World Water Monitoring Challenge 2013

More and more, students are leading the efforts to protect their local environment. Living in a world shrunken by technology, they have a better understanding of the interdependence of important natural resources in a larger, global setting.

citizen science

Each year between March 22 until December 31, the World Water Monitoring Challenge presents an important opportunity for young people around the world to become involved in safeguarding natural resources on a local, national and international scale. Students learn more about the watersheds in which they live, how watersheds work, and how protecting their waters can have beneficial impacts downstream. Teachers and students often use their data to discuss impacts in their local watershed and compare their findings with others.

This hands-on challenge builds public awareness and involvement in protecting water resources around the world by engaging citizens to conduct basic monitoring of their local water bodies. With an easy-to-use test kit, citizen scientists sample their selected waterway for four basic indicators of water quality—dissolved oxygen, pH (acidity), temperature and turbidity (clarity).

We will be participating again this fall.  I invite you to join us in this global monitoring effort.  Resources are available to help you. Click here for guides and lesson plans tointegrate this citizen science opportunity into your science curriculum.

Estuarine Ecology Unit Study

Upon returning home from our recent trip to the coast, I was inspired to organize the lessons I have taught in the past into a unit study for homeschoolers and classroom teachers.  I am now ecstatic to announce that I have completed it!

Estuarine Ecology

The Estuarine Ecology Unit Study is available as a part of the comprehensive Science Logic Curriculum that I have been developing the past couple of years.  This unit compliments the popular Life Logic: Ecology Explorations and provides lesson plans integrating science, history, math, language arts, technology, and fine arts.

Estuary Ecology

Here is an overview:

  • 14 Lesson Plans with extensive ‘Background Information’
  • 12 custom notebook pages to complement those lessons
  • Key vocabulary list
  • A detailed list of how the activities are correlated to the themes
  • Resource list
  • Clickable links

In total, this new Estuarine Ecology Unit Study ebook is 58 pages long. You will have a complete plan at your fingertips for your science curriculum.  I have aimed to keep these lessons as simple as possible with very few additional resources needed.

Price $14.97

The Estuarine Ecology Unit Study is an inquiry based, hands-on life science curriculum for middle school students.  It is created to provide teachers with the tools and inspiration to engage their students in meaningful science and service learning experiences through tangible curriculum, shared resources, and real-world contexts.  This secular curriculum was field tested in the public school classroom and modified for the homeschool or co-op setting.

Oregon’s Coastal Ecology

A week ago, we had an opportunity to spend a few days with my dad in Bandon.  Though my childhood home was rented for many years, my father now resides here once again.  We visit as often as we can and try to stay for a few nights at least once a year.  It is always a special time.

Coastal Ecology – 4 Distinct Habitats

On Saturday morning after breakfast, we ventured out onto the mudflats across the street from the house.  We were careful this time around to don old tennis shoes for the occasion.  We headed out at the peak of low tide, but had neglected to check the tidal height.


We thereby discovered, once we were underway, that the tide wasn’t particularly low.  We wouldn’t thereby have as much time for agate collecting as we had anticipated.   

The rock in the mudflats where my brothers and I spent many hours role-playing our favorite stories.

Crossing the mudflats, we observed many signs that wildlife had been here prior to us.  At least two are visible here: one mammal species and one bird.

While I was distracted with my camera … everyone kept moving along.  Anxious to get to the sandy beach where the agates collected and due to the location, rarely seen by human eyes.

Upon crossing the creek, we were then able to step up onto the salt marsh.

Salt Marsh

We observed an abundance of driftwood, pickle weed (Salicornia), and sea lettuce (Ulva).  We didn’t spend much time here this time as the tides were against us, however, we did manage to see evidence that a meal had been enjoyed here – at least by one resident.As we came up over the berm, sadly there is some European beach grass (Ammophila arenaria) here too. We discovered that the beach was amass with Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina) basking in the sun. We tried not to disturb them, but with a 6 year old rambunctious boy, that is near impossible.  The seals thereby made a mad dash for the water as soon as they realized we were there.

Sandy Beach

Harbor Seals sunbathing on the beach … at least until we arrived.

We walked along the sandy beach in search of agates … collecting our favorites and investigating other objects of interest.  All the while, the seals observed us from afar, likely wondering when we were planning to leave.  A small group of seals, even followed us along the shoreline for some distance, snorting on occasion, clearly disgusted with our presence.

Agate hunting on the sandy beach

We observed numerous tracks along the sandy beach as well .. though different than those we’d seen on the mudflats.

It was a beautiful morning with very little wind.  We would have liked to have stayed longer, but we knew the tide threatened to trap us on the island or force us to swim so we headed back after about 40 minutes.  We walked back the same way we had come and thereby came to the section of the beach where the three seals I had photographed had been relaxing.

We quickly crossed the mudflats and then continued to trudge across the mudflats.  We observed the remnants of another Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) meal, now becoming a little jealous.  We would have liked to go crabbing too, but we just didn’t have the time.

We were indeed fortunate to have headed back when we did.  On the way out, the creek depth had reached only to my knees.  On the return, however, it was up to my waist.  My dad helped the two little ones cross at the deepest point.  My little guy was quite concerned with the incoming tide.  Though he is a strong swimmer for his age, I actually began to worry he might not be able to swim if the need arose, due to panic.

Upland Forest

Each evening, at dusk, we also trekked across the road to take a peak at the beaver (Castor canadensis) who has recently taken up residence in a culvert on Dad’s property. Sadly, he was always too quick for us and we never observed him in person … only evidence of his presence.  Dad has seen him frequently, so we know he’s there.  Each time we tried to sneak up on him .. he’d duck away and into the culvert under the road.  The water would undulate back and forth in smooth waves as proof he had been there only a moment before.

The picture above shows the trail that he has formed as he travels back and forth through the forest to the mudflats just on the other side of these trees.

It was a great excursion and one we look forward to repeating again. Buddy has a different opinion, however.

Estuary Ecology

Immerse yourselves in a field study of the estuary and its distinct habitats with my Estuary Ecology curriculum available in my store.

The Oregon Dunes

A few months ago, our Geography Terms Tour term was Dunes.  Having grown up on the Oregon Coast, it was assured that our focus would be on the Oregon Dunes.  We explored the topic of dune succession and hoped that very soon, we would have the opportunity to visit the dunes ourselves.

The opportunity presented itself this past weekend when we traveled home to visit family.  Patrick contacted a friend of his and set everything up for a personalized tour of the dunes from the comfort of his retrofitted VW bus.  How cool is that?!

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get many photos en route to the beach from Rob’s home.  The terrain just didn’t facilitate good picture quality.

“This trip was so entirely fun!  This one spot we went on a very steep hill.  It freaked me out! Rob didn’t have enough power to get up the hill so we had to roll back down.  Then we tried again.  This time we got up.  Then he turned around and drove down the steep hill.  It was fun but felt like we were going to crash!  Along the way, we went through the forest, across the foredune and deflation plain.  There were lots of puddles. Then we got to the beach where we stretched our legs and I looked for shells.” 
~ MeiLi

Terra Aqua Columns :: Habitat Study

A few weeks ago, our Roots & Shoots club gathered to learn a little more about ecology.  I first gathered everyone together for a mini-lesson on a few key terms:

  • Ecology
  • Habitat
  • Niche
  • Food Chains
  • Food Web

I then read aloud a favorite book,  In the Snow, Whose Been Here?  by Lindsay Barrett George.  The kids enjoyed trying to guess which animal had been there based on the clues in the illustrations.  Though my own kiddos have previously read this book, as well as George’s others (In the Woods…, In the Garden…, and Around the Pond…) it is always a treat to revisit.  Remarkably, not all their guesses were accurate.

We then gathered around the table to construct a habitat of choice using recycled 2-liter bottles.  I was a little surprised that everyone chose the same … Terra Aqua Columns, but then I think I would have as well.

They were easy to construct and the kids were so intrigued that many went home and constructed a variety of the others in the book.  One little guy, even requested to make Terra Aqua Columns as a part of his birthday party the following week.  How cool is that?!

Construction in Progress

Water, as it cycles between land, ocean and atmosphere, forms the major link between the terrestrial world and the aquatic world. Water drips off rooftops, flows over roads, and flows down the drain of our kitchen sink. It percolates through the soils of fields and forests and eventually finds its way into rivers, lakes, and oceans.

During its journey, water will pick up leaf litter, soil, nutrients, agricultural chemicals, road salts and gasoline from cars, all of which have profound impacts on life in aquatic systems. Water can also be filtered or purified as it percolates through soil.

Construct Your Own Terra Aqua Column

A Terra Aqua Column provides students with a model to explore the link between land and water. The model has three basic components: soil, water and plants.


  • One 2-liter soda bottle
  • One bottle cap
  • Wicking material-fabric interfacing or cotton string
  • Utility knife (adults use recommended)
  • Awl or electric drill
  • Water, soil and plants


Step 1 – Remove label from the 2-liter bottle. Cut bottle 1 cm below shoulder. 

Step 2 – Poke a 1cm hole in the bottle cap with the awl. Alternatively, you can drill a hole with an electric drill.

Step 3 – Thread a thoroughly wet wick strip through bottle top, invert top, and set into base. Wick should reach bottom ofreservoir and thread loosely through cap. 

Step 4 – Fill reservoir or bottom chamber with water. Add soil and plants to the top chamber. To be effective, the wick should run up into soil, not be laying along a side of the bottle. For better drainage, place a layer of gravel or sand in the bottom of the top chamber.

~ ~ ~

The idea for this activity came from a book titled, Bottle Biology.   Within it’s pages, students learn how to explore science and the environment using soda bottles and other recyclable materials. Model a rain forest and grow different plants, create a spider habitat, observe the lifecycle of a slime mold, explore an ecosystem or make Korean kimchee.

You can pursue these and other scientific investigations with over 20 bottle constructions, including the Ecocolumn, the Predator-Prey Column, the Niche Kit and the Terra Aqua Column. Each chapter contains background information, activities and teaching tips.

Here you can see our completed Terra Aqua Columns as well as a Decomposition Column (the tall green one) in the background.  The kiddos have had a great time exploring these mini habitats. They are looking forward to creating a Predator-Prey Column and have ordered a preying mantis egg case specifically for the cause.

Soil Erosion Experiment :: Science Saturday

As a part of our current unit study, we discussed the geology and soil composition of Africa.  Most of African soils are volcanic, meaning they are formed from rocks and ash that have been blasted out of volcanoes.  These soils are particularly rich in minerals.  Minerals are freed from rocks through erosion.

Depending upon the steepness of the slope, the kind of soil, and the amount of vegetation, different amounts of water soak into the soil.  After the water soaks into the soil, plant roots make good use of it.  If the soil is porous, some of the water continues downward until it accumulates in aquifers or underground rivers.

In the dry areas of Africa, there is usually too little vegetation to break the fall of rain.  During the wet season downpours, raindrops smash onto the bare soil, loosen particles, and carry them off the land, along depressions, down little gullies and into creeks and rivers.  Soil erosion is a huge problem in Africa and has been for a long time.  The accumulation of silt at river mouths can be a mile thick.

Over time, the chemical composition of soil may change as animals add their feces to the soil.  Soil can also move vast distances by the action of rivers.  The Nile River carries soil along its 4,000 mile length from the Ethiopian mountains and the East African highlands through Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea.  As the river water flows into the sea, soil particles settle and produce a great mudflat – a delta – spreading out from the river’s mouth.  Because the soils of the Nile Delta were so fertile, agriculture flourished as long as 12,000 B.C. and became the basis of the ancient Egyptian civilization.

Our Experiment

Question :: How does soil type affect the amount of runoff ?

Hypothesis ::  Each of the kids described what they expected to happen.  All were in agreement that they expected the sand to runoff the fastest, then clay and finally dirt.  Additionally, they all predicted that the grass roots would hold in the soil and absorb the most water, resulting in the least amount of runoff.

Materials :: 

  • 4 shallow boxes
  • 3 different soil types (we used dirt, sand, and clay)
  • Sod to fill one box
  • Scissors
  • 3 glass jars
  • Watering can
  • Water
  • Stopwatch

Procedure ::

  1. We set up each soil type in a shallow box.  In one corner of each box, we cut a V shaped notch.
  2. We filled the watering can with water.
  3. We set the box on an incline on a step with the glass jar positioned under the notch.
  4. Working with one soil type at a time, we allowed it to rain gently above and recorded the time it took for the glass jar to fill with water.
  5. We then set up a fourth box with grass and soil (essentially I just dug up various grass clumps from the perimeter of our yard and set them in the box – getting a little weeding done while we did our science lesson)

Data ::

  • Dirt –  1.20 minutes
  • Clay –  .19 minute
  • Sand –  .21 minute
  • Sod/Plants –  .53 minute

As the rain fell upon our ‘land’, we observed the formation of rivers, canyons and even waterfalls.

Conclusion ::

As we discussed the results of our experiment – comparing the water turbidity / clarity in the jars and the amount of sediment – we also made note of things that could have affected the outcome and made a list.

  • we didn’t have 4 boxes – and had reused one box with the sod (even though it was wet)
  • the dirt box was bigger and therefore there was more ‘land’
  • the sod was wet from the morning sprinklers and couldn’t absorb anymore water whereas the dirt we’d used (as well as the clay and sand) was dry