CAPSTONE: Hudson-Raritan Estuary Field Research Data Collection at the Bay Ridge EcoDock (3 of 3)

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Students will be able to 1) collect data from field research sites; 2) identify factors in the environment around the field research sites that would influence collected data; 3) assess the health and biodiversity of an oyster cage; and 4) articulate potential future directions for citizen science work in the Sunset Park neighborhood.

Big Idea

Citizen science projects along the Hudson river contribute to a fuller understanding of the health the estuary system. How does data collection help scientists and designers in develop a more complete picture of the needs of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary?

FRAME: Citizen science field research

How can we contribute meaningful to a citizen science project in our community? What skills and knowledge will we need for participation? How can we draw conclusions from the data we collect? How can we use the citizen science experience to support the design of similar projects in the Sunset Park Community? This unit CAPSTONE allows students to apply their develop skills and knowledge to an actual citizen science project in New York City: The Billion Oyster Project. Students have previously learned about this project and developed critical analyses of the project design. Now they will have an opportunity to directly participate in the Billion Oyster Project and more fully develop competencies as community-based environmental scientists. In order to successfully engage with the Billion Oyster Project, students will develop a more comprehensive understanding of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary system, acquire field research skills, collect data in the field, and debrief the experience. Ideally, participation in the Billion Oyster Project would be a year long experience that would also incorporate data analyses and community advocacy. See this REFLECTION for an explanation of why this outcome was not possible and how this curriculum developed in a different direction.

PLANNING NOTE: For planning guidelines for a full day trip see this description from the Food Unit.

Here is an overview of this lesson sequence:

Experience 1: Hudson-Raritan Estuary Place-Based Empathy

Students develop a framework for citizen science work conducted in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary system. The goal is for students to understand the broader context of the Billion Oyster Project. This is what we call having empathy for place. What are the needs of the environment? What can we do to make sure these needs are met. Students begin with an introduction to estuaries. What is an estuary? Why are estuaries important? Students then explore a map of sites participating in some form of citizen science research along the Hudson River. What kinds of organizations participate in citizen science work? How might the location of work impact collected results? Why is it important to conduct citizen science work at multiple research sites? Students then refine their initial ideas about data collection in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary through rigorous explanation of the importance data collection for scientific research and environmental stewardship both locally and globally. Finally, students consider the needs of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary and suggest types of data that should be collected to better meet those needs.

Experience 2: Hudson-Raritan Estuary Water Testing Presearch

Students become familiar with the various tools, skills, and procedures that they will use during their citizen science field research experience. There are two primary competencies that students will need: 1) the ability to collect data related to the conditions of water in the Hudson River and 2) the ability to gather baseline assessment data from an oyster cage residing in the Hudson River. Students begin with a “hopes and fear” that allows for students to express their feelings about citizen science research. What are you excited to do? What are you worried about? Next, students observe a citizen science field research program in Australia and develop an understanding of the behaviors and skills required to be successful. Students then spend the bulk of the period learning the data collection procedures required for field research. These procedures include water quality testing, wind testing, tidal flow reading, biodiversity measurements, and oyster growth readings. Once students have finished this data collection skill “deep dive” they share understanding with each other through a “four corners teach-out.” This gives students an opportunity to share understandings of the data collection processes. Finally, students end with short presentations of the most important behavior they believe will be necessary for successful field research. This behavior is one that students believe will meet the hopes and minimize the fears expressed previously.

Experience 3: Hudson-Raritan Estuary Field Research Data Collection at the Bay Ridge EcoDock

This full day field research experience requires students to travel to a field research site in Bay Ridge, haul necessary equipment, work in collaborative student scientist teams to collect data, conduct a community survey of factors potentially affecting the field research site, make meaning of the experience, and consider how the citizen science field research framework might be applied to a local Sunset Park environmental stewardship initiative. It is a rigorous and exhausting experience. Students begin with a review of the schedule for the day in collaborative student scientists teams. They then gather field research supplies and travel to the Bay Ridge EcoDock. En route to the research station, students make observations of the community, looking specifically for factors in the physical environment that might affect the field research site. Once on site, students collect data from the EcoDock field site through a station rotation model. These stations include oyster cage assessment, water quality testing, Hudson-Raritan Estuary survey, and weather variable recording. After students collect data they explore the shoreline area near the EcoDock research site, again observing environmental factors that might affect the data collected from the field research site. Finally, once students return to the school site, they make meaning of the field research experience and suggest ways to adapt the citizen science framework to the Sunset Park community.

By the end of this CAPSTONE project successful students will have met the following objectives:

  1. describe an estuary
  2. explain how multiple data collection points allow us to develop a fuller empathy for place
  3. connect environmental science data collection with problem definition.
  4. surfaces hopes and fears related to field research
  5. derive a conceptual understanding of field research through observation
  6. practice testing field testing procedures in a classroom environment
  7. turnkey understanding of field research assignments
  8. identify highly important field research behaviors.
  9. collect data from field research sites
  10. identify factors in the environment around the field research sites that would influence collected data
  11. assess the health and biodiversity of an oyster cage
  12. articulate potential future directions for citizen science work in the Sunset Park neighborhood

RESOURCE NOTE: The attached PROTOTYPE ACTIVITY GUIDE might be modified for classroom use or used as a template for field research experiences.

FLIPPED: Orientation

BEFORE the trip, students complete the first page of the PROTOTYPE ACTIVITY GUIDE and review their research responsibilities. By the end of this assignment, students should be able to identify the location of the Bay Ridge field research site, describe the guidelines to follow for an effective an enriching field study experience, and identify the specific assigned research responsibilities.

ORIENTATION + TRAVEL: Transport and site observations

60 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students review the expectations and schedule for the day with the supervising teacher and then travel to the research site. During transit to the research site, students observe the field site and the surrounding area and make inferences about the physical environment. By the end of this activity students should be able to connect at least one element in the physical environment of the neighborhood that could influence the area around the Bay Ridge EcoDock.

What will students do?

First, all students will meet for 30 minutes in the science classroom. Each research group will receive a bucket with supplies necessary for assigned research tasks, directions for conducting research tasks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and activity guides with clipboards. Each team spend five minutes checking that they have all required materials. 

Second, each student group will share out the tasks that they will complete and students ask any clarifying questions that they might have.

Third, the teacher reviews expectations, the schedule, and the travel plan with the class. This will include a projected map of the path to and from the research site.

Finally, students take the subway to the neighborhood of the field research area and then walk to the waterfront. En route, students observe the physical environments of the neighborhood and identify factors that might influence water quality, such as liquid runoff emptying into the sewer system. Understanding factors that impact data is important for students as they compare collected data with other research sites.

RESEARCH: Citizen scientists at work

150 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Student teams conduct assigned research protocols and collect data. By the end of this section, students should have collected data for each area of assigned research. Students have unique research assignments for water quality tests; all students will conduct data collection for the Billion Oyster Project.

What will students and the teacher do?


Research responsibilities are outlined in the PROTOTYPE ACTIVITY GUIDE. The first task will be for students to find an area in the field research site where they can conduct research.

Here is a picture of the field research site. This is a long pier with many areas for students to collect water for testing. However, this is a public space that is popular for recreation and fishing. As such, students and teachers may need to spend the first 10 minutes on site identifying appropriate research areas. This may require negotiation with other people enjoying the pier.

Once students have found a research space, they can begin the research process. This process will be student-centered. There are only two guidelines:

  1. Mistakes are inevitable. If something breaks or a test does not seem to work out do not worry. ALL SCIENTISTS MAKE ERRORS IN THE FIELD.
  2. Many mistakes are avoidable. ASK THE TEACHER if you are not sure about something.

Students need to understand that they will not be perfect; they also need to understand the importance of asking for help if needed.

The teacher will circulate among research teams for the first 30 minutes or so to ensure that all questions are answered and to assist with any questions about procedures. Because students have already worked through the procedures during the previous lesson, there are generally few questions about process. Students will want validation that they are collecting research correctly, but few will genuinely need help with data collection protocols. Research station may end up looking disorganized; teachers may need to remind students to clean up stations.



After this time, the chaperone(s) should manage the research teams while the teacher takes the oyster cage from the EcoDock and brings it up to the pier. The teacher should be prepared to clean away debris so that students are able to easily access the oysters.

Once the cage is ready, student groups will conduct data collection in 20 minutes blocks. For this, students will follow along as the teacher models data collection procedures from the Billion Oyster Project Gardening Manual (starting on page 62). When all students understand how to identify species and count and measure oysters, they will collect data until it is time for the next group. 

PUBLIC INTERACTION NOTE: The oyster cage will attract a lot of attention from bystanders. This can be an excellent opportunity for students to teach others about their work. During the first trip out, a class of elementary school students was also doing research on the pier and the high school students had an enriching experience teaching the younger students about citizen science.


During the last half hour, groups collect any last data necessary for their work and clean up stations. If students finish early they can work on the "Post-Trip Reflection" questions.

SHORELINE EXPLORATION: Confounding variables

60 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students again explore the area surrounding the Bay Ridge EcoDock and identify variables that might impact the data collected.  By the end of this section, students should be able to explain how one aspect of the Bay Ridge community might impact collected data.

What will students do?

Students will take a guided walk along Shore Road, including Owls Head Park and Owls Head Wastewater Treatment plant. This walk mirrors the initial ORIENTATION + TRAVEL activity. Students will observe the physical environment and look for factors that might influence the data collected. What elements of the environment that you can observe might impact the data that you collected? An example connection might be something like this: "There is a wastewater treatment next to the pier. I wonder if there is runoff from the plant. I think that this would increase the amount of coliform bacteria in the water. And maybe this would make it harder for oysters to grow."

DEBRIEF + CHANGING COURSE: Overcoming obstacles

What happens next?

Participation with the Billion Oyster Project was planned as a fundamental experience for this course. Students were supposed to collect data every month throughout the year, upload data to a central database, compare data with other research sites, conduct inferential statistical analyses, and develop presentations about this work for the wider Sunset Park community.

Unfortunately, none of this happened because the research site was damaged during a storm. Here are two emails from contacts at the Billion Oyster Project explaining the situation:


Good Morning Instructors,

During the extreme winds and waves this weekend the gangway to the Bay Ridge Eco Dock sustained severe damage.  The Eco Dock is currently inaccessible and must remain closed until the necessary repairs can be completed.

We will keep you updated on the progress of the repairs and look forward to having your programs on the Eco Dock again soon.  


Dear Bay Ridge Eco Dock program partners,

The gangway providing access to the Eco Dock from the American Veterans Memorial Pier located at 69th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn sustained structural damage which necessitated its removal. Engineers have inspected the gangway and feel that the connection point of the gangway to the pier needs to be redesigned.  The Eco Dock is presently closed and will reopen once this work is complete.

We do not have an available timeline for the completion of this work at this time.  We will continue to keep you informed as updates become available, and we look forward to hosting your programs on the Eco Dock again.  

Thank you.

The Environmental Justice Unit that follows was developed to fill the gap left by this unexpected event. While it highlight many of the themes that would likely have emerged from students' work with the Billion Oyster Project, it does not use student-generated data. This is one of the most glaring shortcomings in this course. Citizen Science was intended to be one of the pillars. Instead, it become an impossibility after only one class trip.

There are, of course, other opportunities to do this kind of work, but the Billion Oyster Project partnership took a great deal of time and energy to establish and manage. It simply was not possible to shift to another project during the middle of the school year.

What were the intended next steps?

For interested educators, Columbia University has some excellent lesson resources that might be used in a unit with as similar CAPSTONE experience.