Stream and River Water Quality

Mark Bowen
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
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Initial Publication Date: November 24, 2014


Students visit a stream or river and conduct a site description and assess water quality using a variety of test kits and other field equipment.

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The activity is used in an undergraduate introductory physical geography course that includes a 2-hour laboratory session that meets once per week. The focus of the course is landforms and soils. The course is predominantly composed of non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered


How the activity is situated in the course

This is a stand-alone exercise that reinforces concepts introduced in lecture.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Gain hands-on experience in a field setting assessing the quality of a stream, river, or lake
  • Conduct a site assessment
  • Measure water clarity
  • Analyze dissolved oxygen and nitrogen content of a water sample

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Compare and contrast results using different tools/techniques
  • Compare and contrast results to expected results
  • Propose possible sources of pollution
  • Suggest possible ways to improve water quality

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

In the lab classroom, I briefly describe how to use each piece of equipment and how to conduct a site assessment. Students get into groups of four and answer six questions about expected results. We then take a short walk to the river on the edge of our campus. They conduct a site assessment and measure water clarity, nitrate concentration, and dissolved oxygen concentration in surface and bottom samples. Students analyze results to describe the water quality of the river.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students complete the exercise during a 2-hour laboratory session. Students are expected to work in groups of four. Upon completion of the laboratory exercise, students must complete an online quiz that consists of the same questions in the exercise as well as questions on the background information included in the lab before the next lab meeting. The online quiz is within the Desire 2 Learn (D2L) online learning platform, so answers are automatically graded and imported into the student's grade book.

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