Bloom­ing­ton stu­dents per­form creek checkup

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News - By Brit­tani How­ell The Her­ald-Times

BLOOM­ING­TON — “If you’ve never picked up a cray­fish be­fore, watch care­fully.”

It wasn’t ex­actly a nor­mal or­der to hear in a high school class. But then, Amanda Figo­lah’s AP En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence course is no or­di­nary class.

Bloom­ing­ton High School South stu­dents fol­lowed Figo­lah out of the class­room and crossed the street, walk­ing to Clear Creek. Wear­ing wad­ing boots, armed with wa­ter test­ing kits and clip­boards on which to record data, the stu­dents sam­pled wa­ter and caught aquatic crit­ters (ex­cuse me, “macroin­ver­te­brates”) to gauge the health of the stream.

Us­ing their kits, stu­dents tested for ni­trate or phos­phate, for the pres­ence of E. coli and for other in­di­ca­tors of wa­ter health. It’s part of the class’s hands-on ap­proach to en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence, but get­ting stu­dents into the stream also has a big­ger fo­cus: par­tic­i­pa­tion in a ci­ti­zen sci­ence project.

Af­ter gather­ing their data, Figo­lah said, the class will up­load their find­ings to the Hoosier River­watch data­base, which is free to ex­plore for any­one who is cu­ri­ous or con­cerned about the health of lo­cal wa­ter sources. If peo­ple have data, and can un­der­stand what’s hap­pen­ing in lo­cal wa­ter for them­selves, then they can de­cide what to do to pro­tect it or im­prove it, if needed.

Af­ter gather­ing their data, the stu­dents write com­pre­hen­sive re­ports about Clear Creek and what they dis­cov­ered in their tests.

“They have to think about how sci­en­tists weight data, so which pieces of data are im­por­tant in how you would rate a wa­ter source, and then they make rec­om­men­da­tions for its use. Should we be fish­ing and eat­ing the fish? Should we be recre­at­ing in this wa­ter?” Figo­lah said. “That ba­si­cally gives them real ev­i­dence with­out a true right an­swer, so they can use crit­i­cal think­ing skills.”

Usu­ally Clear Creek’s chem­i­cal tests come back pretty clean, Figo­lah said, and the stu­dents found plenty of fresh­wa­ter crit­ters whose pres­ence in­di­cated good wa­ter health. They spent the last por­tion of class hunt­ing for cray­fish, yelling in de­light when they found spec­i­mens un­der rocks and caught them up in their nets. Seven or eight of the cray­fish went into a plas­tic tub un­til the end of class. Figo­lah demon­strated the best way to pick up a cray­fish by pinch­ing lightly just above its legs, and how to flip the cray­fish over and de­ter­mine its sex. Then, be­fore stu­dents walked back to class, they let their spec­i­mens go.

Aside from the value of hands-on learn­ing, and aside from the value of con­tribut­ing open-source data for other lo­cal sci­en­tists, spend­ing a few class pe­ri­ods out­side — wad­ing in streams, catch­ing cray­fish, en­joy­ing the clear weather and fall sunshine — is fun. Figo­lah said stu­dents tell her all the time that the pe­ri­ods spent col­lect­ing wa­ter out­side are their fa­vorite lessons.

The project cre­ates an “in­trin­sic con­nec­tion with where they live,” as do its fol­low-up ac­tiv­i­ties, she said.

Af­ter wa­ter col­lec­tion, the class al­ways comes out for a cleanup day to get rid of trash that might have fallen into Clear Creek. Even­tu­ally, Figo­lah plans to adopt the stream through the city of Bloom­ing­ton Util­i­ties Depart­ment’s “Adopt a Stream” pro­gram. In that case, the stu­dents would come out to do test­ing and clean­ing more of­ten.

“If we don’t con­nect to the nat­u­ral world and we don’t un­der­stand it, we won’t work to pro­tect it,” Figo­lah said. By get­ting her stu­dents out­side and in­volved with the nat­u­ral world in their own back­yards, she hopes to en­cour­age those con­nec­tions.

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