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BOP-CCERS Fellows Field Training #1 at The River Project

By Heather Flanagan
April 20, 2016

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The BOP-CCERS Fellowship at Pace University is a two-year professional development and training program designed to give teachers the knowledge and tools to engage their students in hands-on restoration science in New York Harbor.  This is our second year of the program, and the first year in which we have two cohorts overlapping. The program is structured so that second year fellows serve as mentors to the first.  

The first cohort of 17 middle school math and science teachers, who began in February 2015, are now finishing up their implementation year, during which they have taught a spiraling BOP curriculum and have taken their students on at least four monitoring expeditions. The second cohort of 24 teachers from 14 schools are currently in their foundations semester, in which they learn from guest experts and receive four days of hands-on field training from staff scientists.

From top right: Sam Janis, Ann Fraioli, Audrey Federman (plus baby Laila!), Elisa Caref, and Mollie Thurman. Photo courtesy of Rob Buchanan.

From top right: Sam Janis, Ann Fraioli, Audrey Federman (plus baby Laila!), Elisa Caref, and Mollie Thurman. Photo courtesy of Rob Buchanan.

Field Training #1 gave Cohort Two fellows their first full day of hands-on field training in oyster restoration, hosted by BOP-CCERS partner organization The River Project (TRP). The sessions were jointly facilitated by Elisa Caref of TRP, Mollie Thurman of Biobus/Biobase, and New York Harbor Foundation staff (BOP-CCERS Program Manager Sam Janis and Curriculum Specialists Ann Fraioli and Audrey Federman), with Rob Buchanan of the New York City Water Trail Association (NYCWTA) standing by to help and present on NYCWTA’s citizen water quality testing program.

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In the morning, fellows learned how to set up and monitor in-classroom oyster tanks:

Steven House, right (John Ericsson Middle School 126, Magnet School of environmental engineering) pours salt into the oyster tank to achieve the necessary salinity, with Mehmet Parlat (M.S. 266). Photo courtesy of Rob Buchanan.

Steven House (John Ericsson M.S. 126, Magnet School of Environmental Engineering) pours salt into the oyster tank to achieve the necessary salinity, with Mehmet Parlat (M.S. 266). Photo courtesy of Rob Buchanan.

After the algae (oyster food!) has been added, the group is ready to add the oysters. Photo courtesy of Rob Buchanan.

After the algae (oyster food!) has been added, the group is ready to add the oysters (from left to right: Andrew Zimmerman, Jeffrey Bradshaw, and Nancy Azcona of M.S. 88, with Mollie Thurman). Photo courtesy of Rob Buchanan.

After lunch, teachers took a tour of The River Project.  As a marine science field station with hands-on environmental education in its mission, TRP provides the BOP-CCERS partnership with more than just a field trip destination- they’re also an invaluable resource for teachers seeking to better understand the invertebrate communities their classes will encounter.  (And teachers take note- their field trips are free but they’re almost entirely booked up for the spring, so book fast or plan ahead for the fall!)

Next, Ann and Audrey guided the teachers through Field Protocol #5: Water Quality.  This protocol includes measurements of:

  • Water temperature (thermometer)
  • Dissolved oxygen (CHEMets colorimetric test kit)
  • Salinity (hydrometer)
  • pH (pH meter)
  • Nitrates (nitrate test strips)
  • Phosphates (phosphate test strips)
  • Ammonia (ammonia test strips)
  • Turbidity (turbidity tube)

Working in groups, teachers first had to obtain a water sample by dipping a five gallon bucket into the Hudson River, making sure not to fill the bucket too high since a full bucket can weigh 40 pounds:

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Then, it was onto the tests!  

The gear (clockwise from top right): ammonia test strips, a CHEMets colorimetric dissolved oxygen test kit, a yellow pen-type pH meter, a thermometer, and phosphate test strips.

The gear (clockwise from top right): ammonia test strips, a CHEMets colorimetric dissolved oxygen test kit, a yellow pen-type pH meter, a thermometer, and phosphate test strips.

Ann noted that it’s important to measure temperature and dissolved oxygen first, because those results can change quickly once a water sample is taken from the harbor.  Here, Olivia Bello (KAPPA III School) checks the reading on the thermometer (while still leaving the bulb in the water- otherwise the thermometer can start to measure the air temperature) while Marie Tesi (P.S. 071) gets ready to measure dissolved oxygen using the CHEMets kit.  In this test, teachers add the reduced form of indigo carmine to a small water sample, which reacts with dissolved oxygen to form a blue dye.  The teacher then visually compares the intensity of the blue color with known standards- in this case, with the blue tubes (in the black cases) seen below:

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To measure salinity, each group filled a hydrometer (up to the skinny part of the neck!) with their water sample, set the hydrometer on a flat surface, and made sure to read the level on the pointer with their eyes at the same level as the hydrometer, as Dayna Navaro (Soundview Academy) is doing here:

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Next, teachers grabbed their pH meters and prepared to take measurements by swirling the end of the meter in their buckets.  

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(Photo courtesy of Rob Buchanan)

Teachers then matched up colors on three different test strips to measure ammonia, phosphates, and nitrates:

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For the last test, the fellows measured turbidity (the cloudiness or haziness of a fluid) using the turbidity tube.  This two-person job has one teacher pouring water in the top…

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…while another teacher controls the nozzle lock at the bottom of the tube, which they slowly let water out of.  The teacher at the top looks down the tube until they can see the Secchi disk, then calls out “stop!” to alert their partner to stop draining the water.  The group then measures the depth of the water in centimeters to get their turbidity measurement.

For teachers looking to digitally monitor water quality parameters in a classroom oyster tank, Sam demonstrated an educational scientific water quality kit from PASCO.  He also noted that fellows could make a DIY version like the teachers in BOP + Biobase’s professional development “ECO-STEM: Digital Tools for Environmental Monitoring” are learning to do.

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Next, Rob Buchanan presented on the New York City Water Trail Association’s citizen science water quality testing program.  Their work focuses on testing for the presence of Enterococci, microbes that are an indication of fecal pollution and the possible presence of pathogens that are harmful to human health.  NYCWTA brings together volunteers from local boathouses and community groups to test water at docks and boat launches all over New York City for twenty weeks during the recreational season.  Volunteers fill bottles with water samples that they keep cool and bring to one of NYCWTA’s partner labs (two of which are also BOP-CCERS partners- The River Project and Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory).  At the lab, scientists mix the sample with a sugar and fluorescent dye solution, which they then put into a tray like the one below:

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By shining a blacklight over the trays, scientists can determine the bacteria levels in the water sample, as Rob and Eli demonstrated (this is also how the city determines whether NYC’s beaches are swimmable):

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NYCWTA’s work proves that citizen scientists can provide meaningful data to clean up our waterways.  In 2012, they found abnormally high fecal contamination levels at Hallets Cove (Astoria, Queens), which triggered a NYC DEP investigation that determined a New York City Housing Authority building was leaking raw sewage into storm drain that discharges directly into Hallets Cove.  Projects like theirs and the Billion Oyster Project give citizens the information they need to advocate on behalf of their communities and the environment.

Speaking of the environment…

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…the last part of the day had the fellows interacting with some of the Hudson River’s finest!  

At the end, everyone pitched in to help clean up…

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…before packing up their restoration equipment and getting ready to bring what they’d learned back to their classrooms:

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Aniline Amoguis (Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria) carrying her turbidity tube while carting her bins containing the full Oyster Restoration Station supply kit.

We’ll see the fellows back at The River Project for Field Day #2 on Saturday, May 7th, when we’ll be learning more field science protocols, as well as how to manage a whole class of students in the field doing multiple protocols at once.  (Fellows, if you missed Field Day #1, there will be a make up on Thursday May 6th from 2-5pm at The River Project.)

Interested in reading more about BOP-CCERS and how we’re bringing hands-on restoration science to classrooms all over the city?  Sign up for our newsletter and click here to read all BOP-CCERS posts!