Exploring the Brazos River

Our 5th and 6th grade students from Tierra Amarilla Elementary have spent the last few months exploring and collecting data from the Rio Chama in Los Ojos. Last week we decided that it was time to head to a tributary of the Rio Chama, so we spent a gorgeous, sunny afternoon exploring the Brazos River.

The first part of the day was spent hiking along the river and comparing the Brazos to the Rio Chama.


Our students are always excited to get outside and explore!


We found quite a few differences in the Brazos and the Chama, including the size of the stream, the surrounding vegetation, and the physical characteristics of the stream.


After students had a chance to explore the area, we pulled out our GPS units. Students learned about latitude and longitude the last time we were at Tierra Amarilla Elementary, and this time we moved on to finding our latitude and longitude.


After students reviewed how to find the coordinate for their latitude and longitude, we split up into teams. Each team was tasked with finding something really cool (such as a beehive or an unusual rock). Teams found the coordinate of this item and recorded it on an index card, along with a clue as to what the item was.

Next students learned how to input a waypoint and use the GPS to navigate to that specific waypoint. This took a little trial and error!


Adjusting the coordinates for a waypoint


Most of the students were able to find their set of coordinates and identify the object for which they were searching!

Excited about using a GPS!

Understanding how to find a specific location using the GPS is an important skill so that our students can tag our scientific data with the location at which it was collected. Our students are now prepared to do this!

Water Quality on the Brazos and Chama

Our trip to Tierra Amarilla last week to work with our 5th and 6th grade River Classroom was particularly exciting because for the very first time we tested water quality on both the Brazos and the Chama on the same day!

We began with a short refresher on water quality parameters.

Discussing water quality

We began at the Brazos, where students also held a contest to see who could make it to the river and back (with water samples) without making a sound.

We found some neat tracks on the way to the river.

After collecting our samples (and measuring water temperature on-site), we returned to our mobile field lab to test pH, turbidity, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and nitrates.

Testing a sample
Testing a different sample
Testing turbidity

After testing the Brazos, we loaded the kids back on the bus and headed to the Rio Chama. The Brazos is a tributary of the Chama. Understanding the water quality in both rivers is crucial to understanding the Rio Chama watershed.



Checking out the ice on the Rio Chama

The results of our water quality tests were really interesting. In terms of temperature, DO, and pH, both rivers were similar (although a pond near the Brazos had a considerably lower DO). The Rio Chama had a higher turbidity and conductivity, and the level of nitrates was double that in the Brazos. These results brought up some interesting questions from the students, and we had a discussion about factors that influence water quality.

Discussing factors that affect turbidity, conductivity, and nitrates on the different rivers

We’ll continue monitoring these rivers throughout the year to see how water quality changes with the season.


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!


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.

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.

Showing off an atom



This atom has quite a few electrons!
“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!