Boat of Knowledge gives students new perspective on Ohio rivers

By on October 1, 2012

Southeast Ohio schools have two things in common. Many are underprivileged, and many are nearby rivers and streams that roll through foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Students may see water every day, but tight class schedules and a lack of funding for science equipment can leave their understanding of water murky.

Local high school teachers and Ohio University graduate students and professors decided to clear things up with a hands-on water quality monitoring experience. They created a program that combines classroom sessions and a boat trip to teach students about water. The goal is to give students a new perspective on the brook running under the bridge they might cross on the way to school every day.

“You can be taught something from a text book, but you learn so much more when you have your hands on it,” said John Bentz a graduate fellow in the Boat of Knowledge in the Science Classroom, or BooKS, program.

High school classes participating in the program are assigned a graduate fellow who teaches lessons on water based on his or her area of study. Once the students have spent some time learning about water, they experience some real-life research. Each class gets a day to hop on the Boat of Knowledge and ride down the Ohio River to an area where they monitor and record water parameters.

Students learn about many different parameters of water quality testing. Bentz said many of his students knew about pH, but know little about other testing parameters.

“After they see what all gets studied, why it gets studied … they see the importance,” Bentz said.

The high schools the BooKS program serves are all in rural, underprivileged areas of the state. The program offers an opportunity to use water monitoring technology students would never see during a regular day of science class.

Students below deck on the Boat of Knowledge testing water quality parameters.

One of the tools the graduate fellows use both for education and research is a Hach CEL/890 Portable Laboratory. The Boat of Knowledge has a station incorporating the portable lab for nutrient testing. Graduate fellows can also use the lab in the classroom to give students experience in testing water. Bentz said not all the students can make it on the boat trip so the portable lab gives them opportunity to test water quality from their classroom. He encourages his students to bring in their own water samples to test. “They get the same experience even though they’re not in the boat,” Bentz said.

The BooKS program serves Marietta High School, Athens High School, Alexander High School, Federal Hocking High School, Meigs High School, Warren High School, Trimble High School, Gallia Academy High School, Southern Local High School and Tri County Career Center High School.

Image: Boat of Knowledge (Credit: Ohio University)

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