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Stream becomes classroom for Waco students

Waco Elementary fifth-graders were jumping with joy Friday morning as they got a chance to use the knowledge and employ the tools they have learned about while studying stream water quality in teacher Amanda Prewitt’s science classes. The school teamed up with Scott Darst, a Madison County Extension Agent for 4-H Youth Development, and John Coffey with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to conduct a live stream study. In the week leading up to their visit to a local stream, the students learned how to check the pH levels of water and how ph levels affect plants and animals that depend on a stream.

The students also learned that water temperature can affect a stream’s aquatic life. The most excitement came as Prewitt and Darst taught the students about the macro invertebrates that live in local streams. Researchers use biological testing to rate stream water quality as good, average or poor based on the insects that live in and around a stream, the students learned.

They really liked the idea of hunting and identifying aquatic insects. What the insects reveal about stream water was a bonus, Darst said. “A lot of folks don’t know the dragon flies or damsel flies we see flying around actually start as little alien-like creatures that living on the bottom of a stream attached to rocks,” he said.

By finding diverse species of macro invertebrates, researchers, in this case, elementary school students, can determine the health of a waterway, Darst explained. Each macro invertebrate is categorized into a group and is labeled as very sensitive, sensitive or tolerant of water pollutione.

“Why would I want my students to only read about it in books, when we can create a hands-on lesson, and they can experience it for themselves,” Prewitt said. This is the same philosophy that environmental educators follow in a world where according to the Children and Nature Network, children gain 83 percent of their knowledge about nature from media such as Internet and television, Darst said. Coffee and Darst both said part of their mission is to collaborate in such efforts as taking elementary students to a stream where they can connect with nature and learn how stream water quality affects life.

The Waco students enjoyed a day of learning, a day of applying their knowledge, and more importantly, a day they could feel, hear and smell nature, Darst said. The students walked up and down the knee-level stream searching for whatever creature dared to reveal itself. They lifted rocks, chased crawdads and learned about how to prevent stream pollution.

“Civic engagement is another is another lesson we want students to learn,” Darst said, “how to make a positive impact on the community around you.”

The students were encourage to talk with their parents, grandparents and others to discuss what they learned about human impact on the environment.

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