Loranger Memorial School 6th grade Science Investigation- Is the Goosefare Brook a healthy ecosystem?

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Guest blog post by Laura Seaver-Maley, Loranger Memorial School, Old Orchard Beach

Our investigation revolved around the question, “Is Goosefare Brook a healthy ecosystem?”

To learn about Goosefare Brook we took an initial field trip to the source, Saco Heath, and then to the outlet into the ocean. Kimbark Smith, Chair of the Old Orchard Beach Conservation Commission, gave us a tour of the area and introduced us to phragmites. We read a news story about the bacteria polluting the Goosefare, and learned more from Meagan Sims, who works for Maine Healthy Beaches, who taught us about water testing. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) came in to teach us about air and water quality and introduced students to macroinvertebrates and what they can tell us about water quality. We did activities about biodiversity and the web of life, including There's a New Bird in Town to understand the impact of invasive species on an ecosystem. Then we focused in on the invasive species Phragmites. Through a jigsaw reading activity, students learned about its features and impact on ecosystems in Maine.

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Photo by Laura Seaver-Maley

Once students had the necessary background information and skills, I took each class out to a different area along the Goosefare Brook. At each location we did three major things: tested water quality, searched for and identified macroinvertebrates, and looked for phragmites and did biodiversity counts. Back in class, we compiled and attempted to analyze the data we gathered, and wrote up reports about our findings. In the midst of all this, we also participated in a beach clean up and stencilled storm drains to inform people that trash in the drain goes right out to the ocean.

Finally, students were challenged to share what they had learned with a new audience. They were given the option of sharing whatever piece they thought was most important—from water quality, to what they had learned about invasive species, to the importance of not littering. They could also choose the audience for their message. Although I was daunted by the open-endedness of it all, this ended up being really cool and I loved seeing the different directions students went with their projects. I also loved how invested most students were they were since their project was really up to them.

In their own words, here are some of the projects my 6th graders came up with:

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Photo by VS staff
  • "We wrote a letter to the town council about putting up little puppy stations, which is a pole and it has a mini trash can and holds poop bags. That helps so people don’t put poop bags in storm drains or poop in general in the storm drains."
  • "I taught my family that Goosefare brook goes to Ocean Park in Old Orchard Beach. We did a presentation and talked about the situation Goosefare was in and they were shocked."
  • "What I did for my final project was I did a presentation for the younger kids assembly! I think it had a good impact because it's best they know about the things I told them now, because they can make a better impact on the world."
  • "For my last Goosefare Brook project is went to the conservation committee and talked about Phragmites.I think it went great I think it could have done better by being more specific and not as shy."
  • "For my Goosefare Brook project I got a journalist to write an article in the local newspaper and talked about all the stuff that should be done in the brook. I also got a few pictures of our class at the Goosefare pond."
  • "We decided to have a beach clean up. We gathered a bunch of people and we went and got a lot of trash. We were very happy for what we accomplished. But there is still a lot more."

Lessons learned:

Students recognize phragmites wherever they go! For our next investigation I'd like to track and map phragmites stands in Old Orchard, and perhaps from year to year we can examine their growth, and possibly do some experiments around removal techniques.

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Photo by Laura Seaver-Maley

After learning about water pollution, students were really focused on physical trash getting in the water. In the future we should probably spend more time on the different harder-to-see pollution sources- like nitrates, phosphates, and bacteria.

Students got really invested in their projects since they got to design the projects themselves. We had a list of possibilities, which helped students who were overwhelmed with the choices, but it was still pretty motivating. I gave students a few class days, then told them the rest of the work had to happen on their own time- I think this was crucial, otherwise some students would have taken weeks to get this done. Actually, some students did take weeks, but it was outside of class so we were able to move on. It definitely took some extra work for me to keep track of who was finished, who was in progress, who needed assistance, but it all worked out in the long run.