A Creek Connections School Year
At the heart of Creek Connections is a collaboration between the college and schools in the region for the purpose of encouraging natural science education through hands-on field and laboratory experiences. Allegheny College faculty and students provide the framework and assistance for classroom-based investigative research in regional watersheds.
There are four primary components to the Creek Connections school year:
A Creek Connections school year begins in mid-August at the Summer Institute, where teachers visit Allegheny College for a one-day workshop. Equipment and background resources are supplied, and the methodology for water chemistry tests, biological sampling, and habitat assessment are reviewed. The institute also includes an field excursion to French Creek or other nearby stream to become familiar with the creek and water quality sampling.
Every few weeks during the school year, students participating in Creek Connections visit their field site at their local waterway. Each class is provided with equipment to conduct basic water quality tests in the field and the lab. Water samples are taken at midstream and then analyzed to quantify 9 key water quality parameters: temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, total dissolved solids, conductivity, phosphorus, nitrogen, turbidity and alkalinity. All data is entered at the Creek Connections website and is accessible for students and the public to conduct seasonal and geographic trend analysis and to do site comparisons.
In addition to testing the above parameters, each school designs and conducts independent projects relating to water quality, watersheds, stream ecology, or water issues (eg. coliform testing, comparison of different streams, benthic sampling, fish sampling, comparison of groundwater with stream water, history of waterway). Schools are provided with a budget to order equipment needed to support the independent projects.
The culminating event of the year is the annual Student Research Symposium in April where all participating schools and students convene at Allegheny College or a Pittsburgh location to share their research findings. Students present and display their water data and independent research projects at this collaborative setting, which allows them meet the other schools, compare data and research projects, and witness the diversity of work that has been done in their watershed. Because two different corners of state are involved in Creek Connections, it is possible to compare Northwest Pennsylvania data with data from the Pittsburgh area.
Allegheny Assistance and Provided Resources
To assist area teachers with bringing watershed education successfully into the classroom, Creek Connections provides numerous resources to participating teachers. Allegheny College students and staff act as liaisons to schools to assist teachers with the ongoing water quality monitoring, data analysis, macroinvertebrate sampling, independent research project procedures, Student Research Symposium preparation, and classroom presentations. Allegheny College students may even become mentors for the middle and high school students because of their school visits during the year.
Thanks to the generous financial support from various sources, Creek Connections is able to provide teachers with a start up package of water quality test kits and accessories, handbooks, field manuals, nets, and topographic maps. Each school year, teachers have also been provided a stipend to spend on waterway research materials for student designed projects or on classroom aids – anything to help them teach about their watershed in the classroom. In addition to this equipment, Creek Connections also provides: published materials, handbooks, videos, workshops, newsletters, and this website. Loaner equipment and Watershed Activity Modules are another aspect of the project under development.