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Student Projects

The Watershed

Author: Johnnie Lyman

Grade: 10th

Subjects: Art, Chemistry

Watershed project presentation board
Watershed project presentation
Watershed project presentation
Watershed project presentation
Watershed project presentation
Artwork on wall
Standing in front of watershed project sign
Team Photo

How do human activities affect watersheds? 

This project profiles our local watershed, from beginnings in the mountains, through stream monitoring, to aquafarming, and eventually to the ocean. Students will identify and research different problems facing the watershed, and work to provide solutions to these issues. Students will research the area using samples they and others have collected, and learn to analyze a watershed qualitatively and quantitatively.

Chemistry questions:

  • How to do we find room for both people and nature?
  • What are the impacting factors on a watershed? (pesticides, erosion, changes in vegetation, farming, etc.)
  • In what ways to watersheds impact people?
  • What can be found in water in a natural setting, and how to we work with those factors to provide water for human use? (drinking, gray, agriculture, etc.)
  • How does our watershed reflect local habitat (animals, plants, etc.)?
  • How do changes in water chemistry affect the organisms in that water?
  • What is the impact of fire on a watershed? What does fire do chemically and physically to an area?

This joint project between chemistry and art was designed to introduce students to the complicated concept of water in the southwest. On our third day of school we hiked to a local lake, looked at housing developments, and did a plant survey. This allowed students to immediately make a connection to a watershed, start learning the parts of a watershed, and look at ways in which humans can impact them.

We looked at watersheds from many different points of view, and students interviewed local experts who were farmers, watershed managers, and people who relied on the watershed for recreation or other uses. We also hiked near Lake Hodges with our ranger expert Leana Bulay, from San Dieguito Creek. Students then designed experiments which involved live animals, predicting how changes in the watershed would affect those organisms. We mainly focused on crawfish, but also looked at snails, crabs, fish, shrimp, and mussels. Students designed an experiment, then actually performed it. Students also created a digital magazine in their art class explaining different parts of a watershed, their interview write-up, and focused articles on one local watershed. Finally, students produced materials to teach others at our school-wide exhibition. These were meant to introduce the public to the watershed. We also displayed watercolor paintings the students produced in their art class, which were centered around the theme of our local watersheds.

Our exhibition found further life and meaning by being transferred to the Elfin Forest Interpretive Center and is being displayed by the Escondido Creek Conservancy. They have taken the students’ work and given it a new meaning by helping others learn from it in a public space.

Going into this project I was nervous. This was my second year teaching, and my first really long project. I was afraid the students would get sick of the topic and be unwilling to keep going. However, the students did really well with the experiments and after some initial fear around using Adobe Illustrator they began to get the hang of everything. The reading proved to be tough as we delved into the history of water in the southwest, but our virtual field trips to different locations really kept everyone up to speed. The best moments of this project came at exhibition and outside of class. When students were speaking with watershed experts, they were able to have an adult conversation, not just showing some background knowledge, but being able to think on their feet when asked questions. When students would tell me the conversations they had with people outside of class, including water managers, rangers, and other experts, they said they were able to speak with confidence because we had covered the topic in so many different ways in class. My goal is always to have students reach a level of expertise that gives them comfort with a topic and an ability to connect outside ideas to it. This project brought in outside expertise as well, which allowed the students to receive feedback from content experts as well as myself. This type of feedback is so valuable because they can really make sure their content knowledge is growing.

We were able to learn many things since the start of chemistry, including anions and cations, and a lot of things about molecular structure. Along with the exhibition work that we have been performing with the live species of animals that we have chose, in my case it was the crayfish, we have been learning hugely about the chemistry of water, and all sorts of different effects the environment has on it. Many of the things we have done in chemistry involved analyzing and writing up labs, which in the future, will help greatly in many different careers, and even as early as college, will be used a lot, so this would allow us to have practice with writing up labs and analyzing data, before we entered college. Some of the Habits of Heart and Mind that I have used include intellectual curiosity, which is shown greatly when I am seen doing my projects, as I find chemistry, and a lot of things science related very interesting. I find it always fascinating when you are able to create something, or study something, whether it be a strange chemical concoction, or live animals.


  • Watershed newspaper –
    • Water quality interviews
    • Recipes
    • Science of watershed
    • Watershed management interviews
    • Water cycle
  • Tank experiments – design and perform an experiment with a shelled organism to research effects of changes in water chemistry (crayfish, ghost shrimp, striped shore crabs, moon snails, California mussels, Mediterranean mussels).
  • Project design for exhibition: how do we inform people about watersheds? What are the major questions surrounding them, and what does the public need to know to make informed decisions?

Activities and Assessments:

  • Completion of the watershed newspaper, including final edits, graphic design, art, interviews, etc.
  • Design of watershed introduction for exhibition: how do you introduce a watershed and its important questions to the public?
  • Protocol for researching a watershed – what do you need to know to understand the impacts?

Students will know:

  • Chemicals are neither inherently good or bad in a watershed, but that most changes have impacts
  • Ions are present in water and they affect that water’s properties
  • How salts form and dissolve

Students will understand:

  • That humans and watersheds are tied together in many ways
  • That we have both positive and negative impacts on a watershed
  • That small changes can have big impacts on both people and watersheds
  • There is a complicated history to why our water has been treated the way it has

Students will be able to:

  • Design and conduct a scientific experiment, with a control and multiple variables
  • Inform the public about watershed health in a meaningful way
  • Utilize Adobe Illustrator to create graphics and other content to teach others about watersheds
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Watercolor paints and supplies
  • Fish Tanks
  • Crayfish or other freshwater organisms found in a watershed

This project ran from September to January, with an exhibition during the project


  • Introduction
  • Why do we care about watersheds?
  • Field trips to connect to watershed
  • Intro to water chemistry
  • Intro to local climate/weather
  • biogeochemical cycles
  • Intro to elements, compounds, salts (ionic/covalent bonding)
  • Introduce Adobe Illustrator – design tools
  • Examining the health of our watershed and impacts



  • Sampling/Design/Research
  • Continuation of work on infographics
  • Trip to Lake Hodges
  • Conduct interviews of local experts
  • Write-up of Interviews


  • Lab Design and implementation
  • Layout/Editing/Art
  • Finalizing paper – editing, layout, final interviews (Deadline: November 30th, 2014)
  • Product design for exhibition
  • EXHIBITION 1 :May 2015
  • EXHIBITION 2: The Escondido Creek Conservancy at Elfin Forest Reserve Interpretive Center. Open until August 2015.


The final extension for this project was transferring it to the Elfin Forest Reserve where the public can see it and learn from it. Donors to the reserve were treated to a special evening exhibition of the project to learn more about the specifics of what the students studied.

There were several rounds of assessment for this project, including design and completion of the experiments, and completion of the magazines. Content was then shared with experts from the watersheds and revisions were given to the students to be completed and resubmitted prior to being viewed by the public.

Los Celos celebration-26
Elfin Forest Exhibition
Student and teacher together for the opening of our exhibition at the Elfin Forest Interpretive Center.

Team photo

Team Photo
The whole team on exhibition night, ready to talk watersheds!


Exhibition Display
This is an example of the type of work students created for the winter exhibition.


Exhibition Display
Student work from the night of exhibition.


Tank experiment
Students explaining what experiment they did on their crayfish and how it went.


Students created paintings reflecting local watershed issues and wildlife in their art class.


Invasive vs Native species
A student explains his board which compares and contrasts native and invasive species.


Students explain how to separate fresh water from salt water.