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What's Living in the Water?

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Keywords: Microscope, water quality, environment, video, observation, climate, weather
Subject(s): Video, Podcasting, Life Science, Earth Science, Information Skills, Biology, Photography, Science, Journalism
Grades 6 through 12
School: Christensen Middle School, Livermore, CA
Planned By: Regina Brinker
Original Author: Regina Brinker, Livermore
Students learn about our local ecosystem by regularly visiting a pond, making observations about the biotic and abiotic items found, and collecting data on water quality and weather.

Before the outing: Teach about biotic and abiotic items found in an ecosystem. Discuss the relationships among these items. Students can practice locating and naming biotic and abiotic items by taking a short video on the school grounds using the Flip Video Camera. Using the Flip Video editing equipment, students can create a short report naming the biotic and abiotic things around school.

It is important that the teacher scouts out the area first. Are any hazards seen? What is the best area for viewing wild life? Is this school, public, or private property? What living things might students see? Create a PowerPoint presentation of birds, insects, fish, plants, trees, etc. that might be found on the trip. This will help students know what to look for on the outing, and help students correctly identify what they see.

Also: teach water quality measures, if equipment is available. Measures may include water pH, water conductivity, water temperature, and dissolved oxygen content.

Review water sampling procedures and camera use with students. Assign student teams and assign roles.

At the pond: The first job of the students is to observe the surroundings. What biotic (living) things are present? Look high and low to include birds, butterflies, insects, worms, fish, and amphibians. Students should create a written record of what they see, and also video the items. Students next need to identify and video the abiotic (nonliving) things found in the area. Back in the classroom, students will be asked to describe (through an interview on the video and/or a written report) how the living and nonliving things influence each other.

If time and supplies allow, take water quality measures. Take an air temperature at the site. Record this data.

Collect several samples of water. Seal the collection jars. Label location of each collection. (Taken from the bank or center of water?Taken from an area with plants, or open water?)

Back in the classroom, observe water samples under microscopes. The teacher first uses the computer microscope to show students what they are looking for. Provide a macro-invertibrate key for students to use and practice identifying specimens. Students then create a slide using samples of collected water. When interesting specimens are found, the student may share with the class by using the computer microscope. This will be much more effective that having an entire class try to get a glimpse into the "cool thing" seen in one student's microscope!

Repeat using other samples.

Students should record which organisms are found and how many of each kind are found in the samples.

If possible, visit this site during different seasons of the year. Compare results. Discuss how seasonal changes and local changes (amount of rain or snow. Increase in the number of people using that waterway for recreation. Runoff from flooding, irrigation) affect test results and the number and kind of macro-invertebrates found.

Safety notes: Signed permission forms are needed to take students off campus. Arrange for chaperones for an appropriate adult to student ratio. Review safety procedures with both students and adults before the lesson. Review consequences for breaking safety rules. Carry a cell phone, and make sure that the office has your cell phone number and the exact location of where the class will be.

I collect water samples and don't have students going into the water. You need to assess the habitat and judge if students can safely collect water samples or not. Persons collecting water may want to wear gloves. Students may need shoes or boots that can get wet or muddy.

This lesson is used in middle school environmental science and Earth science classes but can be adapted for other grades.
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
May create a poster, written report, web page to describe the observed environment. Include photos and video. If the site is visited more than once, create graphs for each category of data to compare results from visit to visit.
Repeat seasonally to observe environmental changes and cycles.
Materials: Flash Memory Camcorders, Microscopes
Other Items: 2 Flip Video Camera, $150 each, total of $300.00
1 Computer Microscope, $187 each, total of $187.00