Last Tuesday we took these students to this area to explore. For many students it was their first time in this area. We were fortunate to be joined by Officer Zamora, with NMDGF.
The morning began fairly chilly, and the Rio Chamita was covered in a thin layer of ice when we arrived.
These students typically visit the Rio Chama below the village of Chama, and the Rio Chamita is quite different. We discussed the differences between creeks and rivers. Comparing the Rio Chama to the Rio Chamita really allowed students to understand the difference.
Because the Sargent is a Wildlife Management Area, there was an abundance of sign of wildlife to identify and discuss.
Our students had a fantastic time exploring this wildlife area, and we hope that they share their new-found knowledge with their peers and families so that the entire community continues to enjoy and protect this area!
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.
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.
We found a beautiful stream, which has now been thoroughly documented on social media.
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.
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!
Chemistry is an important basis for learning about water quality, and now that our students in Tierra Amarilla are familiar with the basics, we decided to add water quality testing to our scientific agenda.
While half of the class was testing water quality, the other half donned their waders and set off into the Rio Chama to survey benthic macroinvertebrates.
After collecting benthic macroinvertebrates, students brought their sample back to shore. We selected a few specimens to examine up close and saved the rest for counting.
Students use a dichotomous key to identify these invertebrates.
We had a very productive day of data collection, and we ended by asking these young scientists to summarize our results. We’ll continue to monitor this location as seasons change to gain a better idea of how healthy this river is during different parts of the year.
One of the benefits of teaching River Classroom at so many schools along the Rio Chama is that we can provide a more in depth analysis of the river as a whole. While we typically take our students to one particular location on the river, we often discuss our water quality/benthic macroinvertebrate survey results from other groups at other locations. We also make it a point to repeatedly discuss where the river begins and where it goes, and we introduce the concept of watersheds.
The concept of a watershed is not a straightforward one, so we try to use concrete models that students can manipulate. For this particular class, we took the Chama Elementary students to the top of the Rio Chama watershed to explore this area before it’s covered in snow.
We divided students into two groups. One took an exploratory hike and discussed topographic maps while the other created their own landscapes with watersheds on paper. Students crumpled up a piece of paper and then highlighted the mountains and the canyons/basins with washable markers.
After finishing their landscape, students introduced some “precipitation” to the equation.
By watching which way the washable marker ran off of the “mountains,” students were clearly able to pick out different watersheds on their maps!
At the end of this activity, students had a much better idea of how we define watersheds and why we should care. What happens at the top of a watershed can trickle down and affect us where we live. These students now have a much better appreciation of why we monitor the entire Rio Chama watershed!
This week for River Classroom, we took the students to Cañones Creek, a tributary of the Rio Chama, to discuss the differences between a creek and river. This was the students’ first time at the creek, and they had a blast!
Before we began exploring, we talked about how a creek and river differ in terms of water characteristics, plant life, and animal activity. We also introduced a new term… invasive species.
As a class, we defined what an invasive species is as well as the impact it has on the environment it was introduced to and the ecosystem as a whole. Students were then given the task to try to find at least one of the eight invasive plant species that were on their handouts.
Next, the students were asked to find signs of animal life along the creek. Within minutes, the class found a cow skeleton. They also discovered an abandoned beaver den, raccoon and muskrat tracks, and a dead tree with numerous woodpecker holes. Before starting to look for benthic macroinvertebrates, the students recorded their observations of the creek itself as well as their findings in their science notebooks.
In previous classes, the students received a brief tutorial about benthic macroinvertebrates and their role in indicating water quality. So this time we went a little more in depth and discussed the various benthic species and in which types of water each would be found. To look for benthics, students examined the bottoms of rocks in a riffle above a deep pool in the creek. The most abundant species they found were caddisfly larvae, followed by midges. Once the students were done collecting benthics, we discussed what their findings tell us about the creek’s water quality; it was concluded the water was only fairly clean because there was a low diversity of benthic macroinvertebrates. The class was then asked, “Why do you think the water quality is only fairly clean?,” to which they responded, “Maybe because there’s a lot of cows using this creek since we found a skeleton and lots of poop.” BINGO!
Since the students had so much fun exploring Cañones Creek, it didn’t leave us very much time to collect data from the Rio Chama. To make the most of our time, the class divided into 3 groups with each group being responsible for one of the three tasks: find 1 invasive species from the handout, find 1-2 benthics, and find signs of animal life. Group 1 found a lot of Tamarisk; Group 2 found Caddisfly and Stonefly larvaes; and Group 3 found fox scat.
Based on our findings, our class concluded that the river had better water quality and more invasive plants than the creek. However, the creek had more animal activity.
Overall, the students learned that a creek is different from a river because it is smaller/narrower than a river and does not branch out like a river does. Also, a creek will have more animal activity than a river because it safer for critters to access since it’s shallower and the current is typically slower. Lastly, the students learned that an invasive species is not native to that specific environment and has a negative impact on its surroundings.
We had a really great time exploring new land and learning new concepts. We can’t wait until the next adventure 🙂
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.
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.
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.