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!

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!


Chama Elementary at the Rio Chama

Exploring new places is always exciting, and exploring a new stretch of the Rio Chama with our students from Chama Elementary was a fantastic experience! Many of our students have been fishing at this particular location with their families, but this was their first time to view this river with the eyes of a scientist.

First time in waders and headed to the river
Discussing the river


For many students it was their first time in waders. We discussed wader safety and headed on in! We also began picking up rocks and looking at benthic macroinvertebrates. Later in the year, students will survey and count these aquatic insects.

Benthic macroinvertebrates can be found by picking up rocks in the river.

We also took this opportunity to discuss maps and location. Students made observations about several different types of maps before creating their own maps of the area we were exploring.

Carefully considering a physical map of New Mexico


Drawing a compass rose on a map with a compass
Drawing maps

We also reviewed compass skills. These will be really important later as we move on to latitude and longitude.

This was our first trip into the field with the students from Chama Elementary. We all had a great time at the river, and our students are prepared to begin some serious data collection on our next trip!

Meet Our 2016-2017 River Classrooms: Española Public Schools

Next in the line up for our 2016-2017 River Classrooms is our group of 4th-6th grade GATE students from the Española Public School District. This is a really unusual group because the students come to us from all of the elementary schools in the district. Not only are these students learning important science skills in an outdoor setting- they’re also learning to collaborate with other students from other schools!

Our first meeting with these students was on the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam. Flows on the river make scheduling a little tricky in the fall, but we wanted our students to get the feel of walking in the river in waders, and it’s a beautiful time of year to begin exploring this riparian habitat.


Our first activity was for students to create a map of the area by the river.

Working on a map
Each group included slightly different features on their map
A few students included a compass rose, so we had to refresh our compass skills to make sure that north was drawn in the correct direction.
A gallery stroll to examine all the different maps

After a quick break for lunch, it was time to pass out the waders!

Lining up for waders
This was the first time in waders for many of the students!
After a review of wader safety rules, we headed for the river.


A few of the students from last year began to pick up rocks and look for benthic macroinvertebrates.

Checking out some midges and mayflies
We also found some caddis houses
Not everybody was excited to find leeches!


We had a great first experience wading in the river, and after this introduction to benthic macroinvertebrates, we are ready to begin surveying next time.

As always, these students from Española and the surrounding area are a fantastic group. We’ve been working with students from this district for five years now, and the students continue to impress us. This will certainly be another great year of River Classroom.

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!


Great Minds Think Alike

The school year is winding down, and this week we said goodbye to another one of our River Classrooms. Our 4th-6th grade students from Española met one last time at the Rio Chama to test water quality, collect benthic macroinvertebrates, and review everything that we’ve learned this year.

Everybody was excited to get waders on once again!


Aspirating our Kestrel weather sensor to get an accurate air temperature
Taking GPS coordinates and measuring water temperature



Reviewing our benthic macroinvertebrate findings

Our review activity was one final River Classroom challenge! It consisted of 15 tasks, such as find an invasive plant, name it, and find its GPS coordinates.


Discussing the challenge
Recording GPS coordinates


It was a wonderful day to end the year, and our brilliant students did a fantastic job on their final challenge. We were very pleased with how much they’ve learned this year!

We’ll see these students again in the fall!