McCurdy High School Explores the Rio Chama

There’s one River Classroom that we haven’t blogged about yet this year, and that’s McCurdy High School! High schools students have many demands on their time, so this group meets once per month to explore different aspects of Earth Science.

This month we headed to the Rio Chama to learn about riparian ecosystems.

Waders in a row on a gorgeous fall morning

Many of these students had never been to the Rio Chama before, so we began by discussing the river, where it is, where it begins, where it ends, and where the water in the river comes from. To allow our students to explore the area a little, we discussed different types of maps and had our students create their own maps of our study area.

Discussing what to include on the maps


After each student had explored the area and created a map, we set out the maps on a picnic table. The students circulated around the table and noted similarities and differences.


Once we had a better grasp on the path of the Rio Chama we began collecting scientific data. One group worked on testing water quality (temperature, pH, turbidity, conductivity, nitrate levels, and dissolved oxygen levels), while the other group collected and counted benthic macroinvertebrates. The groups switched places so that all students got to collect both types of data and record it on their data sheet.


Measuring the conductivity of the water


One of our fantastic McCurdy teachers points out caddis on a rock


Getting a closer look at a benthic macroinvertebrate



We had a really wonderful day and collected a wealth of scientific data that lead us to conclude that while the Rio Chama at this location isn’t pristine, it’s not in bad shape in many ways.


We look forward to our next adventure with these students!

Where is Water on Earth?

One of our main areas of focus in River Classroom is water. By the end of the year, we expect our students to be familiar with the concepts of how much water is on Earth, where that water is found, and how much is usable for humans. This concept helps students understand why we need to protect our freshwater resources in the first place.


Our Española 4th-6th grade River Classroom spent the day learning these concepts.

We began with a brief discussion about water to assess our students’ level of knowledge.


Then we divided into two groups for different activities. One group modeled the amount of water on Earth with a 5 gallon bucket. Students were surprised to see this dramatic demonstration of exactly how little of the water on Earth is usable for people.

Brainstorming all the places where we find water
Pouring out water for glaciers
Creating a pie chart of the amount of water on Earth

The second group modeled the water cycle with a camping stove. They observed evaporation, condensation, and “precipitation,” and they acted out the motions of the molecules in these changes of state.

Discussing the water cycle

After all students had completed both activities (and after a lunch break), we went on to play a game centered on water on Earth. We had seven stations representing seven places where water is found (oceans, glaciers, plants/animals, atmosphere, etc.). At each station students color in a box on a worksheet representing a turn at that location. Each station had a dice for students to roll. The number on the dice would determine the students’ actions and whether the student would remain at the same station or move to a different one.

This game quickly turned into a competition with students running from station to station!
Rolling dice and filling in boxes



After students had completed 100 rolls of the dice, they calculated the number of times and the percentage of times that they spent at each station. Many students spent a lot of time in the ocean or as groundwater.


This game emphasizes that while water moves through the water cycle, sometimes it gets “stuck” in one form or another, where it can stay for a very long time.

Our students did a great job and have a much better understanding of water on Earth. This introduction was the perfect set up to learning why our water quality measurements are so important later in the year.

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 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: 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!


Weather in the Classroom

Last week our 4th-6th grade Española River Classroom students were supposed to meet us on the Rio Chama. We ended up having to change plans due to weather, so our students came back to NMWC for the first time since Christmas Break. It’s a new year and a new semester, and we began discussing a new topic- weather!

Our students had some pretty good ideas about weather before we even began class. Our initial discussion centered on the question “What is weather, and how do we measure it?”

Students then broke up into four groups. Each group investigated one aspect of weather, and the class rotated through all four “weather stations”.

Station 1: Cloud in a bottle

Reading the directions at a station.
Double checking the directions
Cloud in a Bottle

Station 2: Density Currents/Convection

Modeling density currents in a plastic container
Making scientific observations
Thinking about the experiment
Recording observations

Station 3: Temperatures in the Shade and Sun

Using an IR thermometer to determine the skin temperature of objects outside
Using an IR thermometer to determine the skin temperature of objects outside
Using an IR thermometer to measure the skin temperature of objects outside
Examining the data to draw conclusions from our observations

Station 4: Blue Skies/Orange Sunsets

After completing our “weather stations”, our students got a short introduction to weather forecasting.

I’m sure that the next time we have a trip planned to an outdoor location, they’ll be able to help decide “weather” or not we should go!