Thornton Students Explore Aquatic Ecosystems

In order to sustain our conservation efforts, it is essential that Colorado TU also inspire the next generation to experience the natural world.  Experiencing nature is the first step toward the development of a conservation ethic and becoming good stewards of our natural resources. This Tuesday, May 7, marked the culmination of an exciting new program that provides youth with the opportunity to have an intensive, yet introductory, experience that will hopefully catapult them towards a life of conservation and connection with the great outdoors. At the inaugural Achieve Academy Stream Explorers Program, all 7th grade science students had the opportunity to interact with living aquatic organisms, learn about their behavior, tie some flies, and go fishing!  Nearly fifty students participated in the program. Achieve Academy, a part of the Mapleton School District, is located in Thornton a couple of miles from the South Platte River.

Stream Explorers is a Colorado TU curriculum that allows students to have hands-on, science-oriented, experiences with living aquatic organisms as well as develop basic fishing skills. Through this program, students develop a rudimentary understanding of the beauty, complexity, and dynamics of aquatic ecosystems and the fish they support. Through hands on learning and data collection students are guided in discovering something about aquatic ecosystems. The science activities are driven by student’s questions and allow them ownership of their own learning.

This program was implemented as a series where Colorado TU volunteers visited the school once a week over the course of four weeks. The first session, which was supposed to take place on the South Platte, was brought inside due to a winter storm. During this session, we brought the river to the classroom and students learned about aquatic macroinvertebrates, food webs, and life cycles through direct observation of bugs. During the second session, students performed experiments on how aquatic organisms react to various environmental factors including light, temperature, and gravity. The students analyzed the data collected during these experiments to make inferences on what these behaviors tell them about natural stream ecosystems in relation to seasonal and daily changes. The third session was a fly tying workshop where students learned the basic skills necessary to imitate natural aquatic organisms. During the fourth session the students traveled to a local park where they got the chance to sample and observe aquatic macroinvertebrates and go fishing.

Providing environmental education opportunities to students, particularly those in urban areas, is not only imperative in fostering a conservation ethic in today’s youth, but also has profound effects on school performance,and on emotional and physical health. In this way Colorado TU is not only contributing toward creating the next generation of conservationists, but also encouraging the development of the next generation of well adjusted, successful adults.

Thanks to all the volunteers who made this program possible.

To learn more about Stream Explorers, and other Colorado TU youth education programs, please contact Jake Lemon at or 720-354-2646.