PCMS eighth-graders determine the Piscataquis River is very healthy and unpolluted
GUILFORD — Trisha Moulton’s grade 8 science classes at Piscataquis Community Middle School hiked to the Piscataquis River on Sept. 12 to complete a water quality bioassessment to study whether the river was healthy or not. Students designed and built kicknets, which were used to collect macroinvertebrates (organisms without a backbone) such as dobsonfly and dragonfly larva as well as mayfly nymphs, water pennies and crayfish. Many of these macroinvertebrates hide under or stick to the rocks in faster moving water in rivers and streams so students had to kick the river bottom and rub the rocks in front of the net in order to catch the organisms.
Some macroinvertebrates are sensitive to pollution, like the mayfly nymphs. Other species are somewhat tolerant, such as dragonfly nymphs. And some are tolerant of pollution, like leeches. Students found invertebrates in all categories, but mostly the sensitive category showing that the Piscataquis River is a very healthy and unpolluted river. Students did find a lot of other treasures in the river, including pans, antique bottles and license plates, as well as old trailer hitches and other metal objects that have probably found their way down river during flooding over the years.
The eighth-graders took time after their river exploration to complete data sheets to prove the health of the river, created graphs of their results, designed food webs, and entered macroinvertebrates species data into the Vital Signs of Maine site. Vital Signs gives Maine students an opportunity to get feedback from scientists who confirm or question the identification of each species they enter into the site.
“I gave the students about 45 minutes to just explore the Piscataquis River because most of them had never been in this river, let alone have the chance to ‘play’ in the water by looking for treasures and getting wet as they waded up and down the river and its banks,” Moulton said. “After that, we spent about two hours collecting the organisms, taking pictures, getting coordinates of our location, and tallying each species of macro invertebrate each group found.”
Students said, “It was fun to learn science outside of the classroom.” “I didn’t have a clue that these types of organisms lived in our river.”
“I liked building the nets and seeing if they would actually catch the macro invertebrates.” “I loved getting out of the classroom and finding treasures in the river.”