Pulaski Street 6th graders take samples of water containing vegetation and organisms from a shallow section of the Peconic River to view in the lab at the LI Science Center in Riverhead.
Sixth graders from Pulaski Street School recently participated in a "river ecology" field trip and study with K-12 science director Lois Etzel and the LI Science Center’s lead science educator Judy Isbitiren. They visited the Peconic River to observe the river and to draw samples for testing and analysis.
The Peconic River, the “river” in Riverhead, is Long Island’s largest river. The Peconic is both ecologically diverse and impacted by industry, farming, and the population in general. In their studies of the river, the students conducted a series of tests on their water samples. They tested the water for dissolved oxygen, nitrates, and determined the temperature, turbidity, and pH level of the water. They also tested the phosphate levels of the water. Finally, they used a simple microscope to examine the macro-organisms in the water. Some organisms are pollution-intolerant and others thrive in polluted water, so discovering which organisms are thriving helped the students determine the health of the river). Using their findings, students assessed the water quality and discussed the environmental factors which impact the water quality of the Peconic River. Ultimately, their tests led the student scientists to conclude that the quality of the water was “fair” to “good”.
“The water in the Peconic is actually a lot healthier than most people think it is,” Etzel said. “Just because it’s murky doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy.”
The students returned to the Science Center to talk about the river’s ecosystem. After the massive amount of rain the Riverhead area received recently, the students retested the water and determined that it actually seemed a little healthier. The dissolved oxygen level of the water was higher. After they retested the water, the students talked about the water cycle—precipitation, condensation, and evaporation—the food chain and its importance for the Peconic River.
"Our program gives the students an opportunity to talk about they are seeing," LI Science Center director Delia Gibbs. “They learn that the ecosystem is a self-sustaining environment. Each part of it has a role in the health of the river. They also learn about the river’s impact on the watershed and the aquifer. Ultimately, we want them to think about what they can do to help keep the river healthy. The program is designed to have a real-world application of what is learned.”
Part of this “real-world application” is an exhibit that that the students designed and constructed, which will be featured in the exhibit area of the LI Science Center.
The field trip was supported in part by a BreakThru Mini-grant from Brookhaven National Laboratories “designed to promote science, technology, engineering and math for middle school students from diverse communities.”
Pulaski Street sixth graders work with LI Science Center lead educator Judy Isbitiren to determine the pH level of a sample of water they drew from the Peconic River.