Hands-on learning through digital delivery…
Each fall the A.P. Environmental Studies course at the San Francisco University High School joins Headwaters for a 3-day overnight field research program to investigate water quality in sub-alpine wetlands on Donner Summit.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s field program evolved into a unique virtual opportunity where students investigated a waterway near their homes. Using data from the United States Geological Survey Headwaters staff compiled a data set on water quality and phytoplankton from stations across the San Francisco Bay.
The array of stations across this unique estuary gave students a huge amount of freedom to investigate questions they found compelling. (See right: Map of data stations).
From this data, groups of students created their own research questions about the effects of water quality on phytoplankton abundance and biodiversity across the bay. Each group then worked with a scientist mentor to learn how to analyze spreadsheets with tens of thousands of data points to test their hypotheses.
One of the special things about how this program progressed was that each of the 5 teams of students picked a different set of water quality parameters to compare against phytoplankton abundance. This comparison of different parameters made the student’s final presentations an incredible learning experience.
Over the course of 5 presentations, students and instructors learned how pH, temperature, salinity, turbidity, and nitrogen affect primary productivity as well as the unique roles each of them play. Groups also found differences in the phytoplankton communities at different stations across the bay. Phytoplankton biodiversity was the highest furthest up the bay near the mouth of the Sacramento River (station 657) and closest to the Golden Gate Bridge (station 18).