Earlier this week our 7th-10th graders from the Española Public School District took advantage of the gorgeous spring weather and ventured out to Pilar, New Mexico to explore a bosque ecosystem along the Rio Grande.
The bosque of the Rio Grande is a lovely and unique environment that encompasses the riparian forest and floodplain around the river. Willows and cottonwood trees are common native vegetation, although invasive tamarisk has taken over in many areas.
We began the day with some time to explore and take notes about this ecosystem and its characteristics.
Students practiced making objective observations of several trees in the bosque.
Because of the recent warm temperatures and melting snowpack, the Rio Grande is running pretty high. The nearest stream gauge reported a discharge of around 1200 cfs, and the water level had been steadily rising.
After a quick lunch break, students hiked up to a bench in the Rio Grande Gorge. From this perspective we had a fantastic view of the bosque ecosystem, as well as the rocks that surrounded us. We discussed the geology of the area and the Rio Grande Rift.
After all of this exploring, we needed a break in the shade. We took advantage of one of the gorgeous group shelters in the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument to rest in the shade and fill out our ecosystem worksheet. We spent some time comparing this ecosystem to the others we’ve visited.
We had a fantastic trip, and our students now understand a great deal about the bosque ecosystem. Next month we’ll be on to a different location!
In order to be a good scientist, it’s crucial to understand the difference between subjective and objective observations. And what better way to learn the distinction than going on a nature hike?
Since it was a cold winter morning, we spent the first part of it warming up by walking along the Rio Chama with Miss Katherine leading the way. Miss Katherine would stop to point out numerous environmental features and asked all the students to make one subjective and one objective observation.
Miss Katherine also showed us how to identify male and female plants of juniper trees (Juniperus spp.) and four-wing saltbush (Atriplex canescens). So what would be an objective observation? Female plants have seeds/fruits, and male plants have pollen. What about a subjective observation? The female plants of four-wing saltbush have beige-colored fruits.
Another cool trick Miss Katherine taught us was that Juniper trees have flattened leaves with scales while pine trees have needles instead of leaves. This is an objective observation. How about a subjective observation? Pine trees smell better than juniper.
Then, she asked the students to go on a short scavenger hike and find one native species, one invasive species, and a duck. Everyone was able to find the first two items, but there were no ducks to be seen on this chilly December morning.
Along the way, we met a USGS employee who briefly explained to the class what her job involves and the various water samples she was going to collect from the river. The students understood and were familiar with some of the tests she was performing because they have conducted them themselves!
Before the hike concluded, we asked the class, “Why is it important to collect data?” There were many great answers such as: to get detailed information of what’s in the area, to know exactly what’s here so that we can compare over time, so other scientists can see your data. BINGO!
After lunch, we made our very own water depth measuring sticks out of PCV pipes. Each student got a segment of pipe almost one meter long, then the students were instructed to mark their sticks at every 10 cm by putting electrical tape around the pipe.
Since it was still chilly after lunch, we split our student scientists up into 2 groups: those that wanted to go into the river and those that would rather not.
The ‘aquatic’ group geared up for wading through the river and measured water depth with their new measuring sticks. This involved spreading out across the river, measuring the distance from shore, using the 10 cm marks on the stick to estimate the water depth, and calling the number back to the official data recorder waiting on shore. We’ll be graphing this data in our next class session.
Our ‘terrestrial’ group happened to be made up of students who missed the GPS treasure hunt we conducted in our last class. This time the teams found a land feature and marked it as a waypoint, then switched GPS units with another team. Each group had to find the waypoint/land feature. The students really enjoyed this activity!
For our next class we’ll test just how much we’ve learned up to this point with a fun game of Jeopardy, so stay tuned!
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.
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.
After a quick break for lunch, it was time to pass out the waders!
A few of the students from last year began to pick up rocks and look for benthic macroinvertebrates.
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.
Another fantastic Summer Science Camp has come and gone, and once again we had an excellent group of kids! This camp was held at Abiquiu Lake, thanks to our partnership with the US Army Corps of Engineers. Campers came in from Santa Fe, Española, and Abiquiu to explore the habitats of Abiquiu Lake and learn some place-based science. This week was particularly hot, and we were fortunate to have the lake as a place to cool off!
We had a fantastic week of camp. Why can’t we do this every week? Thanks to The Pantry Restaurant for their generous sponsorship of this camp. We wouldn’t be able to do this without our sponsors!
We do have one more science camp taking place this summer at Heron Lake State Park near Tierra Amarilla, and this camp still has a few openings! If you know a child in the area who would like to participate, send them our way.
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.
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!