“Steelhead Trout can survive here!” exclaims a 4th grader at Main Street Elementary School. I ask him why. “Well, there is enough dissolved oxygen, the transparency is high, pH is 6.5 and its not too cold!” With either a thermometer or test kit in hand, 4th graders from Main Street Elementary worked in groups alongside the flowing Soquel Creek to discover if Steelhead trout can survive in this local stream using water quality monitoring.

Water quality monitoring is a great tool for scientists to assess whether a stream can support aquatic organisms and is safe for human use. It is also great hands-on experience for students to learn about their local environment and how humans can impact our natural resources. Yet, with its complexity water quality monitoring is often hard to understand on its own. Why should I care about pH levels? Why should a fish care about temperature?

To make water quality monitoring accessible to students, the Coastal Watershed Council created a new lesson called “Can Steelhead Trout Survive Here?” Students are introduced to “Goldilocks”, a Steelhead trout who is very particular about where she can survive, the habitat has to be just right. Students learn about four main limiting survival factors for Steelhead including dissolved oxygen, transparency, pH and temperature. They then head to their local creek to practice using scientific equipment to test these four factors to determine if Steelhead trout can survive in their local stream.

Through this lesson students are given the power of scientific investigation, hands-on learning and critical thinking, while discovering what is most impacting local fisheries. They think through the problem, use tools to investigate and determine the answer using critical thinking skills. Students discover for themselves how they can best support Steelhead trout in their own backyards.

The story of Goldliocks the Steelhead trout is just one of the ways in which the Coastal Watershed Council is incorporating storytelling into science lessons for students to be able to better connect with the material they’re learning and remember it for longer. Other lessons that include both storytelling and hands-on science include Following Flo: Adventure of Steelhead Trout and Watershed Scavenger Hunt.


Learn More about CWC’s Environmental Education Programs



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