Our 4th Grade Watershed Year
By Dan Sylvan and Lauren Holloway, 4th Grade Teachers at Green Woods Charter School
From zip lining through Fairmont Park, raising and releasing trout in our local waterways, and trawling the Delaware Bay, the fourth grade really is A Watershed Year of learning at Green Woods Charter School.
We begin the year with team building exercises led through Outward Bound, developing a deep sense of our own, classroom community. Once established, we embark on a study of our greater community focusing on our local waterways, integrating science into every subject, including civics and government. Eventually our journey leads us downstream as we explore regional impacts on our waterways, ending up at Cape May for a full day of field study of the Delaware Bay.
This year we were fortunate to receive a generous grant from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited, which added even more hands-on explorations to our watershed year. The grant allowed us to raise trout, from eggs, in our own classroom! We started raising the trout in November and then released healthy fingerling trout in May at the mouth of Mill Creek.
Over the course of the year, students took responsibility for removing dead eggs and monitoring the water quality by measuring pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels. Students were also responsible for feeding the fish and cleaning the tank.
As we were raising trout in our classroom, the fourth grade was also working with new partners - the Lower Merion Conservancy and the Philadelphia Water Department - to conduct stream testing on Mill Creek. While at the Conservancy, we took water quality measurements and attempted to emulate them in our 55 gallon “Trout Tank” so that when released, the fish would experience a minimal amount of stress. Of the 120 eggs we began with, 72 survived and made the successful transfer to a natural ecosystem. We were told by the experts that this is remarkable!
Together, LMC and Green Woods also developed a new history unit that meets Pennsylvania standards while focusing almost entirely on regional water history.
A large part of this project involved learning about area mills and dams, and then delving into a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) unit where we designed, tested, and revised the engineering of our dams and waterwheels based on observable data. Students ended the history portion of the partnership by recording video about the different historic sites at the conservancy and making an app with them. View the videos here: http://sylvanswatershed.wordpress.com/history-of-rolling-hill-park/
On May 19th, we will embark on our annual trip to Cape May where we will do horseshoe crab counts during their annual spawning. Students will learn how they are an important species for the medical field and a necessity for migrating shore birds such as the red knot. The red knot is a unique shore bird that travels from the southern tip of South America to Northern Canada twice a year. This bird covers approximately 9,300 miles, making its stopover in Cape May for nourishment. They feast on horseshoe crab eggs at the exact moment this spawning occurs.
Nature is amazing! We also take a 3-hour tour on a boat where students trawl for species in the Delaware Bay. As student scientists, we will be assessing the biodiversity of the bay in much the same way we have used seine nets to identify and count the diversity of macro-invertebrates in Mill Creek.
Just as watersheds start small and feed into one another, the fourth grade year grows from understanding and exploring the local environment to a regional perspective with students building on the skills and ideas they have learned and applying them to new situations. The students gain a strong foundation as they prepare to expand their learning even more as they tackle the topics of global land, global air, and global water in 5th grade.
This watershed year is a journey in learning that our students will never forget.
Note: Green Wood Charter School’s participation in the Trout in the Classroom program was made possible through a partnership between the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) and the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited (PATU). Thank you!