Conn., we decided to address the latter issue by designing a two-year program
for local high school students that introduces them to their other neighborhood,
the Connecticut River watershed. Through a series of outdoor excursions and
activities, these students gain exposure to earth science as a problem-solving
discipline in a challenging and supportive atmosphere that focuses on watersheds
and water quality.
Deirdre Brickhouse of Hartford, Conn., and Sarah Basiaga of Rocky Hill, Conn., sit by the side of the Hockanum River in East Hartford, just upstream from its confluence with the Connecticut River. They are preparing to test water samples for dissolved oxygen.
Where do the fish live? Can we eat the fish? Is it safe to swim in the water? Through the Connecting With the River program, one of our goals was to enable the students to answer their most basic questions. We took samples from the Connecticut River, its two Hartford area tributaries (the Hockanum and Park rivers), and coves and ponds adjacent to or feeding into these rivers. We plotted sample locations on U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps. Water-quality data was collected using chemical techniques (titration and colorimetric analysis with Hach and Lamotte kits) and Vernier probes interfaced to TI-83 calculators.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, Connecting with the River,
initially targeted students attending the Greater Hartford Academy of Math and
Science (GHAMAS), a magnet high school. GHAMAS, in its second year of operation
in the academic year 2001-2002, is a relatively small high school with a combined
enrollment of approximately 120 students in the 9th and 10th grades. Students
attend the school for half a day, taking only math and science classes; other
courses are taken at their home high schools. Half of the students live in Hartford
and the other half come from 11 other participating towns, primarily suburban.
Participating school districts are also eligible for outreach programs coordinated
through GHAMAS. The advantage of working with GHAMAS students is that they or
their parents have already expressed an interest in science and math and have
more extensive backgrounds in these fields.
The program originally planned for two groups of about 15 students to participate in a two-week summer program in 2002, continue with meetings and field trips during the academic year, and complete their activities this summer. We initially planned to recruit students who would be entering the 10th grade because they would already have had a year of high school earth science. Because these students were also too young to qualify for part-time salaried employment, they would likely be more receptive to an unpaid academic summer program.
Our first obstacle was student recruitment. Despite attending all six 9th- and 10th-grade classes and parent meetings to describe the program, despite sending program brochures to science teachers and guidance counselors in participating school districts and to families at these schools who had previously shown interest in enrichment programs, and despite expanding the applicant range to students in grades 8 through 11, we received just nine applications (five from GHAMAS, three from non-Hartford public schools and one from a Hartford Catholic school). Eight young people enrolled in summer 2002 and seven completed the first two-week program. Four were minorities; the three non-minority students were female.
While developing the program, we had forged a relationship with Riverfront Recapture, an urban revitalization organization with a focus on the Connecticut River. They had organized summer programs for students in previous years. Through them, we met with administrators from the Hartford public schools and were able to organize a second Connecting With the River program at Bulkeley High School in southeast Hartford for students who came from a wide variety of academic backgrounds. Students received one high school science credit from the state of Connecticut and a stipend of $20 per day. This second program ran for six weeks (the longer session was necessary to receive the science credit). During the first four weeks, the program was based at Bulkeley High School and was organized by their science faculty, with guidance from us. For the last two weeks, the Bulkeley students attended GHAMAS, where we taught the classes in conjunction with the high school teachers. Sixteen students who were entering grades 10 through 12 participated. Fourteen were ethnic minorities, and the two non-minority participants were females. Fourteen students completed the program.
Collecting and analyzing data
Although the students had not yet taken chemistry, we gave them the scientific
basis for understanding the testing procedures. We used the Water
Quality Index (WQI) to determine which measurements to make. This index,
developed in 1970 through the National Sanitation Foundation, is based on measurements
of temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, phosphate, turbidity, coliform
and biological oxygen demand. The values are scaled and different weights are
given to various measurements depending on their importance; for example, dissolved
oxygen receives more weight than turbidity. This constitutes the WQI, a number
with no unit, ranging from 1 to 100. Higher numbers indicate better water quality.
We only measured the first five parameters and rescaled the values to generate
our own WQI.
Prior to going into the field, students learned the importance of each type of measurement and practiced measuring techniques. The laboratory work was particularly important because most of the students had spent very little time outside and were not comfortable being outdoors. One student, for example, was terrified of a butterfly that landed on him.
Students compiled collected data into a spreadsheet. At the end of the first week, we divided the students into small groups of one to three; each group selected one of the water-quality parameters to focus upon. We challenged them to become experts, to learn more about the measurement process, interpret the data and prepare to present their findings. During the second week, we continued to collect samples and visit new sampling locations. Our activities included a boat trip on the Connecticut River.
The last afternoon was devoted to a formal presentation of student results, followed by a reception. We invited parents, though few attended, and each student received a certificate and a copy of The River Book by James G. MacBroom.
A detailed assessment of the programs first-year activities is under review for the Journal of Geoscience Education, but our initial evaluation indicates it was a success. We were particularly encouraged by the responses from the students, who told us that they had developed a greater appreciation for science, the rivers around Hartford, and the issue of pollution and how it impacts them. The majority of the students also indicated that the program would help them in subsequent science classes and that they would like to continue. All would recommend the program to another student interested in science.
Field trips and mentoring
Five field trips during the 2002-2003 academic year helped the students stay
in touch with each other and strengthened the connections that had been forged
during the previous summer. They toured the Boston Museum of Science and watched
an IMAX movie; visited the Norwalk Maritime Center, where they visited Long
Island Sound to sample four different marine environments; took a coastal environment
walk along the mouth of the Connecticut River; visited an aquarium; and spent
an evening at Wesleyan University that included dinner in the student cafeteria
and a presentation about astronomy and star gazing. About eight students attended
From the original two groups, nine students took part in the second summer program, which ended just weeks ago. This summers focus was twofold: increasing the sophistication of data collection and analysis, and teaching the continuing participants how to mentor the middle-school students just entering the program. Joining the program were approximately 80 students entering the 7th and 8th grades at the Two Rivers Middle Magnet School in East Hartford, located at the confluence of the Hockanum and Connecticut rivers.
During the first week, the high school students reviewed measurement parameters and learned new techniques for some of the parameters because we no longer had access to the Vernier probes and TI-83 calculators. Over a two-day period, the high-school students showed the middle-school students how to take each measurement. They established an immediate rapport with the younger students and found their own confidence and authority growing in their new teaching roles.
In the second week, all the participants went out on the Connecticut River in boats to collect samples and perform WQI analyses. The high school students also gathered samples from the mouth of the Connecticut River and observed river flow and salt wedge dynamics. The program ended with another tour of Wesleyan University this time to learn about the college application process, check out financial aid, and explore the world of opportunities that await them if they choose earth science for a career.