Local fifth Graders learn water quality on Jack Creek

Ennis students work on testing water at Jack Creek. Photo by Sunni Heikes-Knapton.

Ennis students work on testing water at Jack Creek. Photo by Sunni Heikes-Knapton.

By Sunni Heikes-Knapton

for The Madisonian

In a rare and meaningful gesture, Mother Nature parted her clouds and kept the rain from falling as Ennis 5th graders spent an educational day at Jack Creek.

The 12 lucky students were treated to bright sunshine and the sound of rushing water while they visited three stations along this important local stream.

The enthusiastic students repeated their mantra “We are outside!” while learning about water quality and watershed health on this tributary to the Madison River. Students were directed to isolate themselves away from the classroom, learning to appreciate the sounds, smells, sights and textures of this outdoor environment. The responses to the sensory exercise read like poetry, revealing the appreciation and observation skills of these young students.

“Forget the straight lines and hard surfaces of your classroom and plug in to where we are right now. Close your eyes and listen for awhile,” said Sunni Heikes-Knapton, the day’s instructor.

This process helps them become more aware of the sensory rewards of learning outside, and helps the students to think creatively before we launch into some bigger concepts such as measuring flow and sediment transport, she later revealed.

Assisted for the day by class instructor Suzanne Bink and members of the Jack Creek Preserve Foundation, students visited three stations along Jack Creek. The sites were chosen as part of the Jack Creek water monitoring project, an effort of several local groups to collect water quality data and provide educational opportunities to local youth. The differences in the sites provide a learning opportunity to compare the conditions on the creek with what is going on in the surrounding landscape.

Starting at the Jack Creek Ranch, students learned how the geology and the upstream watershed area resulted in the very high flows that were occurring that day. Students also went through an exercise to measure flow, introducing them to some advanced math formulas and concepts of averaging. The tall cottonwoods that line Jack Creek at the Jumping Horse Ranch gave a great example of the value of riparian plants, whose shade can help keep water cool during the heat of summer. Sediment transport was discussed at the campground site, where students filtered the water to examine the particles that had discolored Jack Creek that day.

The filtering exercise lead to some surprising theories, with one student noting the relationship of flow and particle size.

“The fast water can carry small and large particles, but slow water can only carry the small particles,” she observed.

The students were taking the lessons that they have been learning in the classroom and applying them on the creek, a testament to their abilities and previous experiences.

“Having the students go through these lessons outside the school really helps them to retain the information, and the exercises were a great fit with what they’ve been learning,” teacher Suzanne Bink stated.

“Let’s do this again every year,” she smiled.

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