5. Water we up to???
Hey, everyone! It’s another busy week down here in Oregon for me. One of the Oregon EFTA interns, Araceli, is staying with me at my bunkhouse for the week! She’s stationed at the Hebo station which is 100 miles north from my site, but is visiting our neck of the woods (no pun intended) to get an idea of how we run things down here so she can share it with her site. She picked a great time to visit, as things are picking up down here in terms of field trips! Can you believe I’ve participated in three field trips in the last few days? It’s a treat working with all the middle schoolers down here and sharing my knowledge with them. They’re all so smart! I’m blown away at how knowledgeable they are and the observations they make when we go outside. My favorite one thus far was the field trip at Knowles Creek where Araceli and I teamed up to lead a station for a fourth grade field trip this past Wednesday. That event is still so clear and vivid in my mind…*leans back in chair and reminiscences about that day* Ahhhh! What are you doing in my head?! Wait, how did you even do this? Is this even possible?? *calculates quantum physics formula, contemplates the realm of the human mind, reads results, shrugs* eh, seems feasible. Anywho, come and relive those me memories with me. *heads into my memories*
On Tuesday, Araceli and I tagged along with Vicki Penwell to Knowles Creek for a fourth grade field trip. Knowles Creek is a stream located 12.6 miles from the city of Florence and it’s a great destination for fishing. It’s the perfect location to set up stations to teach kids about stream ecology. The four stations focused on macroinvertebrates, fish, the riparian zone, and water quality. The field trip’s structure was that the fourth grade class was broken up into four groups, one for each respective station, and there was a rotation every 45 minutes until completion. Vicki, Araceli, and I were in charge of the water quality station focusing on salmon. We focused on five factors that can be tested to assess the water quality of a stream: temperature, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, pH, and velocity. It was imperative that Araceli and I pay attention on this day because we agreed to lead the station for another field trip the following day without Vicki *gulps*. Pressure was on! Vicki was great, and we learned a great deal from her. We took notes on the topics she discussed and key points to highlight during the presentation. As a practice run, Araceli and I led the last group with Vicki overseeing us. The result: we did pretty well for our first try! Vicki said we did great, gave us some pointers, and boosted our confidence. At the end of the day, Araceli and I went home and worked on the presentation by reviewing Vicki’s notes, researching our topics further, and discussing the presentation. By the end of the night, we were confident for tomorrow.
Okay, the day is here, Wednesday! Araceli and I arrived early and quickly discussed the battle plan and decided to switch after each group to ensure that we both presented an equal number of times. To measure temperature, we placed two thermometers in trees (one Fahrenheit and the other Celsius) and one in the water, for kids to measure and discuss how they were related. They guessed that the air temperature affected the water temperature, and we told them that salmon preferred cooler water due to its containing more dissolved oxygen. Turbidity stumped the kids at first, since they didn’t know what it meant. When I asked for a volunteer to take a guess at what it could mean, there was nothing but silence *hears crickets*. They all let out a huge “ohhhhhh” once I told them the answer (it’s a fluid’s level of clarity in case you were wondering) and that salmon preferred clear water when hunting and cloudier water for egg concealment. We asked them to observe the creek’s turbidity and each group was quick to notice that the creek had various levels of clarity. Very astute kids, for sure. After wrapping up the observations, we returned to our table a few meters away and continued with the next topics: dissolved oxygen and pH!
This section allowed the kids to be more hands-on. We started off by teaching them that dissolved oxygen is the concentration of gaseous oxygen dissolved in water, and that we are going to test the stream to determine its oxygen levels. Our weapon of choice was a sealed glass capsule, called an ampoule. It contained a liquid that undergoes a chemical reaction when it comes in contact with water and catalyses a color change, which is used to measure the levels of dissolved oxygen in a fluid. They were ecstatic at hearing this. We obtained a small sample of the creek water, went over how to properly break open the ampoule (safety first!), and then waited for the color change. Their awe over the color change was contagious. Everyone excitedly pointed to their ampoule and discussed the various shades. We all agreed that the creek water had high dissolved oxygen levels! After safely disposing of our ampoules, we moved onward to pH.
It was fun teaching pH. When we asked the fourth graders if they knew about the pH scale, they responded with silence once again. But, they surprised me when I asked if they knew the components of water. Most of them knew about hydrogen and oxygen, and it was smooth sailing once we taught them that the pH scale is a measurement of hydrogen ion concentration. It was more clear once we gave them examples of acidic and basic (or alkaline) substances, orange juice and soap respectively. We had some mystery solutions in small cups and had them dip pH strips into each one to determine the pH level. Each solution displayed acidic, neutral, or alkaline responses. We then revealed the identities of the solutions to be vinegar (acid), tap water (neutral), and chlorine (alkaline). Now that they had an understanding of the pH scale, it was time to test our stream water. We obtained another sample of the water and had one volunteer dip the test strip into the sample for 10 seconds and observe the change in color. The strip was compared to our pH chart and we determined that it was a 6 (very close to the neutral range). We informed the kids that salmon prefer neutral range water and they shouted, “the water is great for the salmon!”. After cleaning up, we had one more topic to teach them, and it was probably the funnest one! Time to measure velocity!
We now made it to our final topic. We asked the middle schoolers if they knew what velocity meant, and followed it by the clue, “Does anyone watch the flash?” With this, they tapped into the speed force and instantly raised their hands to answer our question. “Speed!” was their resounding answer. Boom! They got it! Araceli and I further clarified it by stating that it’s the measure of distance over a given time. Now came the fun part, measuring velocity. We split the group into two and took one group to the stream’s bank and the others went to the bridge overlooking the stream (50 feet away). One fourth grader would toss a spruce cone into the water and their partner would tell me to start the stopwatch when the cone hit the water and stop it when it went underneath the bridge. I found it hilarious that each group took this opportunity to make a race out of it! The group with the fastest time was proud and made sure to share it with everyone. Oh, to be a kid again and make a game out of everything :). We headed back to our table, and Araceli and I discussed the importance of stream velocity by asking them, “Do you think salmon prefer fast or slow moving streams?” Surprise surprise, they saw through our trick question and guessed that both velocities were equally important. “Salmon prefer fast streams when traveling and slower streams when resting or spawning,” is what we told them. And with that final piece of information, we were done with one rotation!
We conducted a small wrap up of the event to reiterate what we learned. We quickly went over all five topics and highlighted the importance of testing many factors to determine water quality. One factor doesn’t tell you everything; you need variation to fully assess the health of a stream to gauge its impact on the living organisms that call it home. At the end we asked the kids, “So, do you think Knowles Creek has good water quality for fish?” Everyone shouted an emphatic “YESSSSS!”. As the last group walked away, I couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief. We did it! Araceli and I were able to handle the 45 minute long rotations! As I sat down and took a sip of my coffee, I realized that we had one more field trip for tomorrow. I let out a sigh and thought about how tiring it would be, but at the same time I was looking forward to the event. It was another opportunity to share the awesomeness of science with the kids. With that thought, I drank some more coffee and began packing up to head home.