Liverpool: LE fifth-graders visit lake for hands-on experimentation

Liverpool Elementary fifth-graders got a chance to act like real environmental scientists on Thursday at Onondaga Lake.

Under the direction of Liverpool Elementary Science Center Helping Teacher Alex Becerra, about 40 kids tested water, examined microscopic plankton and discussed the ramifications of introducing non-native species into a habitat.

"The question of the day was, is Onondaga Lake a living lake?" Becerra said. "This gave them a chance to look at the lake as a complex thing. It affirmed for them some things about the lake, and it gave them a chance to do some hands-on work to get a better understanding of it."

The project was funded by several grants, including a mini-grant from the Onondaga Lake Partnership. Several local groups also provided resources.

There were four different stations in which kids got to perform hands-on activities that helped them to understand the nature of the lake and the creatures that inhabit it: the floating classroom, the yacht club, the shoreline and the marina "B"-wall (the pier behind the Salt Museum). The students were split into groups and rotated through the stations throughout the day. In addition, staffers from Carpenter's Brook Fish Hatchery were on hand with an exhibit.

Site One: Floating classroom on the lake

Groups on the boat, led by Becerra, were involved in hands-on water testing. During these activities, they learned about sampling water at different depths to determine what kinds of species could live at those depths.

"We looked at dissolved oxygen levels and temperature at 20 feet and 30 feet deep," Becerra said. "Then we could determine what kinds of fish would be able to live in the lake."

The students on the boat also discussed Secchi disks, an interactive exercise that demonstrates how to measure the clarity of the water and light penetration. A Secchi disk is an 8-inch disk with alternating black and white quadrants. It is lowered into the water of a lake until it can be no longer seen by the observer. This depth of disappearance, called the Secchi depth, is a measure of the transparency of the water. Transparency is an indicator of the impact of human activity on the land surrounding the lake.

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