Exploring the Edward Sargent WMA

Our 4th and 5th grade students from Chama Elementary are lucky to live and go to school just down the street from one of the most beautiful places in northern New Mexico- the Edward Sargent Wildlife Area, which is operated by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF).

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.

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Officer Zamora explains what it’s like to be a game warden and what sort of schooling he needed to qualify for the job
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Hiking towards the Rio Chamita

The morning began fairly chilly, and the Rio Chamita was covered in a thin layer of ice when we arrived.

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Officer Zamora discussing some of the water quality parameters that these students test
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Finding the temperature of the Rio Chamita with a stream gauge. If the ice didn’t tip you off, it was pretty chilly!

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.

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Pointing out vegetation along the Rio Chamita

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Because the Sargent is a Wildlife Management Area, there was an abundance of sign of wildlife to identify and discuss.

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Checking out a track
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One of the many tracks our students discovered
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Discussing tracks in the road
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One last opportunity to explore the Rio Chamita

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!

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.

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Heading up the trail
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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.

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

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

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Hypothesizing about what animal made this track
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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.

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Photos for everybody!
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A view of the gorgeous stream

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

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

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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.

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Working on our ecosystem worksheet

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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!

Exploring a Piñon-Juniper Ecosystem

Last Monday our 7th-10th grade Water Scholars from Española began our week in the best manner possible- by hiking and exploring a new place outdoors!

We headed into a canyon near Abiquiu to seek out pinon and juniper trees and check out some of New Mexico’s unique geology.

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Hitting the trail

Our students have learned a little bit about geology in school, but we expanded their vocabulary to include the words conglomerate, fault, and rift.

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We found some gorgeous rock formations and a mini arch.

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Examining a stratigraphic diagram of the area and pointing out layers
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The mini arch

After a weekend of clouds and rain, everybody enjoyed being out in the sun.

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By lunch time, students were actually seeking out the shade!

 

We also discussed pinon and juniper trees and their importance to this ecosystem, as well as to our lives.

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Checking out the trees

After lunch, we filled out our ecosystem discovery worksheets and compared this area to the last place we visited.

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Some of the gorgeous Entrada sandstone we hiked through

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We had a fantastic hike, and we can’t wait for our next trip with these wonderful students!

Testing Water Quality in Tierra Amarilla

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.

NMWC uses Vernier water quality probes and has a Project Quality Assurance Project Plan (PQAPP) in place with New Mexico Environment Department’s Surface Water Quality Bureau so that our data can be submitted to the state for monitoring purposes.

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A student tests the pH of the water
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Testing the level of nitrates in the water
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Testing the level of dissolved oxygen in the water as the data recorder waits for a number to record

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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.

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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.

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Students use a dichotomous key to identify these invertebrates.

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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.

What’s in a Watershed?

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.

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Discussing the idea of a watershed

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.

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Some students chose to create a very large landscape in a group
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Other students preferred to work individually to create their watershed.

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A finished “landscape” using brown to highlight the mountains and blue to highlight lower areas where lakes/rivers could be

After finishing their landscape, students introduced some “precipitation” to the equation.

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By watching which way the washable marker ran off of the “mountains,” students were clearly able to pick out different watersheds on their maps!

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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!

Exploring Cañones Creek

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!

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Wading through Canones Creek

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.

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Looking over the NM Invasive Plant Species handout

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!

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Exploring Canones Creek

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.

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Examining Canones Creek

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      🙂

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.

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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.

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Discussing what to include on the maps

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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.

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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.

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Measuring the conductivity of the water

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

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Getting a closer look at a benthic macroinvertebrate

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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.

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We look forward to our next adventure with these students!