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The Mystery of the Missing Mayflies

Originally appears in the Fall 2012 issue

It can be a challenge for educators to develop science lessons and encounters with our natural world which instruct students in sustainable practices and responsible stewardship of natural resources. So I always look for real world opportunities to integrate field investigations into my classroom curriculum. Because of diminishing educational resources and limited contact time with students, I want to focus on the integral elements of what I want to teach, I try to find motivating student encounters with nature that mesh process skills with scientific knowledge, and my most effective lessons are integrated across core subject areas. I find field investigations help students become system thinkers, learn the skills of scientific inquiry, and develop an understanding that data must be organized, analyzed and communicated.  Outdoor field experiences incorporate holistic environmental teaching, give students a sense of stewardship of their local environment and imitate the important work of scientists. The following lesson is presented to give you the framework and understanding of field investigations so you can plan your own lesson based on your local environment or school grounds.

Getting Started

Last fall I read an article in our local paper titled, “Bug Absence Might Indicate Creek Problem.” The article explained that an “unhealthy absence” of mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies in Gore Creek near Vail, Colorado was causing the Water and Sanitation District cause for alarm. The location for the study was on a stretch of creek near where the highway begins its steep climb to Vail Pass and this area is a popular trout fishing location. The disappearance was prompting officials to ask, “Why?”

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Laney Heath has worked as an educator for 31 years, most recently as a teacher of the gifted in Grand Junction, Colorado. She also facilitates summer workshops with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society in Santa Barbara, California, instructing teachers in inquiry-based field investigations in the riparian, intertidal and kelp forest ecosystems.