Life in a River Valley learning about watersheds and stream chemistry

Our claim is:

Students apply what they are learning about events and issues happening in the world beyond the classroom to create products that serve to educate others and advocate for the common good.

These are the Four Rivers schoolwide learning targets that help frame student learning in this expedition:

Ninth graders at Four Rivers take part in an expedition that is focused on watersheds, stream chemistry and water quality in the Pioneer Valley. Our students team up with students at the Springfield Renaissance Expeditionary Learning School to investigate the sources of pollutants and the differences in water quality in streams running through an urban areas vs those running through a rural area. Four Rivers kids assess two local streams for water quality and Springfield Renaissance kids assess two streams near their campus. The students' assumptions about which streams are cleaner are tested by the collection and analysis of data. They also do a study of watersheds to get the big picture of the ecosystems of river valleys.

Students conducting fieldwork at a brook near our school.

Four Rivers students study both watersheds and stream chemistry as part of their Environmental Science class. Here is a link to the assessment plan with standards and learning targets. This plan is printed as a poster and is posted on the wall in their classroom, allowing them to see the big picture of their learning goals.

The students worked to master this standard: "Students can explain the relationship between topography and land use and explain how these factors influence water quality" After a series of lessons focused on the features of watersheds, the vocabulary used to describe them, and how to read and apply their understanding of topographical maps, students complete this exit ticket about run off and land use.

Here's a snapshot of teacher assessment for learning practices that supported student mastery of knowledge and skills: in response to student observations comparing two brooks, their teacher saw where they had some misconceptions and created a mini lesson designed to get them started on designing their own watershed, making sure to teach explicit content that would increase their understanding of the concepts. When she designed the summative assessment that had students design their own watersheds, she drafted questions relating back to the learning targets in the assessment plan and the content of the mini lesson. At Four Rivers, assessment plans are shared with students so that they can track their progress throughout the duration of an investigation.

Along with studying watersheds, students also worked on this Stream Chemistry standard: Students can analyze pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, phosphate, temperature, and macroinvertebrate diversity of local streams to develop their own conclusions about water quality and stream health.

The hands-on stations were the first introduction to the concepts of stream chemistry. During mini-lessons, in response to readings, and during small-group discussions, students took notes in graphic organizers. Students then completed an exit ticket to show their understanding, and then worked on stream chemistry scenarios, which they completed before April vacation. After vacation, students checked in to see how much they remembered of the information they learned before vacation. They completed a short survey to indicate the degree to which they felt confident about their knowledge: mild, medium or hot. After reviewing target concepts they didn’t understand, student took the stream chemistry test.

Students look for macroinvertebrates in water samples

As part of their fieldwork for this investigation, they collected water samples and looked for macroinvertebrates.

They then chose one to study in more depth and created a report. Throughout the investigation, they collaborated with the 9th grade science class at Springfield Renaissance Expeditionary Learning High School, sharing data about water quality. As a culmination, Four Rivers 9th graders traveled to Springfield to take part in a water quality symposium, where both groups shared their information in a day-long series of presentations. Four Rivers students also stenciled storm drains in town to help raise community awareness about the connection between run-off and water pollution. This expedition culminated with students using their learning to educate others and act for the common good.

Here is an indication of the extent to which students mastered the standards, as shown by gradewide achievement data:

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