Last River Classroom of the Year

Last Wednesday was our last River Classroom of the year. The students have worked very hard this year, and we’ve learned a great deal about energy, our local riparian and lake environments, and how to assess the health of these important ecosystems. After all of this learning, we took a day to enjoy the beauty of northern New Mexico.

We skipped rocks.

Students selecting the perfect rocks for skipping.
Students selecting the perfect rocks for skipping.
What kinds of energy are involved in skipping rocks?
What kinds of energy are involved in skipping rocks?
Who can skip a rock the farthest?
Who can skip a rock the farthest?

Our fantastic bus driver, Mario, won the contest for the most skips.

This one went almost all the way across!
This one went almost all the way across!

A few of the students wanted to swim. We made a deal that if the water was warmer than 65 degrees F, they could swim.

Unfortunately (for them), it was only 59 degrees.

Testing the water temperature.
Testing the water temperature.

Instead of swimming, students had to be content with sitting on the edge of the lake and having a contest to see who could keep their feet in the water the longest.

Toes in the water!
Toes in the water!

Everybody found different ways to explore Abiquiu Lake.

A few students watched waterfowl through a scope.

Watching eared grebes through the scope.
Watching eared grebes through the scope.

A few students explored potholes in the rock, which were full of rain from the night before. We tested the pH of the rainwater and found that it was considerably lower than the lake and river water.

Checking out a pothole in a rock.
Checking out a pothole in a rock.

Most students were content to explore the lake shore and check out the incredible views.

Hopping along the shore.
Hopping along the shore.
Gorgeous skies with cumulus clouds!
Gorgeous skies with cumulus clouds!

The day’s main event was a picnic, complete with hot dogs! Our USACE rangers helped us reserve a group shelter and joined in the fun.

Mario, chef and bus driver extraordinaire.
Mario, chef and bus driver extraordinaire.
Having another hot dog.
Having another hot dog.

Finally, after a group trash pick up, we all went on a hike to work off that big lunch.

Hiking across the new bridge.
Hiking across the new bridge.

It was sad to say goodbye to our students for the summer.

Goodbye for now!
Goodbye for now!

We have a number of exciting events planned for this summer, and then we’ll see our wonderful River Classroom students again in the fall!

Christy

Teacher Training: New Mexico Ecoregions

Last Saturday was our final weekend teacher training as part of the Improving Teacher Quality Grant from the Title II New Mexico Higher Education Department, which NMWC is hosting in conjunction with Northern New Mexico College. What better place could there be to end this series of science excursions than Valles Caldera?

This weekend our focus was ecoregions of New Mexico. We touched on this several weeks ago with our Forestry and Wildfire day, but this time we got to experience several different ecosystems first hand.

We began at the Highway 4 pull off looking out over the Valle Grande, where we briefly discussed how the caldera formed.

Putting the caldera formation flash cards in order is so much more fun than you'd expect!
Putting the caldera formation flash cards in order is so much more fun than you’d expect!

After this, we headed to the Valles Caldera visitor center. We found a nice place to sit in the middle of a prairie dog colony, and we discussed typical New Mexico ecosystems. We also received a short introduction to the history of Valles Caldera from one of the tour guides.

Expert tour guide Carmen explaining more about Valles Caldera.
Expert tour guide Carmen explaining more about Valles Caldera.

The prairie dogs around us were very entertaining during this time, and we got to watch a coyote watching the prairie dogs.

Our next stop was History Grove (thanks to our educational use permit- the public is not allowed out to this point). On the drive out, we saw 10 elk running across a meadow, which was another fantastic opportunity to discuss larger animals of New Mexico.

At History Grove, Dr. David Torres from NNMC showed teachers how to use shadows to measure the height of trees.

Dr. Torres explains the procedure.
Dr. Torres explains the procedure.
Dr. Torres and Dr. Linnell test out the method.
Dr. Torres and Dr. Linnell test out the method.
Teachers measure the shadow of a giant Ponderosa Pine.
Teachers measure the shadow of a giant Ponderosa Pine.
Measuring another tree shadow.
Measuring another tree shadow.

The teachers divided into groups, and each group used this method to estimate the height of at least 2 trees. This gave us a small pool of data, and we were able to plot the distribution of these tree heights. This plot lead to an excellent discussion of graphing data.

Plotting tree height data.
Plotting tree height data.

After discussing trees, we moved on to wildlife. Dr. Pedro Chavarria showed the group different ways to survey animals by trapping and tracking with collars.

A teacher examines a tracking device for a fox.
A teacher examines a tracking device for a fox.

Our next activity was a population estimate of an “animal species”. In this example, our “species” was black beans. White beans were the “marked” members of the population. By randomly selecting a number of beans from the population in a plastic container, teachers could mathematically estimate the total number of beans using the Lincoln-Peterson model.

Dr. Chavarria explains the activity.
Dr. Chavarria explains the activity.
Counting "animals".
Counting “animals”.

During this activity, we were treated to a fairly up-close view of a very vocal Northern Goshawk, which was the highlight of the trip for many participants.

It was another fantastic day of learning science with these teachers, and we’re looking forward to our summer institute where we take this new knowledge and apply it to teaching science standards!

Christy

McCurdy Visits the Rio Chama

We’ve tried several times to take our McCurdy High School Earth Sciences class to the Rio Chama to explore the riparian ecosystem, test water quality, and survey benthic macroinvertebrates. Each time the weather has foiled our plans. Finally last Thursday we got our chance!

IMG_5842
McCurdy High School students learning to use kick nets.

We began the day on the Rio Chama, where students put on waders and learned how to safely wade in the river. Students took turns using the kick nets and picking benthic macroinvertebrates off of the kick nets with tweezers. We took samples from the middle of the river and from the river bank.

On the river bank, we found mayflies, midges, leeches, snails, craneflies, and one bristle worm. In the center of the river, we found caddis larva, worms, craneflies, midge pupae, midge larva, and mayflies. The crane flies in the center of the river were much larger, and overall we found a much greater diversity of benthic macroinvertebrates. We suspect this is because the center of the river has had water through the winter, while the banks did not. The river level has risen steadily during April, as seen below in the stream gauge data.

riochama_gauge

AbiquiuLake
One of our more interesting finds of the day.

Students also helped calibrate our water quality sensors and test river temperature, pH, turbidity, conductivity, and level of dissolved oxygen.

After all of this data collection, we headed up to Abiquiu Lake to celebrate the students’ hard work with a picnic.

AbiquiuLake2
A few brave students even swam in the cold water!
AbiquiuLake3
Enjoying the views.

Our McCurdy students have done a fantastic job this year. We’ve covered a lot of material, and the students have made great progress in their Earth Science knowledge. We hope to see some of these students in the future at Northern New Mexico College!

Christy

River Classroom Update

Last Wednesday was our last River Classroom at NMWC. We spent the day reviewing what we’ve covered this year and preparing for our Open House, which will be on Tuesday, May 5. Everybody is invited to see what our students have learned this year!

I don’t want to give anything away for the parents, but here are a few photos of our students working hard at their projects.

IMG_5805 IMG_5806 IMG_5808 IMG_5810 IMG_5815 IMG_5823

We also had a great treat. One of our volunteers has been working with NMWC’s Harris’s Hawk, and he flew him in front of the River Classroom students. Everybody took a turn watching him land from an up close perspective.

OpenHousePrep
Scott Bol and “Lefty”, the Harris’s Hawk.
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Lefty lands on his perch across the room.

We’re looking forward to Open House and to our last session at Abiquiu Lake!

Christy