Youth are talking about water quality in northeast Michigan – Part 1

Youth are learning about and engaging in monitoring and discussing water quality across northeast Michigan.

Youth across northeast Michigan have spent time outside the classroom this spring and fall through place-based education projects collecting water quality data to be shared across the region through the National Geographic FieldScope Great Lakes site. Youth collected both biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) data incorporating inquiry and experiential learning through partnerships developed within the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLS).

For abiotic (non-living) factors

Youth began by discussing four key questions:

  1. What are abiotic factors?
  2. How are abiotic factors important to the ecosystem?
  3. How do they get into the water?
  4. What level of each parameter do you think we will find today (high, moderate, low)?

Youth used the Lamotte Pondwater Tour to test for the abiotic parameters of ammonia, nitrates, dissolved oxygen and pH.

Inquiry facilitators helped youth determine the possible sources of the four abiotic – physical – parameters and asked students to make careful observations of land uses around the water as well as upstream. Youth considered the locations of golf courses and farms which are potential sources of nitrates and ammonia. They made observations about the stream bed or lake bed looking for decaying branches, leaves and other debris (detritus) that could contribute to nitrate or ammonia levels. In conjunction with dissolved oxygen testing, they observed the amount of plant life and available sunlight. Finally, youth were asked about the industries and activities within and around their community that might impact pH (the measurement of how acidic or alkaline the water is).

For biotic (living) parameters

A modified version of the MiCorps Steamside Biosurvey was used by youth to record biotic data, concentrating mostly on aquatic macroinvertebrates. Youth used dip nets to collect the macroinvertebrates then sorted them into ice cube trays for counting and identifying. The Key to Macroinvertebrate Life in the River , which was developed by the University of Wisconsin Extension, was the main resource for identification. While engaged in their exploration of aquatic macroinvertebrates, youth learned about the life cycle of dragonflies, complete and incomplete metamorphoses and predator-prey relationships involving macroinvertebrates.

Through the use of inquiry and experiential place-based education, youth in northeast Michigan have gained a deeper understanding of their community and they have played a vital role in monitoring one of our precious resources, the Great Lakes.

To learn more about inquiry and experiential learning, visit the 4-H National website. To find ways 4-H youth can explore STEM fields, visit the Michigan State University Extension Science and Technology page. 

For more in this series:

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