How can living organisms help to determine water quality?

Lisa Hawthorn, a 7th grade science teacher at Lakewood Middle School, used Feed the World water quality lessons during a hydrology unit. They began with the biotic sampling lesson to introduce the idea of what lives in a healthy stream. Hawthorn said, “This was a great hands-on way to illustrate this as we could not go to a stream in person. I also color coded the “streams” to give the students a visual cue that they were looking at macroinvertebrates from different streams.” Students then recorded their responses on their biodiversity index sheets and discussed how looking at living things in the water could indicate water quality.

Chemical tests analyzed the abiotic components of the stream in order to determine the stream’s overall water quality. Hawthorn said the students particularly enjoyed the hands-on aspect of these test. “Somehow dipping test strips and adding drops to look at color change were very exciting to them—better than looking at bugs.” The group tested four different sites.

Discussion with the students brought out questions such as, “What amount of pH is ok for living things?” and “What are nitrates?” The Quality Conclusion form helped to start answering those questions. It encouraged the students to look closely at the data gathered and begin drawing conclusions, something that seems to be difficult for many 7th grade students.

Hawthorn noted, “I think next year that I might have students complete some research on their own about water quality. They wanted to say that high numbers of anything were essentially bad water quality and low numbers were good water quality. Dispelling that myth took a little bit of work.”

Hawthorn hopes to use these lessons again next school year and also incorporate the Soil and Sustainability and some of the Feeding the World lessons. My partner teacher and I are working on a Project Based Learning idea of introducing the environmental problems facing Buckeye Lake near us, how farmers and families could lessen runoff to the lake, and what could happen to the lake if these issues are not addressed, so water quality is a very relevant topic.