In this lesson, students are working outdoors at the stream. We make observations, conduct tests, and record results on the stream bank. Prior to walking to the stream site, I review our science safety contract and discuss expectations for safe, productive outdoor learning.
When we arrive at the stream site, I gather students into a group to provide directions for observation time. I inform students that they should make observations of the water, land use, vegetation, and weather. I ask them to record evidence of animal habitation. I also require students to make a map / drawing of the stream site. Students record their observations on their stream monitoring journal. An example of a student stream map can be found here.
Prior to arriving at the stream site, I place students into 'stream teams'. These groups will work together on water quality testing throughout the year. Each time we visit the stream, students will have the opportunity to conduct a different test of water quality so that by the end of school they have had the chance to conduct each test. When I group students, I create groups of with students of varying ability levels. This provides natural support for struggling learners. I place students into groups with four to five students so that every student has the opportunity to have their ideas heard and to actively participate in the testing process.
After each student has had the opportunity to record their observations, I gather the student to distribute test materials and give directions. Each stream team conducts one test of water quality. The tests we use at the stream site are: dissolved oxygen, nitrates, phosphates, turbidity, pH, and water and air temperature. We also collect a sample which is cultured at our lab for fecal coliform. I provide students with directions for their test kit and remind them of the importance of accurately recording their test results (including labels).
I release student groups and ask them to find a safe space to conduct their tests. Each group follows the written directions that accompany their tests and records results on their stream journals. A sample of a student's completed journals can be found here.
Students finish their tests at different times, so as they finish, I ask them to share their results with other stream teams. This gives all students a productive task to engage in as they finish. The nitrates test takes approximately 20 minutes, so this group is usually the last to finish. When all student have finished their tests, I gather students together to share their tests results with the whole group. It is my goal that each students has a complete set of test results recorded in their journal before we begin walking back to class. I also provide students with the chance to share observations with one another.