Earlier this week our 7th-10th graders from the Española Public School District took advantage of the gorgeous spring weather and ventured out to Pilar, New Mexico to explore a bosque ecosystem along the Rio Grande.
The bosque of the Rio Grande is a lovely and unique environment that encompasses the riparian forest and floodplain around the river. Willows and cottonwood trees are common native vegetation, although invasive tamarisk has taken over in many areas.
We began the day with some time to explore and take notes about this ecosystem and its characteristics.
Students practiced making objective observations of several trees in the bosque.
Because of the recent warm temperatures and melting snowpack, the Rio Grande is running pretty high. The nearest stream gauge reported a discharge of around 1200 cfs, and the water level had been steadily rising.
After a quick lunch break, students hiked up to a bench in the Rio Grande Gorge. From this perspective we had a fantastic view of the bosque ecosystem, as well as the rocks that surrounded us. We discussed the geology of the area and the Rio Grande Rift.
After all of this exploring, we needed a break in the shade. We took advantage of one of the gorgeous group shelters in the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument to rest in the shade and fill out our ecosystem worksheet. We spent some time comparing this ecosystem to the others we’ve visited.
We had a fantastic trip, and our students now understand a great deal about the bosque ecosystem. Next month we’ll be on to a different location!
River Classroom is a year-long project. We cover so much material, and every once in a while it’s nice to take a look back at the progress we’ve made. We’ve been doing just that in several of our classes for the last few weeks. What better way to see how much our students have learned than a trivia game?
Our 5th and 6th grade students at Tierra Amarilla Elementary really love competition. Our little trivia game brought out the brains of all of our students to prove just how much they remember of what we’ve covered this year.
Students were divided into teams. Each team got a white board, an eraser, and a marker. We kept score on the class board as teams had between 1 and 2 minutes to answer each question and write their answer on their team board.
Our students really enjoyed this game!
As usual we were incredibly impressed at how much our students remembered. From benthic macroinvertebrates to the water cycle to parts of an atom, our students can explain a great deal of science!
With the rapidly approaching spring melt, we are getting our classrooms out into the river as much as possible. Last Wednesday our 4th-6th graders from Española braved chilly temperatures to collect some data on the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam.
In our last session our students learned a new equation:
(distance = rate × time)
Our goal for this session was to find the rate/velocity of the Rio Chama. We began by reviewing this equation and talking about different units. This discussion helped us determine which units of measure would be appropriate for measuring the speed of the river. We settled on meters per second, but our tape measures didn’t have metric units, so we had to measure in feet and convert to meters.
Our clever students were able to puzzle out how we could measure the speed of the river with this equation- we could lay out a distance and measure the speed of a floating object! We decided to use an orange. They float well, and they’re so bright that they’re easily visible for catching.
Fortunately, we had a data sheet ready to collect this very data.
Students used rocks to delineate the beginning and end of their river segments.
We had two data collection teams. Each team had 5 jobs. One person released the orange into the river, one person timed it with a stopwatch and recorded the data, one person was responsible for catching the orange with a net, and two people were responsible for making sure the orange was released and caught at precisely the right spot.
We also talked about possible sources of error. Students were concerned about the exact way in which the orange was released. We tried to standardize the way we did this.
Catching the orange was not always an easy task, but our students did a great job!
At the end of class, one of our favorite game wardens dropped by! The students were excited to show off their data and explain what they were measuring and why.
We’re so proud of our students for braving cold water temperatures to collect this data. Everybody seemed to have a great time. The next time we meet, we’ll plot this data and compare it with the measurements we took a few years ago.
The holidays are quickly approaching, and this week we wrapped up our final River Classroom session before the winter break. Our 4th-6th grade students from the Española Public School District met at NMWC to present some fantastic projects and review everything we’ve learned this fall.
Students have been working on individual projects about elements on the Periodic Table. Many students opted to study fireworks and how different elements produce different colors. The chemistry of fireworks is a really interesting topic that fits right in with our lesson on elements in the Periodic Table, and students gave some really entertaining and informative presentations!
After each student had a chance to present his or her project, we moved on to our main attraction: a Jeopardy-style game in which teams of students answer questions related to the material we’ve covered this year!
One of our most important rules: each team must come to a consensus before one group member can raise a hand to answer the question.
We tested the speed of students’ reflexes as they raced to raise their hands after the Jeopardy theme song stopped!
Our students did a fantastic job and successfully answered almost every single question.
For Final Jeopardy the rules changed slightly, and each team had to make a bet for the number of points they could win or lose on each question. Teams had one minute to write their answer to earn their points!
In the end everybody in the room proved to be a brilliant scientist and remembered a great deal of what we covered during the year, so everybody won a mini Snickers bar.
We also took a minute to recognize our fearless leader, Katherine. She founded the River Classroom program, and in the last five years she has made a tremendous impact on many students in northern New Mexico. At the end of this year, Katherine will begin a well-deserved retirement, but we are very grateful for her leadership and influence!
Have a safe, happy holiday, and we look forward to resuming classes in 2017!
In River Classroom we love to be outside. If we can’t be outside, we love to make a mess while we learn inside. At our last session, we did just that!
We broke into two groups to complete two different activities- one on watersheds and one on erosion. Our watershed activity began with a discussion of watersheds. What are they? Why do we care about them? Then students created their own model of mountainous terrain by crumpling up a piece of white paper. Students highlighted the “ridges” on their model in dark colors, used a spray bottle of water to simulate rain, and watched their washable marker run downhill.
This activity really clarifies the idea of a watershed, and students get to count the number of distinct watersheds in their model based on how their washable marker runs.
Our erosion activity tested three different types of soil to determine how soil characteristics affect erosion. The first sample was dirt mixed with rocks, the second sample was dirt with plants, and the third sample was just plain dirt.
Students poured the same amount of water into each bottle and captured the run off to analyze the differences.
Students had charts in their science notebooks to organize their observations.
Students discovered that the sample with only dirt was much more susceptible to erosion. The run off from this sample was very dirty. The sample with plants had the cleanest run off. What does this mean for a riverbank with plants on it? The roots of the plants help hold the dirt in place!
We had a great class studying watersheds and erosion, and we ended with discussions about how these concepts relate to water quality. In the spring we’ll be back to testing water quality on the Rio Chama and the Brazos River, and we’ll be applying the ideas of watersheds and erosion and how they affect turbidity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, pH, and nitrate levels.
We had planned to spend last Monday at the Bosque del Apache with our 7th-10th grade Water Scholars from the Española Public School District. Unfortunately the trip had to be postponed until January. Instead, we took the opportunity to meet in the classroom and synthesize some of our knowledge about ecosystems.
We also took the opportunity to discuss climate change and how it could affect the ecosystems we’ve visited.
We began by making K-W-L charts, and students listed everything they knew (or thought they knew) about climate change, as well as what they wanted to learn.
Our students created some really nice lists of questions about climate change, and these questions were answered during a talk about climate change and what it means for New Mexico.
After our talk, students created a lengthy list of what they learned about climate change.
After a lunch break, students returned to the day’s primary mission- comparing and contrasting two of the ecosystems we’ve visited this year, which include lake, aspen, and piñon-juniper ecosystems.
Students divided into three groups, and each group conducted online research to compare and contrast two ecosystems: lake ecosystems to aspen ecosystems, aspen ecosystems to piñon-juniper ecosystems, and piñon-juniper ecosystems to lake ecosystems.
After comparing and contrasting factors like typical elevation ranges, annual precipitation, common animals, common plants, and soil characteristics, students assembled a PowerPoint presentation to share their findings with the class.
Of course one of the perks of class at NMWC is that you occasionally get to meet the wildlife!
At the end of the day, students shared their presentations with the class, and we discussed how all of the places we’ve explored have been similar and different. This review was a great way to end the Fall semester. Students who missed individual field sessions were able to catch up, and we were able to synthesize some of the knowledge we’ve gained this year.
We can’t wait to explore new ecosystems with these students in the spring!