Water quality study gives iSchoolers a look at real-world science

In iSchool last week we learned that change is coming to Forestville’s Atrium Pond. This presented a great opportunity to do some real-world science and environmental monitoring.  Not only were we able to get outside and do some field work before winter sets upon us, but we also did a standard procedure in real-world environmental monitoring: we established baseline control values before any major changes were made.

Sampling the pond's water quality.
Sampling the pond’s water quality.
We learned that Forestville Elementary School is installing a small water fountain in the pond in the Atrium.  The machinery is in, but the fountain is not yet operational. This development is very interesting to those of us who have been working in the Atrium and have been with iSchool for a while. You may remember that in the Winter of 2014 iSchool students tested the water quality of the pond and found that oxygen levels were low. Students proposed ideas that included circulating water and pumping oxygen into the pond’s water – just as the fountain may do.  We also did an experiment in the Spring of 2014 to test if a bubbler would increase oxygen in pond water – read the experiment here and read about the results here.
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To test the efficacy of the fountain at improving the pond’s water, we did our standard series of water quality tests. Since these tests were done before the fountain is operational, they will serve as a baseline for comparison.  We will test the pond’s water quality after the fountain is turned on to see if it changes the results. Students found few pollutants (low nitrate and phosphate, and neutral pH), but turbidity was high and dissolved oxygen levels were low. Using the test result (4 parts per million (ppm)) and the temperature (16 degrees Celcius), students used a table to find that the water was only holding 41% of the dissolved oxygen that it could be holding – a low number.  We will continue monitoring the pond’s water quality and will work on developing real hypotheses about the impact of the water fountain that we can share with students at Forestville.
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While we were outside in the Atrium we chatted about its use as an outdoor Classroom.  Most students said they use the space infrequently.  iSchool strongly believes in outdoor learning, so we set right out working with students on ways to improve the outdoor classroom.  We used methods from Design Thinking. First students had a round-robin brainstorming session, where students drew ideas for improving oxygen levels on sheets of paper that were circulating around a circle. Then they used clay and recycling to make 3-D prototypes of ideas for making the outdoor classroom more interesting.  One student’s idea was simple yet showed a great grasp of reality: she designed a slide, “so that students would want to come out to the atrium.”  Even the youngest among us know that when learning is fun, it can be done!

A prototype slide for getting more children outside into the Atrium.
A prototype slide for getting more children outside into the Atrium.