Synthesizing Our Knowledge of New Mexico Ecosystems

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.

Students filling out the “L” column of their K-W-L chart by listing what they learned.

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!

One of our volunteers introduces our students to our Saw-whet owl.

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!

Late Fall in an Aspen Ecosystem

Fall colors have come and gone, and while we’re still waiting for cold temperatures, the foliage around New Mexico looks like winter. Last Monday our students from McCurdy Charter School headed up to Aspen Vista to explore an aspen ecosystem.

Due to unseasonably warm temperatures this fall, the trail was mostly snow free.

Heading up the trail
Examining some bark

As we hiked we took periodic breaks to discuss the ecology of aspen groves. Many of these students cut aspen for firewood, and a few admitted to carving their initials in the trees in the past, but few realized just how unique and special these trees are.

Exploring an aspen shelter just off the trail
Enjoying the view through the aspens

We found some tracks and discussed the differences between canine and feline tracks.

Hypothesizing about what animal made this track
A small patch of snow with a gorgeous view of Santa Fe

We found a beautiful stream, which has now been thoroughly documented on social media.

Photos for everybody!
A view of the gorgeous stream

Finally, as we progressed up the mountain, we hit a shaded area with snow!


After hiking about 3 miles up the trail, we were all ready for a lunch break.


We also discussed the connections between animals and plants in the ecosystem and created sample food webs with producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, and decomposers.

Working on our ecosystem worksheet


The whole group

It’s wonderful to have trips like this on a Monday- it sets the tone for the whole week. We had a great hike on a gorgeous fall day, and these students were excited to learn more about these trees that they see often. Once student even plans on planting aspen trees in his yard!

We can’t wait for our next trip with these fantastic Earth Science students!

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!

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!

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!


The kayak building continues…

Last Monday our 7th-9th grade GATE students from Española returned to NMWC to work more on their kayaks. We worked really hard, and made lots of progress. I’ll let the photos tell the story!

Sanding the frames
For the bow and stern, we used more powerful sanding methods.


We got to try them on for size for the first time!
Painting the seats with exterior enamel
Painting the frames with exterior enamel.



It turns out that painting is pretty fun!


After a lunch break, the frames were dry, and we began cutting the canvas that will cover the kayaks.

Unrolling the canvas
Carefully measuring the canvas
Measure twice, cut once



Then we carefully fit the canvas to the kayak frame and began stapling it down.

Covering the kayak with canvas


Stapling the canvas to the frame


Doing some detailed fitting at the bow and stern
It takes a team!

We made great progress this week, and I think everybody was especially excited because they really are starting to look like kayaks!

Smiles all around!

We’ll be exploring the lakes of northern New Mexico in just a few short months!

More Kayak Building

Last Friday our 7th-9th grade River Classroom met at NMWC to continue our year long endeavor to build kayaks. This time we got all of the ribs attached.


Refining a few edges
More sanding
Attaching the bow to the keel
Gluing the stern
Attaching the stern to the keel
Marking where the ribs will go
Marking where the ribs will go
Using teamwork to attach a rib
A kayak skeleton

Now that we have the ribs attached, we’re ready to add strakes. These boats are really coming together, and we can’t wait to get out exploring local riparian ecosystems on our own boats!