HRWC offers teachers a free streamside program that engages students in learning about water quality and protecting the watershed. Through hands-on and small group activities, students use the skills they learn in the classroom to evaluate the health of their local creek, stream or river.

The program strives to spark a life-long interest in science and a foundation for a career in a STEM discipline by exposing students to how scientists think and by giving students direct career-related experiences.

How it works

The program is offered twice a year in the Fall (September/October) and Spring (April/May) for 4th-12th grade students during the school day. Teachers work with HRWC staff to schedule a date, time, location (stream or waterway close to the school) and number of classes. HRWC Coordinators work with teachers to determine best lessons to meet grade-specific goals.

On the program day, HRWC staff and a group of trained volunteer educators set up experiment stations before the students’ arrival. Students are separated into small groups and assigned to stations staffed by a volunteer. HRWC supplies worksheets for students to fill out at each station. Volunteers work with each group in timed increments. Teachers are free to interact with each group or assist as they see fit.

For longer sessions, a lunch break is scheduled. Transportation to and from the site and lunch are not provided. Parent volunteers are recommended.

Education Program

The experiments and worksheets used in the program were created by seasoned educators to utilize skills taught in biology, chemistry, environmental science, math and physics classes. For many students, this will be their first exposure to field work. The program gives them the opportunity to experience how scientists think and work. Volunteers also encourage students to think beyond their local stream and contemplate how human interactions affect the watershed. Students then discuss possible interventions and ways to get involved.

Select Activities

Teachers can choose from ten activities that can be tailored for different age groups and class sizes. Most teachers select two to four activities for the day. HRWC staff works with teachers to pick the best combination for their students. Each group will collect data that can be used back in the classroom.

Activity Description
Benthic Macroinvertebrates Collection HRWC volunteers collect materials from the stream.  Students collect and sort insect larvae and other small creatures.
Benthic Macroinvertebrates Identification Students sort and identify benthic macroinvertebrates. Appropriate for classroom and streamside visits.
Conductivity Using conductivity meter, students measure the conductivity of local water samples. Appropriate for classroom and streamside visits.
Dissolved Oxygen Students use a chemical indicator test to measure the amount of dissolved oxygen in local water samples. Best for secondary students.
pH Students use a pH kit to measure the pH of local water samples.  Appropriate for classroom and streamside visits.
Stream Discharge Students measure stream speed across a transect, then calculate discharge. Some students enter the stream. Best for secondary students.
Stream Erosion Students perform experiments to see how variables of slope, amount and pulse affect erosion.  Appropriate for classroom and streamside visits.
Stream Speed Students measure the speed of the stream.
Streams as Homes Students observe and discuss the variety of habitats in the stream.
Temperature Students use alcohol thermometers to measure the temperature of the stream.
Turbidity Students use a turbidity tube to measure the relative amount of sediment in the stream.

Rocks, water, and bugs

Students look through trays and find macroinvertabrates

Modeling nature

Students see how the slope of a bank affects the way water enters a creek and why too much water moving too fast creates erosion

Measuring stream discharge

By putting a ball in the water and timing how long it takes to get from one point to another, students can measure a stream's velocity


Interested in comparing the data your students collect to similar data sets? Visit our School and Water Quality Data page to learn more.


Volunteers are vetted in advance by HRWC staff. Streamside program volunteers come from all walks of life including teachers, scientists, college students, and passionate locals. They are all trained by HRWC during sessions where they are taught how to engage students of varying ages in the different experiments. Visit the Streamside Education Volunteers page to learn more or sign up.


Since 2012, trained volunteers have annually led 1,500 4th-12th grade students annually from 20 schools in a series of hands-on stream ecology lessons. The program and educational worksheets were designed by the late Dave Wilson, a retired Vanderbilt University chemistry professor and HRWC board member. The educational materials were later integrated with local curriculum standards by Janet Kahan, HRWC’s environmental education consultant and a former Ann Arbor Public Schools Environmental Educator.

Ready to get started?

HRWC’s streamside education program can host a limited number of outings per season. We ask teachers to schedule events three to four months in advance. Spots fill quickly so please reach out early! Fill out the Streamside Education Program Scheduling Form (for now, email Jason Frenzel at to begin the process of scheduling a streamside education outing for your students! Once submitted, HRWC staff will reach out to discuss details and answer questions.

This program is supported by