Graphing data in Tierra Amarilla

Last Thursday we headed back up to Tierra Amarilla for a classroom day with our 5th and 6th graders at Tierra Amarilla Elementary. We’ve collected some great water quality data and identified some benthic macroinvertebrates since last fall, and we took this opportunity to create graphical displays of our data that we can present at our open house event.


Beginning a poster is always the most difficult part!











It’s no surprise that these students are wonderful scientists. We’ve learned that about them over the course of the year. Presenting your findings is a very important part of the scientific process, and these students buckled down and created some absolutely wonderful displays of their data!






Each poster display was a little different. Students decided to use number lines, histograms, tables, and figures to display their data. These kids are excellent scientists, and we’re proud to present their work to the community at our open house!

River Classroom at the Rio Chama

Last Wednesday our 4th-6th grade Española River Classroom headed up to the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam to place our game cameras in different spots and to collect more benthic macroinvertebrates.


Reviewing a few things on the bus before braving the wind
Passing out waders

We’re really excited to have three new students in River Classroom, but we did have to review our wader safety rules.

Discussing wader safety

Soon we were wading across the Rio Chama and searching the far bank for tracks and other signs of animal life.



Checking a muddy area for tracks
Pointing out an area with many tracks
One student found a sign that a beaver has been here!
Checking out signs of life in the river.

We placed our game cameras in different spots this time, hoping to catch some new animals.

These students selected the first spot for a game camera.


Placing the second game camera

After a quick lunch break, we headed back across the river to survey benthic macroinvertebrates in two different spots.




Taking GPS points of our collection locations



Our students love the Rio Chama!

We suspect that this may be one of our last benthic macroinvertebrate collections of the school year because the water level is expected to rise soon. We brought the samples back to NMWC, and we’re really excited about the data that we’ve collected!


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!

Benthic Macrointervebrates on the Rio Chama

Due to unusually high flows on the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam through the end of 2015 and a very chilly start to 2016, our 4th-6th grade Española River Classroom hasn’t been able to search the river for benthic macroinvertebrates. That all changed last week, and we had quite a bit of exploring to do!

Greeting students as the bus arrives

Our first task was pretty exciting. We met with USACE Ranger Austin to hear about some of USACE’s future plans for the area below Abiquiu Dam. Part of our goal is to collect data that can be used in evaluating the ecosystem for this project.

Discussing future plans for the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam



After this exciting discussion (during which our students showed off their knowledge of the Rio Chama), we put on waders and headed across the river to seek out more signs of life. This time we wanted to explore a little farther, so we carried shoes and left our waders by the river.

Waders along the fence

This time we found some additional signs of life, like several bird nests and some new scat. We also went into a little more detail in discussing plants in the area and the cryptobiotic crust we found in a few places.

A bird nest
Unidentified scat
Checking out a yucca
Documenting some of the plants
Looking at cryptobiotic soil

After fully exploring the far bank of the Rio Chama, we headed back across the river for lunch and to collect and catalog benthic macroinvertebrates.

Demonstrating use of a kick seine
Coming up with a game plan
The “haul”
Collecting our “bugs” into bowls
Counting our catch
A few students collected rocks
Identifying benthic macroinvertebrates on rocks
A few students doing a comparison with a pond that becomes part of the river when the water is higher.

We found a good number of benthic macroinvertebrates (of which a good proportion happened to be midges), and we collected some great data to share with our friends at USACE. It was a gorgeous day on the river, and we can’t wait to get back out there!

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!


Water Quality and Benthic Macroinvertebrates in Tierra Amarilla

Fall is a wonderful time to explore the rivers of New Mexico. The sun is still warm, but the water is cool. It’s the perfect time to send students into the river in waders, and this is precisely what we did in Tierra Amarilla last week.

Waders all in a row.
Waders all in a row.

We divided our group into the 5th grade class and the 6th grade class at Tierra Amarilla Elementary and divvied out the waders. Our groups took turns learning how to use kick nets and searching for benthic macroinvertebrates and getting their hands on our fantastic Vernier water quality sensors for the first time.

Identifying benthic macroinvertebrates using loupes
Testing out the Vernier display and water quality probes
Testing dissolved oxygen

We were on the Rio Chama once again for this trip. We’re looking forward to comparing our data in this location to our measurements on the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam. This will give us a more thorough understanding of the Rio Chama and the health of the riparian ecosystem.


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.

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!

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).

A Rio Chama resident

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!