VVS Rolling Down a River

RiverWatch Promotes Healthy Water and Treatment Practices

On September 10 in Edmonton and September 18 in Calgary, Vista Virtual School (VVS) students put on their life jackets and rubber boots, and embarked in rafts to paddle along the North Saskatchewan and Bow rivers, testing water quality and river health with RiverWatch Alberta.

“I liked seeing how EPCOR cleaned the river to make it much cleaner,” said VVS grade 8 student William B-L. “We did tests…and I realized ‘it works!’”

Getting on the river and using scientific experiments to test the water helped students learn the rivers in our two major cities are healthy, even as you can see rubber tires from the landfill—embedded in the banks from over 100 years ago—and other deposited items on the river banks.

Put on by RiverWatch Alberta, students from across the province are given the opportunity to conduct experiments and learn more about the ecosystems surrounding the major rivers that flow across Alberta.

“The program met a large range of curricular outcomes from grades 8 up to 12,” said Christina Turner, a science teacher with VVS. “Each student was able to relate to different activities, and expand their understanding of the concepts in their courses.”

“‘Water Systems’ is one of the core units in grade 8 science,” said VVS junior high teacher Bryan Frechette. “Students learn that it is important to maintain clean and safe water sources for humans and the other living things that our survival depends upon. They also learn about how we can manage and protect our water.”

It was a good way for junior high and senior high students to understand the ecosystem and impacts a river has on the community—or in some cases, the impact the community has on the river.

“The content directly relates to Biology 20 curriculum,” said VVS high school science teacher, Shelley Rizzo. “We discuss different ecosystems, biodiversity in ecosystems, human impacts on ecosystems, and water quality that affects different ecosystems and organisms in our course and that is the focus of this RiverWatch activity.”

It also relates well to chemistry curriculum.

“The hands-on tests done of the river water were very technical and based in Chemistry 20/30 knowledge. The pH test, level of dissolved oxygen in the water, nitrates/phosphate tests are all related to chemistry,” said VVS science teacher, Simran Bhatia. “Getting to do hands-on experiments is an important part of the Chemistry 20/30 curricula. It is also valuable in giving students a new perspective on how the things we throw down our drains impacts the environment around us. A great day to meet other VVS students, too!”

Included in the trip was a visit to the water treatment plants in each city, learning how cutting-edge Alberta’s wastewater treatment and removal programs are; it gave everyone the opportunity to see ways to limit the amount, and types, of waste that flow into our rivers.

“Being able to interact with the test kits to do water studies and see how a water treatment plant works first hand (smells and all!),” said Rizzo. “All make a greater impact on the students than just seeing it on the whiteboard or in a video. All your senses are involved in this learning, not just your brain.”

It was a hands-on learning approach—or is that paddle-on? As students had to travel by boat, paddling their way to testing sites on the river.

“I really enjoyed the paddling as it gave me a lot of time to think about my life,” said VVS grade 10 student Jeremy P. “It [the experiments and learning] really helps me with science, as I can really relate to what I learned last year and when I am taking science next semester.”

Students were even able to pair together and make connections with other students throughout the day. Which was very beneficial, as one of the challenges in a distance learning environment is interacting socially with your peers, and activities such as this one are great opportunities to stay engaged in your classes and with classmates.

“Seeing students connect with each other after just meeting can be so rewarding for everyone involved,” said Rizzo.

It was an interactive way to learn concepts and strategies.

“Students were able to apply laboratory knowledge outside, collecting water samples and measuring pH, nitrates, and phosphates (among other observations),” said Turner. “We discussed how chemicals end up in waterways, and why these are difficult to remove. We also talked about titration analysis, and some of the careers in chemical engineering fields related to water analysis.”

Concepts that are sometimes harder to learn in the classroom were translated to live testing.

“Just being out of the classroom to ‘learn school content’ is so worthwhile for everyone,” said Rizzo. “You can relate on several different levels with the learning, whereas, a school classroom is just ‘pen and paper’ learning for the most part.”

It let students experience first-hand what they need to do to test river quality, as well as seeing what technology is needed to ensure water is safe for consumption and quality for people using the rivers.

“The tour of the Edmonton Waste Water Treatment Plant was eye-opening and super informative,” said Bhatia. “Any student living near the North Saskatchewan River should take part in this field trip!”

It was even relaxing for the students, as a way to learn scientific concepts and water protection, while enduring some exercise and fresh air.

Experimenting on the banks of the river definitely helped students understand why testing is needed, and what they can do to limit harmful chemicals and items from reaching the river.

“I enjoyed going on the water the best,” said VVS grade 9 student Reese B. “This helps me with my studies because it teaches me about the ecosystem around me.”

Posted on: September 23rd, 2019
Edmonton RiverWatch

In Edmonton, students floated down the North Saskatchewan River, paddling to explore the banks of the river. They learned why there are different trees on each side of the banks, the impact of 100s of years of waste and soil erosion had on the river’s development and health. Then students completed two sets of tests on the river to determine if the river was a healthy ecosystem. Nestled in between the tests, was a visit to the water treatment plant, where students saw the multiple stages of treatment that removes physical and chemical waste from the water before reintroducing the cleaner water downstream.

The tour was guided by RiverWatch Alberta, and the guide also provided many strategies for reducing waste and the things people commonly flush down the drains.

“The trip was excellent and our guide was wonderful,” said Vista Virtual School (VVS) junior high teacher Bryan Frechette. “The tour of the water treatment plant was a highlight; it was amazing to see how they’re able to clean the water and return it to the river. The site sampling was great, too. It was a chance for students to do some real-world hands-on science!”

Paddling down the river, RiverWatch ensured students experienced hands-on learning about the ecosystems, water quality, and the impact humans have on the river. From the original Edmonton landfill, where you could see rusted out cars, tires and other waste embedded in the river banks that eroded down over many years, to the bubbles in the water as it was reintroduced to the river after treatment—leading most students to assume there were a lot of soapy residues still in the water, even though the tests actually showed it was reduced.

“It was a fantastic experience!” said VVS science teacher, Simran Bhatia. “The RiverWatch team has been doing this trip for over 20 years now, and it really shows in their professionalism and organization. Every student and adult was given a set of rain boots and life jacket (with the option of rain gear available on wet days). Our guide was awesome at giving instructions and shared lots of knowledge about the Edmonton river valley. He even went through the official steps of the ‘scientific method’ and got the students really thinking about the river valley and their personal impact on our immediate environment.”

Right down to the smells and visuals of the water treatment plant, students saw hands-on what physical items and chemicals are introduced to our water daily.

“I learned how Edmonton is using their resources to clear up the water and make it a better resource for everyone around the world,” said grade 11 VVS student Gabrielle C. on her experience. “And how high tech they [EPCOR] is compared to other treatment plants.”

Calgary RiverWatch

In Calgary, students entered the Bow River, exploring the banks of the river as they paddled downstream. They learned about the trees and grass on both sides of the river and explored the impacts of waste deposits and soil erosion, and how this affects the river’s development and health.

Students then completed two sets of tests on the river to determine if the river was a healthy ecosystem.

They also visited the water treatment plant, where students saw the multiple stages of treatment that removes physical and chemical waste from the water before reintroducing the cleaner water downstream. They even saw inside and outside processes at the plant— including places most people do not get to see—such as the UV light disinfection building that further removes microchemicals and bacteria from the water.

“My favourite part of the day was near the end, when students had made connections with each other and were working as a cohesive team to collect samples,” said Vista Virtual School (VVS) science teacher, Christina Turner. “One student found a spider, picked it up, and brought it over to the guide who had an app on his phone that classified insects/plants/etc.”

Students were able to see plants, trees and undergrowth, land and water-borne insects, and more.

“As a collective group, we had a great time finding insects in the rocks and trying to hold them still for the camera,” said Turner. “Who knew there were so many types of grasshoppers?”