Water Quality and Maps at Chama Elementary

Our River Classroom sessions are wrapping up for the Fall semester, and for our last class with our 4th and 5th graders at Chama Elementary, we planned two fun activities to end out the year.

Students divided into two groups for two different activities and then switched places. The first activity was to create a foldable to learn about the water quality parameters we’ll be testing on the Rio Chama later in the year.

Folding, cutting, and drawing lines

We reviewed each of the parameters one by one as students filled in their foldables. We also came up with practical examples of factors that affect temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, turbidity, and nitrate levels at the Rio Chama near the school.


Students were very proud of their foldables and did a great job remembering all of these new vocabulary words and what they mean for our local river.


The second activity allowed students to expand on their knowledge of latitude and longitude as well as other important ideas about geography. Students explored a variety of different types of maps (physical maps, road maps, political maps, topographic maps) and solved critical thinking problems.


Students applied basic math skills to calculating elevation change and used their imaginations to answer questions like “Find this latitude and longitude. What type of transportation would you be using to move through this area in January?”


Our students did a wonderful job at each of the activities, and we can’t wait to expand on this knowledge in the spring as we begin testing water quality and exploring new areas outside.

Testing Water Quality on the Rio Chama

Testing water quality is critical for knowing if the waterway is suitable for organisms to thrive; so this week, our class analyzed the water quality on the Rio Chama through multiple sampling techniques.

Before we began testing water quality, though, we had a surprise for the students …

When I’m not teaching River Classroom, I also work in the ICU at NMWC, so I brought along a juvenile male Cooper’s Hawk to release back into the wild. I explained the natural history and ecology of Cooper’s Hawks to the students and then it was time to set him free!

Once the excitement settled down, we split the students into 2 groups. The first group collected benthic macroinvertebrates using a 1m x 1m square net with 2 students holding it on each side. Then two other students go 2m upstream from the net and kick up macroinvertebrates from the substrate, while slowly walking towards the net. This mode of collection is a version of the kick-sampling method.

Kick-sampling in the Rio Chama for benthic macroinvertebrates
Finished sampling and now getting ready to start picking off the benthics

Students then removed all the macroinvertebrates from the net using forceps and put them into a collection jar with isopropyl alcohol for the teachers to count and ID at a later time. Each sampling site was given a separate collection jar and GPS coordinates were taken at the sites as well.

Picking off all the benthics from the net using forceps and patience 🙂
Checking out and trying to identify the various benthics collected from the kick-sample

The second group learned all the different components of testing water quality through a fun activity of making foldables! We explained each component (e.g. pH, conductivity, etc.), what units they are measured in, and gave a brief explanation/example.

Once that task was complete, the students collected several samples of water from the river so we could test the various components using Vernier water quality probes.

Miss Christy explaining how to safely and properly use the water quality testing probes
Testing a river sample and reading the measurement
All watching over the monitor and reading the values for a water quality test
Ranger Austin Kuhlman came to talk with us about the importance of testing water quality

The students switched groups after lunch so everyone got a chance to participate in both activities.

This was our first ‘real’ river sampling session, so students familiarized themselves with the numerous water quality testing techniques. The class will be conducting at least two more river samplings this year, so stay tuned for what happens next!

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.

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!


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!

Exploring the Banks of the Rio Chama

Last Wednesday was a gorgeous day, and we were finally able to get out on the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam with our 4th-6th grade River Classroom students from Española. We’ve struggled to get out on the river because until January 1, flows were much too high to be wading. Since January 1 it seems like every Wednesday has been bitterly cold. Wednesday was just right!

We started off by talking about wader safety for the kids that haven’t had waders on before.

Discussing wader safety

Soon we were heading out to wade across the Rio Chama.




Our goal was to explore an area across the river where we would like to build a wetland. We were looking for signs of animal life.

Exploring the proposed wetland area
Exploring the proposed wetland area

We found several paths created by animals, and we followed those to see what tracks we could find.

Looking for tracks
Following a path
Checking out a hole in the bank

We also learned about plants.

Discussing one of the many plants in the area.
A pack rat nest by a juniper


Rabbit scat!
Somebody had prickly pear for dinner
A beaver enjoyed this Foresteria

Soon it was time to head back across the river for lunch and measuring water quality.




Our students also got to learn a little about fish that live in the river from USACE Ranger Nathaniel.

It was another gorgeous day outside with our River Classroom students!