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What’s in the Water? Students Wade in to Learn

Lab Class Analyzes Health of Buck Creek Watershed


Southeast Kelloggsville teacher Lynnea Roon lifted up a vial containing water that had turned abright blue, taken from a portion of Buck Creek that flows through the schoolyard.

“That’s a lot of phosphate!” a fifth-grader observed.

With net in hand, Karissa Cummings walks through the creek

Next she showed a vial of water tested for nitrates that had turned a light shade of pink. “It’s not crazy bright red, so that’s good,” Roon said.

Related Story: Students Pitch in to Catch Critters, Improve Pond – Fourth-graders had one task when they visited the pond behind the Wittenbach/Wege Environmental Agriscience Center building for a lesson in species adaptation: “If it’s alive and it’s moving,” naturalist Joanna Szawarski said, “put it in the cup.” That was all the direction Szawarski’s group needed to fan out with empty containers around the pond, which has been undergoing an expansion and renovation since the spring

On a recent sunny fall day, fifth-grade students trudged along the squishy creek bottom to collect water samples for analysis in Roon’s new Science Lab class. Roon received a $1,000 grant from the Michigan Water Environment Association and American Water Works Association Michigan Section for water-related activities. She purchased 13 pairs of rubber boots, 13 nets, microscopes and water testing kits.

“When we test water we are testing the health of the something called the watershed,” Roon told her students. “We want to make sure the watershed is healthy. We want to make sure water entering the watershed is healthy.”

Jimmy Nguyen examines a feather through a microscope

She introduced them to sources of water contamination like pesticides and fertilizers, water runoff from city streets and lots, factories, landfills and hazardous waste dumps.

Roon said the creek study ties in with a fifth-grade standard of learning about environmental impacts, and teaches students about being good stewards of the planet.

After collecting samples from the creek, students looked at them, and other items like leaves, feathers and creek creatures, through microscopes and tested the water for dissolved oxygen, nitrates, phosphates and pH level.

“What I like is I got to see if we could find anything weird in the creek that is affecting it,” said fifth-grader Oscar Ramirez. “It’s like we’re mini-scientists!”

They also learned the Buck Creek Watershed is part of the Grand River Watershed, which eventually flows to Lake Michigan. “What happens here continues down the river to Lake Michigan,” said fifth-grader Abram Merdzinski.

“I learned that if you put garbage in the water it can make all the animals sick and their species could die out,” said fifth-grader Denaly Hill.

Students get ready for their creek experiment

Reviving the Science Lab

Science Lab was reintroduced to the school last year after being cut five years earlier. The focus is on bringing to students hands-on, out-of-the-classroom experiences that align with Michigan K-12 Science standards, which are based on Next Generation Science Standards. Each class of third-fifth graders takes the course for one hour a week to enhance the science curriculum. They have also completed flower dissection, made marble roller coasters and will soon tend a greenhouse with tomatoes, cilantro and other vegetables.

“We are tryingto make science come alive,” Roon said. “There are so many students who don’t know jobs exist (in the science field) and that they can get out there and experience these things.

“They definitely get excited,” she added. “You can see it through and through with their smiles.”

A favorite phrase of Roon’s is, “When you do, you remember.”

“I try to give them experiences they take with them and remember,” she said.

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SNN Article on Michigan Science Standards

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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