Monitoring The Poultney River: A Service-Learning Project with the Poultney Mettowee Watershed Partnership

submitted by

John G Van Hoesen, Green Mountain College
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Hydrology students are asked to participate in a service-learning project that involves a long-term stream monitoring project. The strengths of this laboratory exercise are that it integrates classroom knowledge with fieldwork, as well as providing the students with a "reason" for doing the lab.
GSA Poster (Acrobat (PDF) 1.3MB Nov5 04)

Learning Goals

  • Fluvial processes of meandering streams
  • Grain size variability in fluvial environments
  • Interdisciplinary nature of geology/chemistry

Geologic Skills:
  • Stream surveying using a total station
  • Stream gauging
  • Grain size analysis

Higher Order Thinking Skills:
  • Interpreting stream cross sections
  • Interpreting Microsoft Excel plots
  • Evaluating stream competency using field-data

Other Skills:
  • Writing site descriptions and drawing field sketches
  • Learning to use high-resolution GPS unit
  • Learning to use a Total Station
  • Becoming more comfortable with graphing
  • Group collaboration
  • Rewards of community service


Instructional Level:
This course is taught at an environmental liberal arts college attended exclusively by undergraduate students. However, courses at any level could utilize a field-based service-learning module.

Skills Needed:
  • Students must be comfortable with computers
  • Students must be competent with Microsoft Excel
  • Students must have been exposed to stream surveying
  • Students must be familiar with concepts of GPS
  • Students must have been exposed to stream gauging

Role of Activity in a Course:
This exercise is used as a field-experience that integrates concepts from class lecture and previous laboratory assignments.

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:
  • This exercise requires a total station (a Topcon GTS-212 was used for this lab). A transit would suffice, but fewer cross-sectional profiles will be obtained.
  • This exercise requires a high-resolution GPS (a Trimble GEO XT with becon-on-a-belt and Pathfinder Office was used for this lab).
  • This exercise requires a means of measuring stream/river discharge (an Ohio Digital Stream Flowmeter was used for this lab).
  • This exercise also requires the standard equipment for measuring streamflow and cross-sectional profiles (e.g. - compass, tape measure, waders, rangefinder, calipers, etc).

Logistical Challenges:
There are a number of challenges when trying to establish a long term monitoring project within an undergraduate hydrology course:
  • Steep learning curve for students in another course not familiar with surveying or GPS.
  • Identifying a suitable community partner.
  • Organizing schedules between two courses (hydrology and chemistry)
  • Quality control between each successive class (e.g. - variations in students)


Evaluation Goals:
My ultimate goal is to evaluate whether the students felt any more "invested" in their laboratory experience. Peripheral goals involve the students bridging the gap between the classroom and "real-world" field experiences and becoming familiar with hydrologic field techniques and equipment.

Evaluation Techniques:
I administered a reflection/evaluation form for the students to fill out after they completed the lab. I was more concerned with their thoughts and concerns regarding the service-learning component of the exercise and wish I had asked more questions evaluating whether the students felt the exercise was more helpful for learning how to use the field equipment.


During the spring 2004 semester, students at Green Mountain College enrolled in an introductory hydrology course collaborated with fellow students in an introductory chemistry class on a service-learning project. The students were responsible for establishing a long-term monitoring project along Poultney River in east-central Vermont working with the Poultney Mettowee Watershed Partnership (PMWP), a local non-profit conservation group.

The students collected cross-sectional profiles, discharge measurements, average grain size data (pebble counts), sampling sketches, and site descriptions. These data were delivered to the PMWP at the end of spring 2004 and represent "year one" in the long-term monitoring project.

In addition, the students expressed increased interest and support of the laboratory exercise with the addition of a service-learning module.