Thanks to new programming at Georgia College—a group of homeschoolers are doing crazy-fun things never allowed at home, like mixing electricity and water. They look at maps and topography of the land. They check rocks, catch insects and do all kinds of chemistry.
In the end, they’ll not only know the science of water—these 19 middle grade students will be state certified to monitor the health of two streams in Milledgeville: Champion Creek, which flows out of Lake Laurel, and Tobler Creek at Andalusia.
“They really like getting into the mud and getting dirty. They thoroughly enjoy that,” said Ruth Eilers, director of Academic Outreach, part of Georgia College’s Extended University, and regional coordinator for the state’s Adopt-A-Stream program.
“To do Adopt-A-Stream training, you’ve got to get in the water,” Eilers said. “It’s not deep, but you’ve got to wade in there. On a cold day, the adults are hemming and hawing, but those kids go straight in. They’re excited to be doing hands-on things.”
Georgia’s Adopt-A-Stream program sends trained volunteers into streams throughout the state to collect data for the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2018, there were 691 active monitoring sites in Georgia. The concept has spread to other states, such as Florida and North and South Carolina.
Academic Outreach has worked with the department of biology and environmental science to monitor another adopted stream at Fishing Creek. Now, the homeschool Adopt-A-Stream program is being added to 70 other educational activities the organization promotes. Academic Outreach serves 6,000 youngsters in Baldwin County each year with help from more than 50 Georgia College students from all majors.
The Middle Georgia Home Educators Association approached Eilers in the past for an alternative chemistry course for middle grade students. This year, Eilers asked if they’d like an integrative science approach, using Adopt-A-Stream as a base feature. Four college students are helping homeschoolers with this endeavor. They meet with children once a week for two hours at streams or in a laboratory setting.
Throughout the year, the Georgia College students master lessons ahead of time, collect materials and set up labs. They greet pupils and lead instruction. They keep youngsters on task, answering their questions.
This is good preparation for being a teacher, said sophomore Mary Katherine Wallace, an early childhood education major from Loganville. She got involved with Academic Outreach through a required project in class and stayed.
“It’s a good opportunity to get more experience with children and educational programs,” Wallace said. “This is a great way to work on campus and be involved. It gives you a chance to build relationships, and it’s also a great way to get hands-on experience for the future.”
The Adopt-A-Stream program integrates biology, environmental skills and chemistry. It exposes middle school students to earth, life and physical sciences. They measure the acidity or alkalinity of water by monitoring pH (potential for hydrogen) levels. They check for the amount of dissolved oxygen in streams. They note types of insects and creatures that live in or nearby creeks. They watch for sediment sliding into streams and note whether streambeds are rocky or muddy.
By monitoring weekly, the group is “building a story” of the streams, Eilers said. This way, students will be able to detect changes. One creek, Champion, is in the woods and the other in a more industrial setting. Eilers hopes students will find variations between the two.
“We’re hoping to see a difference in the water quality—not necessarily for good or bad,” Eilers said, “but difference in water that’s urban and water in an area more pristine.”
Students collect water samples. They do pH and dissolved-oxygen testing on-site. In the lab, they delve into the science behind tests in the field. They experiment with hot/cold water to see if temperature affects outcomes, and shaken water to study turbulence. They check the pH difference in puddle and tap water.
In November, homeschoolers figured out why a nearby pond had less dissolved oxygen than the stream. They decided the stream was colder and had more turbulence, thus mixing in more oxygen. When they could only find one bug, a dragonfly, at Tobler Creek—homeschoolers recalled the intermittent creek didn’t have any water a month earlier. They concluded the water hadn’t been around long enough for wildlife to re-establish. All data gets logged online at the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream database.
This fun, hands-on learning gives homeschoolers the chance to use science equipment that’s too costly for most families. It also supplies youngsters with the knowledge to monitor streams in their own backyards. Certification is good for one year.
Junior Tanna McPherson of Greensboro is studying exercise science to become a physical therapist. She learns alongside homeschoolers.
“It’s a really great experience. I’ve always loved working with kids,” she said. “It helps me be more well-rounded, doing different programs and working with different age groups. Someday, I’ll work with people of all ages, and this helps me prepare for that.”
Soon, McPherson will guide a group at Champion Creek, helping youngsters figure out effects of recent rain. Were habitats washed away? Did quick-running water bring in sediment and cover habitats?
“Every time we go, it’s different,” Eilers said, “and that’s part of the excitement.”