When I began teaching, I knew I wanted to do something that would take the students out of the classroom. Our school was right next to a creek. My husband was an aquatic entomologist and I was familiar with how he used macroinvertebrates to determine the health of rivers. So my students and I began a study of the Koshkonong Creek.
Over the years our study has grown. We are just about to publish this year’s data. The cool thing about this project is that we are telling a story. Each year a new group of fifth graders writes a new chapter in the story of our creek. I remember the year a dam was removed. The overall health of the creek dropped drastically. It took four years for the creek to recover. Even now, 8 or so years later, the health of the creek is not what it was before the dam removal. We have had years of extremely high water (sort of like this year!) in which we could not measure the velocity of a riffle nor a pool.
Some years we fished garbage out of the creek. I will never forget pulling a television, bicycle, laundry cart, and chair out and setting them on the side of the road for our village workers to pick up. We’ve brought back shells to put in our classroom frog tanks. The oddest momento though, is a doll we found half submerged. We brought her back and she hangs in our classroom with dried duckweed in her hair – a creek mermaid of sorts!
The students will of course remember who fell in! It seems that every year someone took a spill. Thank goodness the creek is not very deep. And yet … once your waders fill up, you’re wet through and through! They will also remember getting stuck in the muck. In certain years, the banks were muckier than others!
Of course, I hope they remember that scientific observation doesn’t cost a lot of money, and yet can yield great information. We can wonder things and then figure out a way to seek the answers to our own questions. And the big one …. learning doesn’t only happen in a classroom – it happens wherever one’s curiosity surfaces!
What an honor to be included in the National Geographic Geostory on Citizen Scientists! Please click on the link above to see the story.