Exploring the Rio Chama with Tierra Amarilla

Last week we joined our students from Tierra Amarilla Elementary at the Rio Chama in Los Ojos for our first adventure of the year exploring this unique riparian habitat. One of the many benefits of working with so many schools along the Rio Chama is that by collecting data in multiple locations we are getting a more complete idea of how healthy this critical watershed is and how water quality parameters change from season to season.

Since this was the first time the 5th graders in the group have been to this river with River Classroom, we used the day to explore the area.

Creating a map


Using a compass to add a compass rose to the map


We also discussed wader safety and hopped in the river to see if we could find any benthic macroinvertebrates. We’ll spend a great deal of time discussing and counting these aquatic insects later in the year, but for now we began learning basic identification.



We had a wonderful day on the river, and we can’t wait to check out this location again in a few weeks to get started measuring water quality parameters!


Chama Elementary at the Rio Chama

Exploring new places is always exciting, and exploring a new stretch of the Rio Chama with our students from Chama Elementary was a fantastic experience! Many of our students have been fishing at this particular location with their families, but this was their first time to view this river with the eyes of a scientist.

First time in waders and headed to the river
Discussing the river


For many students it was their first time in waders. We discussed wader safety and headed on in! We also began picking up rocks and looking at benthic macroinvertebrates. Later in the year, students will survey and count these aquatic insects.

Benthic macroinvertebrates can be found by picking up rocks in the river.

We also took this opportunity to discuss maps and location. Students made observations about several different types of maps before creating their own maps of the area we were exploring.

Carefully considering a physical map of New Mexico


Drawing a compass rose on a map with a compass
Drawing maps

We also reviewed compass skills. These will be really important later as we move on to latitude and longitude.

This was our first trip into the field with the students from Chama Elementary. We all had a great time at the river, and our students are prepared to begin some serious data collection on our next trip!

Meet our 2016-2017 River Classrooms: Española Water Scholars

We’ve been working with the 4th-6th grade GATE students in the Española Public School District for five years now, and we’ve had some really great students. Last year some of our students expressed interest in continuing with the River Classroom program after completing 6th grade. Our answer? The Water Scholars!

This program encompasses 7th-10th grade GATE students from the Española Public School District. Last year we had a pilot version of this program in which students built their own kayaks from scratch. This year, with all of the participants returning and with a greater number of students, we decided to take a slightly different route.

Many students aren’t familiar with the wide variety of ecosystems found across New Mexico. Our students are very knowledgeable about riparian habitats, thanks to their time in River Classroom, but this year our Water Scholars will be exploring different habitats across the state, collecting environmental data as they go.

Our first expedition was to Abiquiu Lake to discuss the lake, the plants and animals found there, the source of the water, and the importance of water to New Mexico.

Getting boats to the water as a team
One of our students brought the kayak she built last year


Once again our partners at the US Army Corps of Engineers were on hand to loan us life jackets and talk about water safety
Some of our students are becoming serious paddlers and got gloves to wear!
It was a gorgeous day to be on the water!
We even got a chance to swim and jump from some low rocks.


After our adventure on the water, we put our boats away and reconvened to discuss the ecosystem we’d been observing all day. For each trip students fill out a chart with details about the typical elevation range, precipitation amounts, animal/plant life, soil characteristics, sample food chain, and potential effects of climate change for each ecosystem.

We look forward to exploring the diverse habitats of New Mexico with these students!

Meet Our 2016-2017 River Classrooms: Española Public Schools

Next in the line up for our 2016-2017 River Classrooms is our group of 4th-6th grade GATE students from the Española Public School District. This is a really unusual group because the students come to us from all of the elementary schools in the district. Not only are these students learning important science skills in an outdoor setting- they’re also learning to collaborate with other students from other schools!

Our first meeting with these students was on the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam. Flows on the river make scheduling a little tricky in the fall, but we wanted our students to get the feel of walking in the river in waders, and it’s a beautiful time of year to begin exploring this riparian habitat.


Our first activity was for students to create a map of the area by the river.

Working on a map
Each group included slightly different features on their map
A few students included a compass rose, so we had to refresh our compass skills to make sure that north was drawn in the correct direction.
A gallery stroll to examine all the different maps

After a quick break for lunch, it was time to pass out the waders!

Lining up for waders
This was the first time in waders for many of the students!
After a review of wader safety rules, we headed for the river.


A few of the students from last year began to pick up rocks and look for benthic macroinvertebrates.

Checking out some midges and mayflies
We also found some caddis houses
Not everybody was excited to find leeches!


We had a great first experience wading in the river, and after this introduction to benthic macroinvertebrates, we are ready to begin surveying next time.

As always, these students from Española and the surrounding area are a fantastic group. We’ve been working with students from this district for five years now, and the students continue to impress us. This will certainly be another great year of River Classroom.

Meet our 2016-2017 River Classrooms: Tierra Amarilla Elementary

Next up on our list of River Classrooms for the 2016-2017 school year: Tierra Amarilla Elementary

We began working with Tierra Amarilla Elementary School last year, and once again we are meeting with all of the 5th and 6th grade students. This year the students we taught in 5th grade last year have moved up to 6th grade, and we have a whole new crop of students who have moved up from 4th grade. Working with students for two years in a row allows us to develop relationships with these fantastic kids and helps solidify the concepts that we teach in River Classroom.

Introductions outside on a gorgeous day
One of our favorite activities: polluting and then attempting to clean water
A student ponders how to clean her water sample
Attempting to filter polluted water
Some filtering solutions work better than others!
Graphing the amount of fresh water on Earth

We were really impressed by how much our 6th graders remembered from last year, and we were excited by how quickly the 5th graders caught on. Once again, this group continues to ask wonderful science questions.

Now that these students are familiar with some basic concepts about water, where pollution comes from, and how difficult it is to clean water once it gets polluted, we’re ready to head to the river to begin water quality testing!

Meet Our 2016-2017 River Classrooms: Chama Elementary

School has begun once again, and we have an excellent group of River Classrooms this year! Stay tuned over the next few days as we catch up on posting about our first adventures into (and out of) these classrooms.

Up first: Chama Elementary

We’re very excited to be working with the 4th and 5th grade students of Chama Elementary. This is a new school for us, and it seems that these kids have already heard a little about River Classroom from their friends in Tierra Amarilla!

We joined these students at their school on September 6 to introduce ourselves and gauge how much the students already know about water in New Mexico.

Drawing the water cycle
Working with a model of the amount of water on Earth. Students were surprised at how little of the water on Earth is accessible and drinkable.
Discussing pollution and where it comes from
Modeling the water cycle with a stove
Each student found his/her weight…
… and then calculated how much of his/her weight was from water!

We learned that the students at Chama Elementary are a fantastic group of kids who love to be outside. They also ask great questions. Our students learned what to expect from River Classroom and reviewed concepts related to the water cycle, the amount of water on Earth (and how much is usable), and what it means for water to be polluted.

On our next excursion to Chama we will be exploring the local river with these students, and we can’t wait!