September 26, 2009
Cincy science students explore river life
Seniors, juniors teach second-, fourth-graders about animals and health of Otselic River
CINCINNATUS — A tiny creature scuttled around the wet edges of a flat rock as Cincinnatus High School science teacher Kurt Schmidt held it up for a group of fourth-graders to see.
“What is it?” Schmidt asked, standing Wednesday on the stony shore of the Otselic River.
One girl correctly identified the creature as a stonefly larva.
Schmidt and the juniors and seniors in his aquatic biology course spent three days last week showing second-graders and fourth-graders the insects and crustaceans in the river that flows next to the school grounds.
The students examined what lives in a water body to determine the water’s pollution level.
For 40 minutes Wednesday, fourth-graders in teacher Kim Brown’s class studied the creatures brought to shore by Schmidt and several students wearing hip waders.
The group caught several crayfish, one of them about four inches long, and a range of stonefly, mayfly and caddisfly larvae, plus a few specimens of water penny, a flat creature that clings to rocks.
They concluded that the Otselic River’s pollution level is low, since so many creatures live in it that could not if it was polluted.
The juniors and seniors worked in pairs with small groups of elementary students, teaching them about the river’s ecosystem. One student wearing hip waders walked through the shallows, turning over rocks and looking for specimens, bringing them to shore so their partner could show them to the children.
The high school students were being graded according to how well the elementary students performed on quizzes about the river and the creatures, Schmidt said, giving the older students a sense of how to teach.
Schmidt’s students used illustrated guides to the insects and crustaceans, created by the Izaak Walton League of America, one of the nation’s oldest conservation groups.
“The kids learn better when they have to teach something,” said Schmidt, who created the elective course several years ago and made teaching part of it.
“What is that?” senior William Wolfe asked fourth-graders Connor Stafford, Jacob Burlingame, Emily Tanner and Kristy Farrow, pointing to the river.
“A riffle,” said Tanner, meaning the water formed a long ripple as it flowed over stones.
“Good,” Wolfe said. “Why is it important?”
The fourth-graders said the riffle pumps oxygen into the water.
Wolfe’s partner in the exercise, junior Klint Brown, brought specimens to shore and put them in a plastic cup full of water.
Wolfe kept asking the children what the specimens were, repeating tips, such as the fact that a mayfly larva has three tails, like the three letters in “May.”
Schmidt said Cincinnatus school officials wanted more interaction between high school and elementary school students in courses, so he made the teaching component in his aquatic biology course.
The high school students will also need to calculate the river’s flow rate and study what happens to the river as it flows south to the Whitney Point Reservoir and joins the Tioughnioga River in forming the Chenango River. All of it is part of the Chesapeake Bay water system.
The high school students led the children to the river and walked them on a trail along its shore, spotting where they could climb down tree roots to the river bank.
“The second-graders are an eye opener for the students, because these are tiny children,” Schmidt said. “It reminds the high school kids of their place in the world.”
Brown, who is no direct relation to Kim Brown, spotted the largest crayfish. Schmidt scooped it up and held it out by its carapace for the children to see.
He hid his pain when the lobster-like animal caught his hand with its pincer.
Kim Brown told her students that they would spend the next day’s class drawing diagrams and pictures of the river and what lives in it.
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