Posted by: csdailyblog | September 30, 2010

Conserve School Science Class: Testing Water Quality from a Canoe

Josh W., Tanna, and Jonathan with water quality sampling equipment.

At Conserve School, in science class you don’t sit at a desk — you sit (or kneel) in a canoe.

Last week the science classes went out on Big Donahue Lake to sample water quality from canoes. Students analyzed the data they had collected once they had returned to the Lowenwood Recreation Center (LRC). Here’s Conserve student Bonnie’s description:

The water sampling started with [Science Teacher] Andy [Milbauer] explaining the various instruments we would use to measure the quality of the water. We used a Secchi disk and a Van Dorn bottle. We split into groups and canoed out into Big Donahue Lake. The person in the middle did most of the measuring, and the people in the front and the back tried to keep the canoe from moving (which was difficult because it was so windy). We also took the water temperature and the  dissolved oxygen level. We returned to the LRC and compared our data with other groups. I really enjoyed doing this activity because it was hands-on.

And here’s Science Teacher Andrew Milbauer’s explanation:

Robert Eady, also a Conserve School science teacher, and I took the students out onto Big Donahue, where they used sampling bottles to collect water at every foot of depth down to 8-9 feet. Each sample was collected in a bottle called a Van Dorn bottle. Once the bottle was set, students lowered it down on a line to the correct depth. Once there, we released a brass “messenger” (weight), which travels down the line and causes the bottle to close at an exact depth. These bottles become challenging in boats that drift. We were in canoes on an impressively windy day. The students persevered despite the wind.

Once the samples were retrieved, we used electronic sensors to collect temperature and dissolved oxygen readings for each depth. We also had the students measure the turbidity (water clarity) using a Secchi disk. 

Julia and Sarah paddle while Jake handles sampling.

The theme of the day was the use of traditional limnological research equipment. Trout Lake Station, in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin, became one of the first centers of lake studies — limnology — in the world with the help of two professors from UW Madison: Chancey Juday and Edward Birge. The work dates back to the late 1900s, although the station was established in the 1920s. Later in the week we discussed two recent shifts in lake studies. These shifts, which came about in part through the influence of Trout Lake Station, included a focus starting in the early 1980s on long-term ecology research. Recently, UW Madison helped develop a new way to study lakes using remote sensing buoys to collect data at a higher frequency than ever before possible. These buoys are part of an international database called Global Lakes Ecological Observatory Network ( Next week we will launch our own buoy with the students to complete our unit on lake studies. This buoy was built by Conserve staff and students and funded by a Toyota Tapestry Grant through the National Science Teachers Association.

Thanks for sharing, Bonnie and Andy, and thanks to both Robert and Andy for all the photos!

Mary Anna

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