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.

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


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.

Atoms and Molecules in TA

Chemistry is a very important science, and many aspects of our lives have been changed by past discoveries related to this field. It also seems to be a fairly intimidating science for many high school students. We feel that it’s very important for students to experience Chemistry before they get to high school. Last week we ventured into this field with our students at Tierra Amarilla Elementary.

We discussed the periodic table, atoms and elements, and how atoms can combine to form molecules.

Students “building” an atom with felt protons, neutrons, and electrons
Discussing electron placement
By the end of the activity, we had some pretty complex atoms!

Our 6th graders were familiar with the idea of atoms and molecules from last year, so with these students we also discussed molecules and introduced concepts that will be important to stoichiometry.

Creating “glucose” (C6H12O6) trail mix, using different ingredients as the elements needed for this molecule
Chlorophyll requires even more “elements” than glucose!


After building “atoms” in groups and learning how combinations of elements can produce different molecules, each student had the opportunity to create their own edible model of an atom using an apple for the nucleus and raisins for electrons.



Some of our students built very complicated elements!


By the end of class our students had a pretty good understanding of what atomic number means and how atoms combine to form molecules. This knowledge is a good basis for starting to learn about water quality in our next session!


Exploring the Rio Chama with Tierra Amarilla

Last week we joined our students from Tierra Amarilla Elementary at the Rio Chama in Los Ojos for our first adventure of the year exploring this unique riparian habitat. One of the many benefits of working with so many schools along the Rio Chama is that by collecting data in multiple locations we are getting a more complete idea of how healthy this critical watershed is and how water quality parameters change from season to season.

Since this was the first time the 5th graders in the group have been to this river with River Classroom, we used the day to explore the area.

Creating a map


Using a compass to add a compass rose to the map


We also discussed wader safety and hopped in the river to see if we could find any benthic macroinvertebrates. We’ll spend a great deal of time discussing and counting these aquatic insects later in the year, but for now we began learning basic identification.



We had a wonderful day on the river, and we can’t wait to check out this location again in a few weeks to get started measuring water quality parameters!


Meet our 2016-2017 River Classrooms: Tierra Amarilla Elementary

Next up on our list of River Classrooms for the 2016-2017 school year: Tierra Amarilla Elementary

We began working with Tierra Amarilla Elementary School last year, and once again we are meeting with all of the 5th and 6th grade students. This year the students we taught in 5th grade last year have moved up to 6th grade, and we have a whole new crop of students who have moved up from 4th grade. Working with students for two years in a row allows us to develop relationships with these fantastic kids and helps solidify the concepts that we teach in River Classroom.

Introductions outside on a gorgeous day
One of our favorite activities: polluting and then attempting to clean water
A student ponders how to clean her water sample
Attempting to filter polluted water
Some filtering solutions work better than others!
Graphing the amount of fresh water on Earth

We were really impressed by how much our 6th graders remembered from last year, and we were excited by how quickly the 5th graders caught on. Once again, this group continues to ask wonderful science questions.

Now that these students are familiar with some basic concepts about water, where pollution comes from, and how difficult it is to clean water once it gets polluted, we’re ready to head to the river to begin water quality testing!

Summer Science Camp #3

Our summer camp at Heron Lake was a new addition to our summer camp line up this year, and it was a great success! We had eight fantastic kids from Chama and Tierra Amarilla who joined us to learn about science and enjoy the habitats of Heron Lake State Park.


We spent Monday and Tuesday at Heron Lake State Park, learning about our surroundings and the ecosystem. Of course, we played in the lake quite a bit.

Exploring the different types of trees found at Heron Lake State Park
Kids get very excited about identifying scat!
We spent plenty of time enjoying the cool waters of the lake.
Learning to tie a new knot


Creating a compass scavenger hunt after learning to use compasses
This group was excellent at teamwork! Carrying boats to the water is hard work.
Gearing up for a canoe excursion
Tying up a canoe with the knot we just learned
Watching an osprey from the Heron Lake State Park Visitor Center
Learning about skull identification at the Heron Lake State Park Visitor Center
Practicing building emergency shelters


On Wednesday we headed north to the high country to visit the headwaters of the Rio Chama and discuss watersheds.

Hiking into the high country north of Chama
Learning how to cross a creek without getting your shoes wet
The “real” emergency shelter, built in the mountains!

On Thursday and Friday we returned to Heron Lake. We had an exciting camp out on Thursday night, complete with hot dogs, s’mores, and a telescope (through which we were able to see Saturn’s rings)!

Taking a break from the hot sun by painting
Setting up tents


We had a fantastic week. We are so grateful to our friends at Heron Lake State Park for helping us make this camp a reality, as well as to Century Bank for sponsoring this camp so that we could offer it at a price our campers’ families could afford!

Exploring a New Section of the Rio Chama

Last Thursday was our final outdoor adventure with our Tierra Amarilla River Classroom. The Rio Chama has gone up considerably, and so we decided to explore a new area of the Rio Chama. We headed out to Cooper’s to check water quality and do some exploring.

Headed out for a hike along the river
Studying the physics of skipping rocks
Pondering the beauty of the Rio Chama
Watching some Canada Geese cross the road with their babies
Taking turns on the bridge across the river



We had a fairly long hike, and along the way we discussed plants along the river (particularly willow), beaver, the importance of insects, stream gauges and how they work, why the water level is higher than it was last time, and how leaving lead sinkers on the river bank can cause lead poisoning in wildlife. We also picked up a lot of garbage!

Next we returned to the other side of the river to test water quality.




Our students will add these water quality numbers to their posters for their presentations at our Open House!

We had a great last class session outdoors. These kids are absolutely fantastic scientists. They have mastered the powers of observation and asking questions to explain what they see. We’re very proud at how much they’ve learned this year!


Graphing data in Tierra Amarilla

Last Thursday we headed back up to Tierra Amarilla for a classroom day with our 5th and 6th graders at Tierra Amarilla Elementary. We’ve collected some great water quality data and identified some benthic macroinvertebrates since last fall, and we took this opportunity to create graphical displays of our data that we can present at our open house event.


Beginning a poster is always the most difficult part!











It’s no surprise that these students are wonderful scientists. We’ve learned that about them over the course of the year. Presenting your findings is a very important part of the scientific process, and these students buckled down and created some absolutely wonderful displays of their data!






Each poster display was a little different. Students decided to use number lines, histograms, tables, and figures to display their data. These kids are excellent scientists, and we’re proud to present their work to the community at our open house!