We are doing a 4 class unit on watersheds, water quality testing, field work, and data analysis. We were fortunate enough to be able to work again this year with Kate Delehunt from Blue River Watershed Association to implement their Teaching Rivers in and Urban Environment program (T.R.U.E. Blue), which is a grant-funded science education project that was originally developed for the Blue River watershed in the southern portion of the Kansas City metro area. This program teaches about how stuff that we put into the environment (wastewater, trash, leaking oil from cars, fertilizer, etc.) can travel down hill with rain water and end up in our streams and rivers. There is one day of contextual info on watersheds, then a day on the chemical methods we are going to use, followed by a day of field data collection, and finally a day of data analysis. It was really an eye opener for some of the kids that trash they see in their own parking lot could end up in the stream behind their school that feeds into a river where we get our drinking water.
Last year, we looked at two sites on Muncie Creek… Eisenhower Middle School did the upstream and Coronado Middle School did the downstream (data available here). This year we only did Eisenhower, but we hope to keep this relationship running in future years.
Well, the in-class sessions went well. The kids didn’t remember how to do the tests the next week after their training, but that is pretty normal. At least they had seen the equipment before. They were excited at the idea of getting out of the classroom and doing something different. All was well, until…
The morning of our sampling day it was about 35ºF. Uh oh. It had warmed up to about 45ºF by the time we actually got to the stream. Now, the students all were told to wear warm clothes and shoes that could get muddy, but… well… some didn’t. And, it was cold. We quickly realized that we had to separate the boys from the girls, because they started huddling together to “stay warm.” Umm… no. That’s not going to work. So, we split them up.
We had a morning session with about 70 kids and an afternoon session with about 60. Mrs. Loeffler had worked out the schedules with the other teachers in her team so that the kids could have 2 hour blocks of time and still fit into the regular lunch and class schedule for the day. We had 2 stations in the morning – one for the T.R.U.E Blue water chemistry and one to do some physical measurements that we could use in conjunction with a math class later in the year. Originally, we had hoped to have plenty of volunteers to help with the large groups, but as it turned out not everyone could make it. This is pretty common, I guess, so we just rolled with it. We had 2 volunteers for the physical habitat/biological station (Adam Blackwood from the Kansas Biological Survey and I) and 5 for the water chem (Kate, Mrs. Loeffler, Pam Wysenbach, and 2 BRWA volunteers). The boys went with Adam and me to do the phyhab & bio, while the girls went with Mrs. Loeffler, Pam, and Kate to do the water chem. After about 45 minutes, the boys and girls switched. Too many kids, too little equipment, and too advanced a task for my part. In the afternoon, we added a “nature walk” to reduce the numbers in my group and to let us get a little better use of the equipment. That worked better.
In general, the boys wanted to roam around, explore, talk, bump each other toward the water, all things I imagined would happen. No big deal. The girls were also excited to do most of that, but were generally a little more hesitant to step on rocks or get close to the stream. Still, some of the girls were climbing around more than the boys. A few kids complained they were cold, or that they didn’t want to get their new kicks muddy, but it was ok. We toughed it out, for the first rotation.
BUT THEN IT HAPPENED.
Did I mention it was cold? Yep. When we switched stations in the morning, the girls came to do the physical habitat/biological sampling. Some had gotten their shoes wet doing the chemistry. Most had cold hands and ears and noses. I had a couple of girls tell me they were not going to do it. They told me they were done. Not stepping on that rock. Not doing anything. Too cold. This sort of thing spreads very quickly, it turns out. For the most part, they did very well. Just a couple were very cold. So, I pointed out to them that moving would keep them warm. Nope. I pointed out that they were standing in the shade, but it was sunny over here where we were doing work. Nope. They wanted to go back up the hill and wait up there. I pointed out that down by the stream it was warmer, because we were out of the wind. Nope.
Now keep in mind that we did have another staff member with us who we could send kids to sit with, and there were definite rules and consequences laid out before hand, reiterated, and repeated throughout the day, so if things really had gotten out of hand, we’d have just shut it all down. We were prepared if it came to that. This was to my mind one of those semi-justifiable complaints that come up every now and again. I decided to take a democratic approach once we had done at least part of what I had hoped to do.
In the end, we abandoned the original plan, and I just started asking them questions. I asked them why they thought parts of the stream were like they were and what did *they* want to know. Things went smoother, and after some discussion and a vote, we cut that station’s work short by about 10 minutes, then went up and stood in the cold, windy, shade. Mutiny averted. At that point it was their choice to be cold. So it was better.
The afternoon was beautiful. Sunny, about 65ºF . With that and the change in rotation, things went much smoother.
Kate and the T.R.U.E. Blue side went well both sessions. They really have their system down, and the added training & volunteers helped. Mrs. Loeffler and Pam, who is a UKanTeach student & current student teacher at Eisenhower, also helped keep things smooth over there.
Next time, the physical habitat and bio sampling station/s will need more help and more equipment, so that we can have more hands on in small groups. Also, I’ll probably need to be a little less ambitious with the number and technical requirements of the measurements I plan to take. Over the course of the day, I wanted to get at least 5 cross-sections of the stream with slopes between them using surveyor’s instruments. Instead, we got one slope and a couple of bank angles. It will work, but not as well as I had hoped. We can still get some additional measurements later if necessary.
Lesson learned: do your field work inside? 😉 I kid, I kid.
On a serious note, Kate has asked me for ideas on how we might be able to evaluate the learning outcomes of field work like this, so if anyone has specific suggestions we would be interested.