Friday, June 27, 2014

Playing in the Water? Or Collecting Data?

By Kira Marie Cazenave, USFWS Summer Intern

On a bright June morning, hearing the laughter of kids enjoying nature, it may have appeared to some that there was simply a group of kids enjoying the sunny day and playing in the Newaukum River in Chehalis, Washington. Yet while they were indeed enjoying the great outdoors, these students were actually collecting data on freshwater mussels and water quality. They were young 'Biologists-for-a-Day' and really seemed to enjoy it!
The group had two outstanding instructors - Teal Waterstrat, a USFWS biologist, and Kathy Jacobson, a science teacher with the Chehalis Basin Education Consortium. Teal and Kathy did a fantastic job of teaching the kids in a way that not only helped them learn a lot about freshwater mussels and being a wildlife biologist, but kept them interested and excited about the task at hand.

The kids were split into two groups. Group One got into the water with Teal, using their aqua-scopes to locate the mussels and count them. Each student picked up every fifth mussel to measure it quickly and then put it back in the water. Teal encouraged them to measure as fast as they could and cause as little disturbance to the mussels as possible (Mussels don't like to be taken out of the water!). Teal showed the kids how to walk together in a line down the river as a way to ensure they weren't counting the same mussels more than once.

Group Two went with Kathy to the edge of the river to talk about the quality of the water. The students observed the water to see if it was clear or cloudy, and then measured the temperature. Kathy pointed out various species of wildlife that were in the area which included some interesting aquatic insects – stoneflies, salmon flies, dragonflies, and some exciting birds – Cedar Waxwings, Hairy Woodpeckers, a Belted Kingfisher.

At the end of the day, Teal and Kathy led two more activities that were designed to help the students unwind and reflect on what they learned during their busy but enjoyable time in the water. The first activity had the students find somewhere comfortable to sit for a few minutes, close their eyes, and just listen with no talking. They were listening to the sounds of nature and relaxed peacefully after having a fun and exciting time learning about nature.
For the last activity of the day, the kids sat in a circle on the ground. Going round the circle, each student had to sum up their day in one or two words. Some of the words they came up with were:  “wet,” “mussels,” “cool,” “interesting,” “clear water,” “friends,” “data collection,” and - the word used most often - “fun!” They'd had a great time and it showed by the smiles that were on their faces for the entire day.

It was very rewarding to be able to see students go out into nature and be so engaged and interested in learning about it. They learned a lot about wildlife while getting a chance to interact with nature. Who knows? We might have some future biologists in the making!

Written by Kira Marie Cazenave, USFWS Summer Intern
Photographs by Kira Marie Cazenave and Dolores Weisbaum, USFWS Biologist