MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Investigating the Water Quality of the Root River in Lanesboro, MN

Investigating the Water Quality of the Root River in Lanesboro, MN

Rochelle Gathje, Lanesboro Public School, Lanesboro, MN & Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, Lanesboro, MN
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This field investigation will be in collaboration with Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in Lanesboro, MN link to Eagle Bluff. It will include chemical, biological, and physical tests. The chemical tests will include kits where students need to read the directions and then perform the tests. The tests to be performed are dissolved oxygen, pH, and nitrate levels. The biological tests will be observational. The students will look for macro-invertebrates. The physical tests will be inquiry based. The physical tests include temperature, turbidity, velocity, depth, width, & discharge. A drawing of the stream's profile will also be required. The students will need to design a method to find velocity and discharge of the stream with a few simple tools and interpretation of the data previously collected. The students will collect data at the site and then complete a lab report back in the classroom. A sample of the data sheet and lab report will be provided. This stream section is also monitored by the Department of Agriculture. The students will analyze the data they have collected along with the Department of Agriculture's data to develop ideas on how to keep or make the stream a healthier ecosystem.

Learning Goals

Learning Goals:
1) This activity is designed to help students understand the importance of water quality.
2) This activity is designed for students to learn how to use and perform some simple water quality tests.
3) This activity is designed for students to develop ideas on maintaining or improving water quality.
4) The activity is designed for students to perform an inquiry based field investigation.

Key concepts:
1) The quality of water is affected by many variables.
2) The results of the physical, chemical, and biological tests can determine the stream's quality of health.
3) Water quality can be easily impacted, both negatively and positively, because of people's actions.

New vocabulary:
Velocity, discharge, stream profile, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, water quality, and macro-invertebrates.

Context for Use

This field investigation of understanding water quality is designed for 10th grade students but could easily be adapted for any junior/senior high grade level. The class size is about 35 students. This field investigation is being performed at our local environmental learning center in Lanesboro, MN. Eagle Bluff is about 5 miles from the school. The time that we will be at Eagle Bluff is approximately 3 to 3 ½ hours. Eagle Bluff will provide the equipment for the physical and chemical testing. Observational and questioning skills are necessary before doing our investigation at Eagle Bluff. The definitions and equations for velocity and discharge will also be discussed beforehand. Students will also need to know the equations for velocity and discharge and what a stream profile is. They will also be prepped on what the tests are to be performed and an introduction to water quality will be discussed. This investigation will be during my ecology unit a few weeks after the start of school. This investigation would be easily adapted to other water ecosystems as long as the necessary equipment was provided and the test area was safe.

Subject: Environmental Science:Water Quality and Quantity
Resource Type: Activities:Field Activity
Special Interest: Field-Based Teaching and Learning
Grade Level: High School (9-12)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Enhancing your Teaching:Teaching in the Field, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science, Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Water

Description and Teaching Materials

My field investigation will start by observing and making questions about three sections of the Root River in Lanesboro, MN. These sections will be within walking distance of the school. During this time students will be required to write down about 8—10 observations at each spot. In this investigation they will be divided into same sex groups with about 3 students in each. Back in the classroom the students will write down their observations along with the questions that they may have. The question that we are going to focus on is water quality of the Root River in Lanesboro, MN. Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in Lanesboro, MN has a protocol to follow for water quality testing. They will show us how to perform the chemical, biological, and physical tests. The chemical tests include nitrate, pH, and dissolved oxygen. The biological tests include looking for macro-invertebrates. The physical tests include, turbidity, temperature, velocity, depth, and width. The students will perform an inquiry based field investigation for the physical tests, velocity and discharge. Before we attend our session at Eagle Bluff, the definitions and equations for velocity and discharge will be discussed. Stream profile will also be discussed and drawn with the collected data. To collect data for velocity and discharge student groups will be given a bucket of tools to design an experiment. The bucket will include meter sticks, tape measure, stopwatch, and small sticks. Three data points will be collected for velocity. One data point will be in the middle of the river and the other two for each side. Once this data is collected the discharge for the three locations will be calculated and a stream profile will be drawn.

The data will be collected and recorded in a water quality field investigation journal (see attachments). Back in the Eagle Bluff classroom the students will then analyze the results from all three tests. Back at school, conclusions will be made and discussed about velocity and discharge at the three locations and also about the stream profile. Conclusions will be drawn. The students will also have data from the Department of Agriculture that give their results from the monitored section of that stream. The students will discuss their results and the problems that they have encountered. The Water Quality Index will be discussed and we will also take a look at the health of the river sampled. We also want to discuss the importance of a healthy river and the effects on that ecosystem. A hypothesis stating water quality will be determined. The students will conclude by reflecting their thoughts as well as answering some directed questions. One question would be when developing your experiment what would you do differently next time? Another might be, how can you protect or improve the water quality? Or what other tests could be preformed to enhance our investigation and the results? Lastly, what questions about water quality do you have? We will end by making our own personal challenge to protect our stream ecosystem.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The number one thing when doing this field investigation is to make sure it is safe for the students. Pick areas that are easily accessible, low depths, and not a lot of current. Also make sure there are enough volunteers or supervisors when performing the water quality tests. Working with Eagle Bluff will solve some logistical and equipment problems.


Each student will be required to turn in a Field Investigation Journal. See attached files for the Field Investigation Journal Requirements and the Data Sheets that were used. 'Field Investigation Journal' link text (Microsoft Word 23kB Mar28 08) 'Field Investigation Data Sheets' link text (Microsoft Word 44kB Apr14 08)


1.B.1a = Design and test an experiment.
1.A.3c = Is the experimental data logical with what is known?
1.B.4d = Identifying experimental errors.

References and Resources