Truckee High School students conduct Van Norden research projects |

Truckee High School students conduct Van Norden research projects

A group of students works in October at Van Norden Meadow.
Courtesy photo |

SODA SPRINGS, Calif. — In early October, the River Ecology Class at Truckee High School, taught by Kirby Reed, worked with the Headwaters Science Institute for a three-day program that allowed students to onduct their own original field research.

The class worked in small groups to create four unique research projects. The students worked up in Soda Springs in Van Norden Meadow, owned by Truckee Donner Land Trust, to conduct research.

One of the groups, made up of Alonso L-S, Ryan Zellers and Garrett Murtha studied the impact of the dam on the water quality, fish, amphibians and macro-invertebrates.

The group found there were more macro-invertebrates below the dam then above, but there were more fish and amphibians above the dam. The stream was flowing above the dam, but stagnant below the dam.

They found that the dam did not have a large affect on the algae and water quality. There overall conclusion was that the dam was not severely changing the composition of the creek below the dam

A group of five girls — Stephanie Randall, Izzy Abarno, Wendy Vivas, Mitzi Ayala and Marlyn Angeles — studied the relationship between the soil nutrients and the vegetation in Van Norden meadow.

They found that more plants grow in areas that have more soil nutrients, and that the closer the plants are to the water the taller they grow. The students in this group learned to take soil samples, measure the soil nutrients and measure plant abundance.

Another group of students, Rafa Sanchez, Kevin Lopez and Hyla Staudenmayer, studied how proximity to water the meadow affects the type and number of animals found in the area.

They found there are more insects and birds living near the water than farther away from the water. Even though there were fewer insects and birds in the areas of the meadow that were dry, the students found a larger variety of species found in the dry areas. Most of the individuals found near the water tended to be from the same couple of species.

The fourth group of Alek, Blair and Grayson studied the birds found in Van Norden Meadow. They predicted that they would find more predatory birds than other types of birds because the meadow is open and easy for predatory birds to hunt.

However, they did not find what they expected. These students found far more water birds than other types of birds and very few predatory birds. The students concluded that this was likely due to the near by lake and that because of the energy loss between trophic levels there should be fewer predatory than non-predatory species.

All in all, this research process allowed students to meet all eight of the new Next Generation Science Standards Practices. California adopted the new NGSS and now the teachers need to make sure the students are able to meet all the areas of these new standards. Headwaters does custom programs that allows any science class to be able to meet the practice standards and content standards of the NGSS.

To learn more about their projects, check out their great presentations on the Headwaters Science Institutes website: under past student research.

This article was submitted by the Headwaters Science Institute, which has worked with other classes in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District and has taught professional development workshops for teachers in the district. Visit to learn more.

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