Tollgate education staff visited a 5th grade in Farmington Schools to kick off a yearlong investigation of the health of the waters that make up the Rouge watershed. We wondered why should we care about water quality? Why, as scientists, do we bother testing our water and what is our role in caring for our water? Lanigan 5th graders had excellent ideas about these questions, and many of them explained that water quality is important because all of the living things that depend on our watershed, such as plants, animals, and people!
After a time of brainstorming in the classroom, teachers and students met our education team at the banks of the Rouge to monitor the river and its health. First, the Bug Hunt involved using the Benthic Macroinvertebrate Survey process where we located and identified a great sample of the bugs and other creatures that live on the stream bottom. Benthic = stream-bottom, macro = large enough to see with the un-aided eye, and invertebrate = without a backbone. Using the number and type of creatures we found, we could calculate a score for the water quality of the stream. This data gives us a good understanding of how healthy the stream has been over the past 6-12 months. We also found some vertebrate friends; the Sculpins (fish) and the Green Frogs. They were great to see even if they don’t get counted in our water quality score.
Further down the bank, we encountered Watershed Wonderings, a wonderful experience along the river in an area that exemplified the watershed. We were able to look at the creek and determine which way the water was flowing and see how it flowed directly into the Rouge River. By seeing the topography of the land (the hills and the creek) first hand (sitting by the river) we were able to better understand how water flows through a water shed. Firsthand experience is always the best way to discover nature.
Next we did a Physical Stream Survey where we assessed the stream, making land use observations, recording the weather, estimating the riparian vegetation, and doing a habitat assessment. At the Chemical Testing Station, we looked at four different water quality indicators that each told us something about the health of the Rouge River – the pH, nitrate, phosphate, and turbidity and explored why each indicator is important to test for in our ground water.
Learning in this way is directly connected to place. Students are getting to know their own community, where their water comes from, and to care deeply about the health of the river. This place-based journey of learning has only just begun, but the 5th grade students and teachers are leading the way in our adventure-packed learning adventure.