Geology rocks!

For the second week in a row, we had snow on Tuesday! We’re so glad for the water, but our Chama Elementary and Tierra Amarilla Elementary students were again disappointed that we couldn’t go outside for our geology hike.

Since we couldn’t take our students to the rocks, we brought the rocks to our students!

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We began by reviewing the three main types of rocks. Students guessed as to what each type could look like. We made a chart with columns for each factor that students felt could help in identification. The last column was their guess as to the type of rock. We also reviewed subjective and objective observations. Students had to include at least one subjective observation and at least one objective observation.

Most students worked in groups, although a few chose to work independently. Each group got through about 15 rocks, and by the end of the exercise, everybody was doing a great job at identifying whether a rock sample was igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic.

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After becoming pros at identifying rocks, we moved on to learn about the Law of Superposition. Next time we talk about this, somebody remind me to bring a layer cake.

Utah Education Network has a fantastic activity for helping kids understand how geologists use rocks to piece together the story of Earth’s history. Our students began by trying to put the “nonsense cards,” which just have seemingly random letters on them, in some kind of order.

We didn’t give our students much information about this, aside from asking them to put the cards in some kind of order. Initially almost everybody tried alphabetical order.

Finally, with a few hints, everybody got it. If the letters represent rock layers, two layers that have the same kind of rock must belong next to each other. Students were also able to use the Law of Superposition to explain which rock layer must be the oldest.

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After everybody had discovered the pattern, we played the game again with different cards. This time the cards had different fossils on them. Students again put the cards in order based on the fossils found in each “layer”.

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This version of the activity is much more like what geologists do. Their job is to solve the puzzle of what’s happened on Earth in the past.

By the end of this class, all of our students had the same opinion…. geology rocks!

Introducing… Geology!

New Mexico (in general) is a pretty dry place. It seems like most people don’t own rain gear. We seldom have to adjust class for weather. This week was a rare exception- with all of the rain/snow, we had to move our outdoor River Classrooms for our Española 4th-6th graders, our Tierra Amarilla 5th-6th graders, and our Chama 4th-5th graders in to the classroom! Obviously being outside is much more fun than being inside, but we worked hard to come up with a fun activity to make up for it.

We decided to start one of our very favorite topics…. GEOLOGY!

To gauge how much our students understand about geology, we began by talking about the three primary types of rocks- igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. As we discussed the different types of rocks, our students created a cool foldable to stick in their science notebooks.

After cutting, gluing, and drawing, our students had a neat way to remember the three types of rocks and the rock cycle.

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Next, in order to make this concept stick, we used crayons to model the rock cycle! Students began with crayons with no wrappers. These represented igneous rocks. Students used plastic knives to carefully weather the rocks into sediment.

This sediment was converted into a sedimentary rock by lightly pressing on the sediment to replicate the weight of water on it. Students used even more pressure, as well as body heat to transform their sedimentary rock into a metamorphic rock.

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Students working on transforming their rock

Finally, the most exciting step: melting our “rocks” into “magma” and letting them cool to form “igneous rocks”!

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This student “carved” his “igneous rock” into an arrowhead as if it were obsidian!

While I’m sure our students would have preferred to be outside, we made lemonade out of lemons and had a lot of fun learning about the rock cycle in all three classes! The best part: now our students have the background knowledge for our next outdoor trip to be a geology hike!

Trivia in Tierra Amarilla

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.

 

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Discussing an answer
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Correct answers get big smiles
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Each team came up with their team name

Our students really enjoyed this game!

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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!

Watersheds and Erosion in Tierra Amarilla

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.

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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.

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The runoff from each sample was slightly different.

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!

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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.

Exploring the Brazos River

Our 5th and 6th grade students from Tierra Amarilla Elementary have spent the last few months exploring and collecting data from the Rio Chama in Los Ojos. Last week we decided that it was time to head to a tributary of the Rio Chama, so we spent a gorgeous, sunny afternoon exploring the Brazos River.

The first part of the day was spent hiking along the river and comparing the Brazos to the Rio Chama.

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Our students are always excited to get outside and explore!

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We found quite a few differences in the Brazos and the Chama, including the size of the stream, the surrounding vegetation, and the physical characteristics of the stream.

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After students had a chance to explore the area, we pulled out our GPS units. Students learned about latitude and longitude the last time we were at Tierra Amarilla Elementary, and this time we moved on to finding our latitude and longitude.

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After students reviewed how to find the coordinate for their latitude and longitude, we split up into teams. Each team was tasked with finding something really cool (such as a beehive or an unusual rock). Teams found the coordinate of this item and recorded it on an index card, along with a clue as to what the item was.

Next students learned how to input a waypoint and use the GPS to navigate to that specific waypoint. This took a little trial and error!

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Adjusting the coordinates for a waypoint

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Most of the students were able to find their set of coordinates and identify the object for which they were searching!

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Excited about using a GPS!

Understanding how to find a specific location using the GPS is an important skill so that our students can tag our scientific data with the location at which it was collected. Our students are now prepared to do this!

Learning Latitude and Longitude

As we discussed last week, it’s very important for scientists to tag the data they collect with the exact location at which it was collected. We do this with a GPS unit. GPS stands for Global Positioning System. This system uses a network of satellites to pin down an exact location.

In order to understand and use the GPS system, it’s important to have a good grasp on latitude, longitude, and how to read coordinates. Last week our 5th and 6th graders at Tierra Amarilla Elementary learned all about these concepts.

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Students created “globes” and wrote in lines of latitude and longitude
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We began with the Equator and lines of latitude.
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We followed up with a discussion of the Prime Meridian and lines of longitude.

After creating our globes, we practiced finding locations on a map of the world using latitude and longitude.

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Once everybody understood latitude and longitude, and all students were able to find locations on their globe and map, we pulled out our GPS units.

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How does this thing work!?
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Walking around the playground and watching our coordinates change

By the end of class our students could use the GPS units to find their current coordinates and then explain what those coordinates mean in terms of latitude and longitude. We are now prepared to tag our scientific data with its GPS location!

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.