McCurdy 7th grade at the Rio Chama

We have quite a few new classrooms this year, and one of these is made up of the 7th grade science classes at McCurdy Charter School in Española, NM. These students are at a wonderful age to learn. They’re old enough to understand a little more than elementary school students, but they’re still so excited to learn!

For our first trip, we headed to the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam. Students split into three groups to test water quality, search for benthic macroinvertebrates, and complete a scavenger hunt that allows students to learn about their environment.

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Selecting a benthic macroinvertebrate from a tub of water from the Rio Chama

We met with these students last week and discussed the importance of water quality and benthic macroinvertebrates, so they were excited to get started collecting data!

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A student examines a mayfly with a microscope.

Once again, the rangers with US Army Corps of Engineers at Abiquiu Lake came through with expertise and assistance. We like to introduce our students to possible careers in environmental science, and our ranger explained why he loves his job (apparently getting to drive a boat and ride a jet ski at work are big draws).

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A Rio Chama resident

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A mayfly clinging to a rock.

We’ll be meeting with these students once per month all year, so keep checking in to see what we’re up to!

Christy

Periodic Table Time in Tierra Amarilla

Our students in Tierra Amarilla are excited to begin measuring water quality on the Rio Chama and the Brazos River. Before we begin, though, students must understand what we’re measuring. This involves learning some basic chemistry and how to use the periodic table.

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Students asked some great questions about the Periodic Table.

One of our favorite ways to teach students about atoms and molecules is to have them build models of atoms with apples, skewers, and raisins. The apples are the nucleus, and the raisins are electrons.

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Showing off an atom

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This atom has quite a few electrons!
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“I’m looking for the neutrons!”

The students at Tierra Amarilla Elementary continue to impress us with their curiosity and eagerness to learn. We can’t wait to get these kids outside to collect important data!

Christy

Introducing our 7th-9th grade Española River Classroom!

For the very first time this year, NMWC is getting to work with GATE students in 7th-9th grades in the Española Public School District! You may recognize a few familiar faces- some of these students are graduates of our 4th-6th grade River Classroom.

We have a very exciting year planned for these young scientists- we’ll be building kayaks and using them to learn about buoyancy, density, and resistance, as well as exploring riparian and lake ecosystems of northern New Mexico. This is a pretty long task list for the year, and we got off to a great start by learning how to paddle on Abiquiu Lake. Once again, our friends with the US Army Corps of Engineers greatly helped us out with loaner life jackets!

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Students carry boats and paddles to the water.

It was the very first time these students have ever been in a canoe or a kayak.

Launching the kayak!
Launching the kayak!
Canoeing in front of Pedernal
Canoeing in front of Pedernal

Everybody got the hang of it pretty quickly, and we went on an adventure down the lakeshore. It got fairly warm, and a few students decided to jump in and cool off.

Cooling off in Abiquiu Lake
Cooling off in Abiquiu Lake
Learning a few tricks of the trade from our expert paddler
Learning a few tricks of the trade from our expert paddler
Paddling around a buoy
Paddling around a buoy

Part of the philosophy of this class is that people must experience and enjoy the outdoors in order to feel a sense of ownership. Besides learning important science skills, these students are learning to enjoy being outdoors. We hope that this will lead to a group of students who work to protect and conserve our vital habitats in northern New Mexico.

Headed out into the open lake!
Headed out into the open lake!

This class is an absolutely fantastic group of kids who are very motivated and learn quickly. We can’t wait to see what the year holds!

Christy

First Visit to the Rio Chama in Tierra Amarilla

Last Thursday was our first river day with our Tierra Amarilla River Classroom! We began our exploration of the Rio Chama in Tierra Amarilla.

Our first task at this location was to explore the immediate vicinity. We grabbed our compasses, clipboards, and pencils and set out to identify signs of life.

Beginning our exploration of the Rio Chama by taking a hike along the river
Beginning our exploration of the Rio Chama by taking a hike along the river
Playing with mullein
Playing with mullein
Hiking through the willows
Hiking through the willows

Of course a big part of exploring a new river is skipping a few rocks and/or throwing a few stones in to check the water depth.

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Recording signs of life
Recording signs of life
There's a definite sign of life!
There’s a definite sign of life!
Exploring the river's edge
Exploring the river’s edge

We also got to experience the magic of waders for the first time!

Wading in the Rio Chama
Wading in the Rio Chama

As we waded, we discussed the different parts of the river: pool, riffle, and run. We also began looking at benthic macroinvertebrates.

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Wading in the Rio Chama
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Wading in the Rio Chama

As the year progresses, we will be taking more detailed surveys of benthic macroinvertebrates, testing water quality, and exploring tributaries of the Rio Chama in the Tierra Amarilla area. Branching out to multiple rivers will allow us to gain a better sense of the health of the entire Rio Chama watershed. We’ve got a great group of students, and we can’t wait to start taking water quality measurements!

Christy

River Classroom Takes to the Lake

Last Wednesday we met with our 4th-6th grade River Classroom from Espanola. We took advantage of the gorgeous, warm weather and headed back up to the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam.

Using our new Kestrel to determine wind speed and temperature
Using our new Kestrel to determine wind speed and temperature

Last time we met, we didn’t have time to rotate through all of the groups, so we caught up and made sure that everybody was on the same page.

Making another watershed
Making another watershed
Learning how to use a GPS
Learning how to use a GPS

We also took our very first water quality readings on the Rio Chama. The river was surprisingly warm, and our numbers (especially for dissolved oxygen) were quite different than they tend to be during the winter. We’ll keep taking these measurements all year to develop a good record of water quality on the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam.

Measuring pH and conductivity
Measuring pH and conductivity
Measuring turbidity
Measuring turbidity
Recording our data
Recording our data

After all of this hard work, we headed up the hill and back to Abiquiu Lake, where our students got a quick introduction to kayaking and canoeing. Fortunately our good friends with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Abiquiu Lake were on hand to help us stay safe in the water by loaning us child-sized life jackets.

Our friends with the US Army Corps of Engineers talk about water safety.
Talking about water safety
Carrying boats down to the water
Carrying boats down to the water
It's not as easy as it looks on the first try!
It’s not as easy as it looks on the first try!

By the end of the day, everybody was doing a fantastic job in the water.

Paddling like a pro!
Paddling like a pro!

Collecting robust scientific data is one very important aspect of River Classroom, but we also strive to make sure that our students learn how to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the northern New Mexico landscape. The future depends on our students!

Christy

Meet the 5th and 6th grade of Tierra Amarilla Elementary!

We’re very excited about our new River Classrooms this year, and one of these is in an entirely new place- Tierra Amarilla! There are many very important tributaries to the Rio Chama in this region, and we’re creating a new generation of scientists to study these.

Introducing ourselves and explaining River Classroom
Introducing ourselves and explaining River Classroom

Our students at Tierra Amarilla Elementary are in the 5th and 6th grades. They’re very smart, and they caught on to latitude/longitude and the use of a compass very quickly.

We began class by creating models of the globe. Students very easily grasped the concept of the Equator, dividing the northern and southern hemispheres.

Inflating a soon-to-be "globe"
Inflating a soon-to-be “globe”
Suspending the "world" from a string
Suspending the “world” from a string
Adding an "Equator" made from masking tape
Adding an “Equator” made from masking tape
Another globe in progress
Another globe in progress

After we had the Equator and a few lines of latitude in place, we added the Prime Meridian and other longitude lines. This concept is not as simple- the location of the Prime Meridian is completely arbitrary!

Showing off a globe
Showing off a globe
A long line of globes
A long line of globes

After we added a few longitude lines, we practiced finding locations using their latitude and longitude coordinates. This concept will be very important next time, as we will begin using GPS units to mark locations where we collect data.

After our students mastered the concepts of latitude and longitude, we spent the last of our time using compasses to tell directions and headings. Many of our students had used a compass before, but it’s always fun to practice.

Playing with a compass
Playing with a compass
Searching for a heading
Searching for a heading

After a few minutes of compass practice, we all headed outside, where we made a quick game of finding compass headings and walking a given number of paces. Everybody was smiling!

We can’t wait to see this fantastic group of students in a few weeks for our first trip to a local river!

Christy