Building Kayaks: Day 1

It has begun… Our 7th-9th grade Española River Classroom has started work on their kayaks!

Last Friday we passed out the blueprints, talked over the design, and handed out a pattern. Our students got to work tracing and cutting. They learned to use a power drill and a jig saw. Everybody did a fantastic job!

Check it out:

Trying to determine an efficient way to cut out all the pieces using the least plywood
Arranging the pattern as a team
Clamping the pattern pieces to the plywood
Tracing the pattern
Tracing the pattern
Tracing the pattern
Tracing the pattern
Getting a tutorial in how to change the drill bit
Getting ready to cut out the pieces
Students with jig saws!
A future carpenter for sure!
Holding the kayak “skeleton” together

By the end of class, we had cut out all of the kayak parts. Next time we’ll begin assembly!


First Trip to the Rio Brazos

Last Thursday was our very first trip to the Rio Brazos with our Tierra Amarilla 5th and 6th graders. We’ve been to the Rio Chama several times now. It’s time to compare the Chama with one of its important tributaries.

Northern New Mexico got quite a bit of snow early last week, and we found areas with up to 6 inches still on the ground on Thursday! Fortunately our students in Tierra Amarilla are prepared for snow. Everybody was bundled up and ready to go.

Doling out waders
Donning our waders
Headed toward the river

We split students into two groups: one explored the snowy meadow and learned about animal tracks. The other went to the river to look for benthic macroinvertebrates.

Comparing the difficulty of running through deeper snow with walking on a path that has already been tracked out.

Tierra Amarilla is an excellent place to discuss tracking because there’s a wide variety of wildlife. Our students learned how the size and weight of an animal affect its tracks, how to determine which direction the animal was moving, and characteristics of a few types of animals.

Debating over a track
Looking at more tracks!
Hypothesizing about the animal that made this track

After all of this tracking, we had to explore the snow just a little. We also talked briefly about hydrology and the importance of snow to New Mexico vegetation.

Getting an up-close-and-personal look at the snow.
Looking out at the snowy landscape

Meanwhile, the other group of students was making their way to the river.

Ducking under low hanging branches.

We spent some time discussing how this river looks different from the Rio Chama. We found quite a variety of benthic macroinvertebrates, including caddis and mayflies.

Summarizing the day’s finds.

Up next: measuring water quality on the Rio Brazos!


DNA in River Classroom

What do snow and DNA have in common? Both were topics of the day last Wednesday in our 4th-6th grade River Classroom! We couldn’t help talking about snow, since we got so much the day before.

We spent some time observing snow outside, and then to get a closer look, we had to throw a few snowballs.

“Observing” snow, which is easily done by making and throwing snowballs.

We took some snow back into the classroom and observed it with loupes.

We collected snow samples to observe in the classroom.
Observing snow
Recording observations of snow.

Because of the sun, the snow had actually changed quite a bit since it fell the day prior. We discussed these changes and why they occur.

A bowl of collected snow.
That bowl of snow after melting.

We collected a big bowl of snow and then melted it to see how much water it produced. Then we discussed how the shape of water molecules impacts the properties of snow. Our students have already discussed water quite a bit and remembered the shape of the molecule as well as why it’s polarized.

The most cheerful water molecule you’ll ever see!

After these discussions and activities, we returned to our biology curriculum to learn about DNA. After a quick discussion of DNA, where it’s found, and what it means, our students created a dog based on “DNA” randomly pulled from an envelope.

Putting together a dog
Determining the dog’s characteristics
Lining up our dog DNA

This activity was a fun way to demonstrate how DNA affects traits. Our students created some pretty cool dogs!

It was another great day with our 4th-6th graders. These kids are so smart! We can’t wait until our next class.



Call Search and Rescue! Or our 7th Graders…

Taking accurate measurements of your location and the location of your data is a very important skill for scientists to have. How many people actually understand why the GPS on their phone works? On Monday we addressed both of these concerns with our excellent 7th graders from McCurdy Charter School.

We began at NMWC by discussing latitude and longitude and why these concepts exist.

An exercise ball and an acorn squash are great demonstration tools

The students constructed their own globes to get a better handle on the concept.

Drawing perfect lines of latitude

After learning about latitude and longitude, it was time to save some “lives”! We headed out to an area of BLM land behind NMWC to use our GPS units to find some “victims” of hiking accidents. Each group had different coordinates.

A “rescue team” grouping up to form a plan
Entering the coordinates of the first “victim”
Heading out on the search
Heading out on the search
Heading out on the search
We found a "victim"!
Nope… nothing there!
Victoriously waving a "victim"
Victoriously waving a “victim”
On to the next one!
Searching for another “victim”
“I think we need to go that way.”
This “victim” ended up in a tree!
Found another one!
Found another one!

Fortunately, thanks to our great group of students, all of the “victims” were successfully recovered by the end of the day. I think these guys will make a great SAR team… as soon as they graduate from high school!


Introduction to Animal Cells

After last week’s introduction to plant cells, our 4th-6th grade River Classroom students from Española were pretty excited to learn about animal cells! We began by comparing plants and animals using a Venn diagram.

Students running to the correct place in our room Venn diagram

After learning all about animal cells and how they differ from plant cells, we observed cells from our cheeks!

Placing a cover on the slide
Placing a cover on the slide
Staining the cell to observe the nucleus
Staining the cell to observe the nucleus
Looking at cheek cells through the microscope
Adjusting the power objective
Looking at cheek cells through the microscope

The differences between plant and animal cells were very obvious! We had enough time for students to collect leaves to examine, and we put together this collage showing the onion cells from last week and our cheek cells from this week. In the onion cell, the cell wall is very visible, as is the shape of the plant cell. The animal cells have no cell wall, but a nucleus is visible in both (at 400x magnification).


Our students are doing so well- we have a whole classroom of future biologists!


Introduction to Plant Cells

The focus of our 4th-6th grade Española River Classroom this year is Biology. We’ve spent a good deal of time out at Abiquiu Lake while the weather has been nice, but last Wednesday it was time to hit the classroom to discover the wonders (and organelles) of plant cells!

Our students began by doing some independent research in teams to determine the functions and characteristics of different organelles of plant cells.

Students researching the functions and characteristics of organelles
Students researching the functions and characteristics of organelles
Students researching the functions and characteristics of organelles
After completing their research, students presented their findings to the class so that everybody could create a chart of organelles.
After completing their research, students presented their findings to the class so that everybody could create a chart of organelles.

After all of this research, our students got a tutorial on how to use a microscope, as well as how to create a wet mount of onion skin and stain it. Our fantastic new teacher, Audrey, did a great job sharing her extensive knowledge of Biology with the students!

Audrey explains the parts of a microscope
Audrey explains the parts of a microscope
Students, meet Microscopes!
Checking out the slide with onion skin
Spreading the onion skin out on the slide
Placing the cover on the slide





IMG_8043After all this work, students were able to see plant cells at 100x magnification. On several slides, we were even able to pick out the nucleus and nucleolus of the plant cells!

An onion cell with nucleus
An onion cell with nucleus

Next up: animal cells!