is that this state seems to have almost every kind of Earth Science! Oceans are the obvious exception to this, but fortunately Ms. Berryhill’s class at McCurdy High School is learning about volcanoes. We have plenty of those.

Last Thursday we took our McCurdy students to the Valles Caldera. This lovely location is pretty unique. In fact, it’s where geologists figured out how a caldera works. Unfortunately, due to very heavy rain the evening prior, we could not venture into the preserve.

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A lovely morning view of the Valle Grande

We began at one of the Highway 4 pull offs, where we use plexiglass to outline the shape of the terrain across the Valle Grande. As you can see from the photo, low-hanging clouds presented a small obstacle, but the students did great.

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Outlining terrain on plexiglass with a dry erase marker
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Some students got really into it and used different colors.

After the students finished their artistic renderings, we held them back and examined them. What is this landform? Why is there such a large valley? What caused this?

Some students knew the answer- a caldera. The real trick was to put giant flash cards of caldera formation in the correct order. The students really enjoyed this and debated the order for at least 15 minutes. Eventually we got it right.

from the Winter 2010 New Mexico Earth Matters, a publication of the New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources
from the Winter 2010 New Mexico Earth Matters, a publication of the New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources

Our next activity was to model a caldera eruption with flour. This relatively simple activity really demonstrated the caldera collapse after the initial eruption.

A caldera in a box of flour
A caldera in a box of flour

We had one other model, which doesn’t fit Valles Caldera, but not all eruptions are the same. We created a volcano out of gelatin, and we used a 30 CC syringe to create dikes out of food coloring. This activity was also really neat- we were able to model a fissure eruption.

Plus, this volcano was edible when the demonstration was complete!
Plus, this volcano was edible when the demonstration was complete!

By the end of these demonstrations, students had a pretty good idea of how Valles Caldera formed. We were very fortunate to be joined by New Mexico geologist Matt Zimmerer. Not only is Matt very familiar with Valles Caldera, he was able to answer quite a few general geology questions.

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Matt explains the ins and outs of Valles Caldera.

After quite a while at the Highway 4 pull out, we continued down the road. We stopped briefly at Battleship Rock for lunch and another geologic explanation before heading to the Soda Dam. Most of us in New Mexico have driven past this roadside attraction many times, but it seems like few people actually stop to examine it. It’s definitely worth a stop!

Inside the Soda Dam
Inside the Soda Dam

The soda dam has formed as calcium carbonate has precipitated out of the water to form travertine.

McCurdy students at Soda Dam.
McCurdy students at Soda Dam.

The students really enjoyed exploring the soda dam, and climbing around on it seemed to wear them out. Almost everybody napped on the way back to Espanola.

All in all, it was a fantastic adventure. Despite a gloomy weather forecast, we had no rain until we were back in Los Alamos. It was another great day of science with our local students!

Christy

2014 by the Numbers

March is taken up by state testing and Spring Break for many of our students, but here at NMWC we are busy planning the rest of the year and the upcoming summer. We also had a chance to look back at the last year. Our program has expanded in a big way since last summer, and we look forward to continuing this expansion and reaching more students!

2014 Numbers

By teaching students about science and, more importantly, how to apply science to our local ecosystems, we are not only preparing them for important jobs in natural resource management. We are inspiring students to value and care for this beautiful place we live. Let’s make conservation part of the conversation in northern New Mexico!

Christy

Atoms, Water, and the World

Yesterday was one of our best classes yet at Santo Domingo! The weather really hasn’t cooperated with our trips down south, and yesterday was very, very cold. Instead of forcing the Santo Domingo 4th graders to stand out in the cold, we met them at school for some hands on science.

We began by introducing the students to the concept of atoms. Students divided into groups of two and created models of atoms out of apples, skewers, and raisins. It was amazing how fast these kids picked up this concept! Each group was able to create a different element.

After atoms, we moved on to the water cycle. As a scientist who spent years researching precipitation, this was very exciting for me. I got to explain the shape of rain drops, and some students even incorporated this knowledge into their drawings of the water cycle!

FullSizeRender2Each drawing of the water cycle was unique.

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One of the best qualities of these students at Santo Domingo is their incredible creativity. They’re also talented artists, and this came across in their drawings.

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This student drew the local water cycle, complete with the local river!
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The water cycle is important for animals!
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I wish I could draw this well!

After a demonstration of the water cycle, we discussed navigation and began to introduce the concepts of latitude and longitude. These will be important for our next class session when we hope to be able to go back to the Rio Grande and start working with GPS units!

Christy