Galax Enrichment Week - Aquatic Adventures

Despite the LOW pressure system hanging over the area bringing inches of rain, the middle school student's enthusiasm remained HIGH. They spent the week away from campus at Dannelly Park enjoying Aquatic Adventures.

Once given an introduction to water quality and testing procedures, we began the week by collecting data such as temperature, weather and water conditions, pH, dissolved oxygen, and bacteria from Chestnut Creek. This information was then recorded on data sheets. Students used pipettes, titration tubes, syringes and droppers to accurately measure water and chemicals. It was a great hands-on experience in chemistry as they became familiar with sterile technique, meniscus measurement and scientific method.  

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Tuesday the weather sent us indoors. Matthew State Forest was generous enough to allow us to use their cabin, so we utilized this space to learn about the various flies used in fly fishing. Using vices, chenille, hackle feathers, hooks and thread, the students made woolly buggers, a fly that imitates many things and can be used in multiple scenarios. Everyone seemed to enjoy this great rainy day activity.

Wednesday brought no rain, so we separated into three groups and rotated between three activities at Dannelley Park. Scott Jackson-Ricketts led the fish bugs activity.  Waders were put on and the students clambered into the creek to see what they could dredge up.  A seine net is placed downstream across the creek and hand rakes, as well as hands, were used to stir the bottom to uncover the macro-invertebrates living below the surface. We removed the net and carried it to a table collecting the aquatic insects in ice trays filled with water. They identified the aquatic insects using a dichotomous key field guide. As with the water quality testing done on Monday, this is an exercise in determining stream health. Brenda Bonk lead the second activity in which the students learned the life cycles of the macro-invertebrates most commonly found; mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies. They had relay races requiring them to match all three aquatic insects' life cycles and the flies that imitate them. And finally, Lisa Benish had the third group learning the parts of the fly rod, fly reel and fly line. The rod and reels were put together and basic casting technique was taught in preparation for fishing days. 

The rain held off for us once again on Thursday so we commenced to setting up our fly rods and reels.  We did a quick tutorial on how to cast fly line and off to the creek we went with our handmade flies to catch some fish! Lack of trout sent us to a fish pond where we changed our flies from woolly buggers to poppers. Several students caught bluegill and were very pleased with their catch!

We started Friday afternoon finishing up our water quality testing.  Students examined the petri dishes that contained the bacterial growth from the water collected on Monday. We counted the number of E. coli colonies that grew on that petri dish and recorded that information on the data collection sheets. They were surprised to see the number of bacterial colonies that grew from our water.  Hopefully this will emphasize the need to keep our streams healthy and clean. Once again we put our rods together, attached our flies and headed off to a local pond to catch some bass and bluegill. Just about everyone caught a fish! 

So even though the weather was damp and dreary, spirits were not!  The students loved getting out of the classroom and out of doors exploring, discovering and sharing their aquatic habitat.