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.

Meet our 2016-2017 River Classrooms: Española Water Scholars

We’ve been working with the 4th-6th grade GATE students in the Española Public School District for five years now, and we’ve had some really great students. Last year some of our students expressed interest in continuing with the River Classroom program after completing 6th grade. Our answer? The Water Scholars!

This program encompasses 7th-10th grade GATE students from the Española Public School District. Last year we had a pilot version of this program in which students built their own kayaks from scratch. This year, with all of the participants returning and with a greater number of students, we decided to take a slightly different route.

Many students aren’t familiar with the wide variety of ecosystems found across New Mexico. Our students are very knowledgeable about riparian habitats, thanks to their time in River Classroom, but this year our Water Scholars will be exploring different habitats across the state, collecting environmental data as they go.

Our first expedition was to Abiquiu Lake to discuss the lake, the plants and animals found there, the source of the water, and the importance of water to New Mexico.

Getting boats to the water as a team
One of our students brought the kayak she built last year


Once again our partners at the US Army Corps of Engineers were on hand to loan us life jackets and talk about water safety
Some of our students are becoming serious paddlers and got gloves to wear!
It was a gorgeous day to be on the water!
We even got a chance to swim and jump from some low rocks.


After our adventure on the water, we put our boats away and reconvened to discuss the ecosystem we’d been observing all day. For each trip students fill out a chart with details about the typical elevation range, precipitation amounts, animal/plant life, soil characteristics, sample food chain, and potential effects of climate change for each ecosystem.

We look forward to exploring the diverse habitats of New Mexico with these students!

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.

Española Open House

Last Wednesday was not only our final River Classroom day for our 4th-6th graders from Española- it was also our Open House event for families to learn what our students have been up to this year.

We met at New Mexico Wildlife Center, where students unveiled their final projects. They created games to test their parents’ knowledge of riparian ecosystems and biology! Each group had a different game.

One group had a Pokemon-style card game with animals from New Mexico.




One group created a board game in which players are subjected to certain physical hazards and must have the correct adaptation to stay alive.



Another group created a model of a river with kayaks that moved along the river as the players complete trivia questions.



Another group create a game called Battle Cells, where you answer questions about cell biology to get a chance to attack an opponent’s cells.




Parents also got to watch a slideshow of photos from this year’s activities.

And then we ate cake.

We had 47 people show up to Open House! I saw quite a few parents struggling to answer some of the biology questions. We are so proud of our brilliant students! The future is looking bright with these kids around.

Great Minds Think Alike

The school year is winding down, and this week we said goodbye to another one of our River Classrooms. Our 4th-6th grade students from Española met one last time at the Rio Chama to test water quality, collect benthic macroinvertebrates, and review everything that we’ve learned this year.

Everybody was excited to get waders on once again!


Aspirating our Kestrel weather sensor to get an accurate air temperature
Taking GPS coordinates and measuring water temperature



Reviewing our benthic macroinvertebrate findings

Our review activity was one final River Classroom challenge! It consisted of 15 tasks, such as find an invasive plant, name it, and find its GPS coordinates.


Discussing the challenge
Recording GPS coordinates


It was a wonderful day to end the year, and our brilliant students did a fantastic job on their final challenge. We were very pleased with how much they’ve learned this year!

We’ll see these students again in the fall!


Handbuilt Kayaks Making a Splash in Abiquiu

Yesterday was a big day for our 7th-9th grade students from Española. After months of hard work on their handmade kayaks and a brief test float, it was time for a celebration of our adventure.

Unfortunately, as is common with spring in New Mexico, the weather didn’t quite cooperate. It was cloudy and quite cool.

Getting some instructions
Carrying boats to the lake

We do have some very exciting news- Kelly Gossett from New Mexico Kayak Instruction generously donated paddles for our students!

Picking out a paddle


Once again our fantastic partners with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Abiquiu Lake were on hand with loaner life jackets.

A brief water safety talk
Getting life jackets

Our students demonstrated that they know how to launch their own boats and began to paddle!

Finally on the water!



Due to the weather (and very high waves thanks to high winds), we decided to hang out close to the ramp. Lake temperatures are still very cold!



We caught our students showing off a bit this time as they became more familiar with their boats. We saw many kayak races and even some students paddling backwards!










We saw lots of big smiles!


After paddling all around our cove many times, our students worked up an appetite. We headed for our group shelter to roast some hot dogs!

Warming hands on the grill


Our students’ families joined us for this celebration of the hard work our students have put in this year.


At the end of the day, our students carried their kayaks up from the lake, loaded them on their vehicles, and headed off.IMG_8266



Before our students left, we conducted a little interview in which we asked the students how they enjoyed building their kayaks and what they felt they learned. Along with the comments about students enjoying the work with power tools and exploring the lake, we heard this:

“[My favorite part of building kayaks was] working with each other as a team and getting to know each other better.”

“[I learned that] you don’t have to buy everything. You can make your own.”

“[Building kayaks has] built my self confidence because I was able to know that I built something and it worked well.”

Keep an eye out for our students paddling around local lakes this summer! We’ve gotten them hooked on having fun on the water!


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!