Capillary Action in Abiquiu

The school year is winding down, and we’re still trying to get outside as much as possible with our students! Yesterday our 4th-6th grade GATE students from Española headed back up to Abiquiu Lake to learn more about plants.

We began by taking a few minutes to finish those projects I keep hinting at. Our Open House is coming up on May 19, and our students are pretty excited to show off their projects!

Putting final touches on a project
Putting final touches on a project

Some of our student had already completed their projects, so they got to work helping us set up an experiment for later in the class. We collected some leaves and put some in a ziplock bag and others in clear bowls of water.


Our goal for the day was to learn about how plants take up water and how the process of cellular respiration works. We spent some time explaining these concepts and discussing the difference between cohesion and adhesion.


Reviewing past notes


We found a great activity to demonstrate capillary action that allowed us to drag out the food coloring. Our students took detailed observations as the colored water moved up the paper towel and mixed in the empty cup.




We also learned about stomata and transpiration!




At this point we were ready to check on our two experiments. We found that the leaves in the bag were surrounded by condensation- water left the leaves through transpiration and then condensed on the bag.

When we checked our leaves in the bowl, we did see small air bubbles on the leaves that had not been there when the leaves were placed in the water!



We also took a few minutes to investigate whether we could see the stomata on a leaf using clear nail polish to create a slide.

After all of this sitting and taking notes, everybody was ready to move. We headed out on a hike to investigate plants around the lake. We frequently stopped to discuss plants that we saw, whether they were native or invasive, and why we suspected they were growing where we found them.


Wildflowers are blooming!
Pointing to a particularly pretty rock and debating its formation



What a great group of kids!

We had a wonderful day learning all about plants and how they work. We only have one more session before the end of the year. We just wish we could keep teaching these kids all summer!


The last time we were in Tierra Amarilla to meet with our 5th-6th grade River Classroom, we discussed cells. During this class our students had some wonderful questions about how cells came to be and also about blood and blood cells. We decided to address some of these topics in class.

Eager students with wonderful questions

We discussed cells, how they’ve changed with time, where DNA is located within a cell, and how your genes determine your characteristics. Then we constructed some super cute dogs with varying characteristics based on pulling “DNA” out of an envelope.

Pulling “DNA” out of an envelope
Using that “DNA” to determine the characteristics of the dog
Drawing a dog with the appropriate characteristics
Comparing dogs

Even though all of the envelopes contained the same “DNA,” every dog looked different. Each dog had the same DNA, but different genes were expressed!



After comparing dogs all around, we decided to have a race across the gym. The only catch: students must pretend to have the characteristics of their dog. If their dog had short legs, they have to crawl. If their dog had medium-length legs, they had to hunch over, and if their dog had long legs, they could run normally. The long-legged dogs had a clear advantage in this first race!

For our second race, the “dogs” had to make it under a hurdle. Guess what? The short dogs won! This lead to a great discussion about how different characteristics (and genes) are better suited for different situations.

After this break, we jumped back into microscopes and examined blood cells, which do not have a nucleus.



Blood cells in the microscope

Since we had the microscopes out, we also took a closer look at some benthic macroinvertebrates collected earlier in the day on the Rio Chama. We see these all the time when we go to the river, but this is the first time we’ve taken a really close look at them with microscopes.

We’ll check these out in the field as soon as the ice melts on the Rio Chama!

Wildlife of New Mexico

One very important, and sometimes overlooked, aspect of place-based environmental education is learning what kinds of animals belong in the ecosystems in your area. Last week we addressed this with the 7th graders at McCurdy Charter School by bringing them to NMWC.

We discussed why these animals are here and on exhibit (either because they have an injury that prevents their release or because they are imprinted). We took an up-close look at a few birds and discussed what adaptations make them able to live here and why.

Testing our hand strength to see if our hands are as strong as eagle talons.

The students also got to meet our bull snake, Basil, and see how he compares to a rattlesnake.

Checking out the flammulated owl.


This particular student has been begging to see our grey fox all year.
Taking photos of our bald eagle, Maxwell.

This group of students has been begging to come and tour NMWC all year, and we were excited to give them the chance. We’ve spent the year teaching them about the ecosystems around them, and after getting to meet some of New Mexico’s wildlife, we think that these students are more committed than ever to protecting these species.

Looking at Cells in Tierra Amarilla

Earlier this year we spent a few weeks discussing plant and animal cells with our 4th-6th grade Española River Classroom. Our 5th-6th grade students in Tierra Amarilla have had fantastic questions about cells, and so we decided to take our microscopes north!

We began the day by asking a few questions to assess how much our (incredibly smart) students already knew.

Eager students with excellent questions

We ended up doing some calculations of the timing between different events in Earth’s history. Not only did this introduce how cells have changed, but it was also a pretty good refresher on scientific notation.

Math with large numbers

Our students remembered quite a bit about cells, and so we moved on to parts of a microscope. We were excited to discover that most of the kids hadn’t used one before and were about to experience microscopes for the first time!

Taking a first look through the microscopes
Checking out some plant cells




We ended up looking at onion cells (plant cells) and cells from our cheeks (animal cells). Our students were able to distinguish between the two and explain the differences.

Onion cells through the microscope
Happy to do science!

Our students in Tierra Amarilla continue to impress us with their thirst for science knowledge, and we can’t wait to head back that way again!

The Review Games

Yesterday was our final class session before the holiday break, and what better way to spend it than reviewing with our 4th-6th grade River Classroom?

We actually began the day by discussing blood and blood cells. Students (who wanted) had the opportunity to test their own blood sugar level and examine their own blood cells under a microscope.

A few students were slightly anxious about the part where they had to prick their finger!
Everything is ready to collect a sample
Pricking fingers to test blood sugar


Looking at blood cells under the microscope
We also got to examine samples from mammals and ducks, thanks to NMWC’s ICU unit


After checking out the blood cells, we played our review game. Students divided into two teams and were given a white board. Each question was worth a number of points determined by the instructors, and students had 30 seconds to write their answer on the white board. The winner got the points! We even had a few Candy Bonus questions, where members of the winning team got peanut butter cups AND points.

Writing answers as quickly as possible


Our students are so smart- they remembered so much! One student even remembered “cohesion”. Most importantly, everybody had a wonderful time!


Exploring the Banks of the Rio Chama

“An environment-based education movement–at all levels of education–will help students realize that school isn’t supposed to be a polite form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider world.”

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

The vast majority of our students have grown up in northern New Mexico. Many of them spend at least some time outside with their families. It’s very important to us to help our students learn about their local environment and to learn science in the context of their local environment.

In our 4th-6th grade River Classroom, we’ve been learning about Biology. On Wednesday we took our lessons to the Rio Chama, where we spent the day exploring the riparian ecosystem and learning about the types of animals and plants we find there.

Setting out on a hike
Learning about willows
Demonstrating one method of seed dispersal
Demonstrating one method of seed dispersal
We collected trash along the way
Mixing Plaster of Paris to create a cast of a raccoon track
Mixing Plaster of Paris
Mixing the plaster
Pouring plaster into a track
Pointing out cool shapes in sandstone
We found a large nest

Exploring the bosque like this is a fantastic way to get kids started at observing the environment around them. Our students were quite excited and distracted for a bit, but after a while they began making excellent observations of the world around them.

After our hike, we took a time out for lunch.

This student found a gorgeous spot to eat.

After lunch we took the time to prepare a few slides so that we can look at more plant and animal cells the next time we meet.

Preparing a slide
Dipping a slide in fixative
Placing a slide cover on a slide

It was a wonderful day of exploration, and our students left knowing much more about the Rio Chama and it’s ecosystem. Getting our students outside is one of our most important goals!



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.