Citizen Scientists: Monitoring Macroinvertabrates

Bethany Filipow joined Red Oak our first year. I remember in her interview she talked about bringing "citizen science” - the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists - to the school. This fall she conducted a study with some of our students that explored that concept. The following is her reflection. - ROCS Blog Editor

“Over the summer, thanks to support from the Red Oak Professional Development Fund, I took part in week-long workshop to earn my professional certification in Environmental Education (EE).  In addition to attending the workshop, I will need to complete a series of independent projects designed to refine EE skills over the course of this school year. 

Towards the beginning of this school year I created a series of 3 lessons that focused on the use of macroinvertebrate populations as indicators of environmental pollution.  Macroinvertebrates are organisms that have no spine but are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. Examples include flatworms, crayfish, snails, clams and insects, such as dragonflies. We began the unit by introducing different types of macroinvertebrates and dividing them into pollution tolerance level (tolerant, semi-tolerant, and intolerant).

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Students conducted a mock stream survey monitoring  sample where objects such as beads, rubber bands and paperclips represented the different species.  Groups took turns using dip nets to scoop up the different organisms and classified them into groups. Each team of scientists recorded their data in charts and analyzed their findings to determine the health of their sample streams.  The students found a greater diversity of organisms the higher their streams scored in the health index.

Next, students used their gross motor skills in a tag game that modeled the impact that pollution has on stream organisms called “MacroInvertebrate Mayhem.”  Students wore tags that represented the organisms they represented.  If they were an intolerant species such as a caddisfly, mayfly, or stone fly they had a hindrance in their ability to cross the playing area safely such as having their feet tied together or having to stop for a push up every five steps. Tolerant species could get tagged over and over by pollution and not be impacted.  Over time the group saw how the diversity and health of the stream changed. 

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We also discussed the sources of both point and non-point pollution. Students were given a piece of land and one million dollars to develop as they wished. Later the class fit their development plans together and discussed sources of pollution that may be present in their plot.  Students learned about the concept of a watershed and saw how the water downstream was impacted by everyone's activities. 

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Groups were also able to explore this concept with an enviroscape model that showed how natural forces such as wind and rain can introduce pollution into our storm drains and eventually watersheds.

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Finally, we tied everything together by applying our skills in conducting a real life bioassessment of our local watersheds.  Students identified the different species that found and used recorded their findings at Big Darby Creek Metro Park and a ravine close to the school. They used their data to tabulate a score.  The group was happy to find a large diversity of organisms in the Olentangy River which indicated a healthy ecosystem for the macroinvertebrate population.”

melissa frueh