The Whitewood Creek Project: A K-12 STEM Initiative





Photos by Jaci Conrad Pearson, Black Hills Pioneer Times


The current focus of the project is on two major areas of Whitewood Creek:

  • a K-12 STEM initiative that is hoping to inspire young minds to love the sciences, guided by high school mentors in the advanced sciences, in the bioassessment of macroinvertebrates on Whitewood Creek below Deadwood.

  • a collaboration with the USFS at the Englewood Springs Botanical Area that is examining the geochemistry of the spring, and treating the invasive species at the site. Water quality will be measured through five core parameters: 1) temperature, 2) conductance, 3) pH, 4) dissolved oxygen (DO), and 5) flow. Measurements will be taken twice per year, in the spring and fall. Sampling will occur at least three discharge points at the hillside springs.


Inspiring Future Scientists and Scientifically Literate Citizens

STEM education can be greatly invigorated when it is K-12, place-based, and project-based.

1. The earlier kids get excited about science, the more motivated they will be to become scientists, and the more interested they will be in their science classes all the way through school.2. When such a STEM program has the support of the district, Superintendent, school board, and community, there is great potential to develop stewardship of local ecosystems that grows as the children grow.

"Developing a series of biomonitoring projects involves your students in their local ecology and creates a meaningful exposure to nature and environmental conditions. It allows your students to learn in an organismal constructivist manner supporting internalization of the information and a life long interest in the world around them. Biomonitoring helps make “place” relevant to your students, not material simply drawn from a textbook that presents information that is unfamiliar to the place they live. Biomonitoring projects provide a solid framework to move forward into studying other habitats, biomes, ecological issues, and controversies they will encounter outside their community." Jerry Krueger, SDSU

Children take ownership of the local environment, which as they continue to grow into adulthood and deeply investigate and collect data longitudinally in subsequent grades, will hopefully create an community-wide climate of oversight in which events like Deepwater Horizon, Fukishima Power Plant, the Sago Mine, would not happen. Local problems such as our community has experienced that resulted in placement on a Superfund list more than once over the years, would be mitigated by residents that are environmentally literate.

When as global and national citizens we observe man-made environmental catastrophes that we as STEM educators see as “teachable moments” there is a level of abstraction that increases with the distance of the event from one’s students. Place-based science removes that abstraction, and if it’s K-12, then as they grow, students themselves become resources, repositories of information, for students that follow. There is an exponential affect that inspired teachers working together, can have on inspiring future scientists. It is capacity building in our most precious resource, our youth.

Evaluating Information Students also need to know how to look at, or analyze information that they have gathered to derive trends. It is also important to evaluate the validity or limitations of measurements, and the efficacy of the results. Science requires critical thinking in the context of evaluating the value of data. A question that seems so simple; such as, "what is the cleanliness of our water", is actually very complex because it requires an agreement on the definition of terms like 'clean', or 'polluted'.

Finding Solutions

Once students have made observations and evaluated that data, if problems are identified they should have the opportunity to develop additional questions and brainstorm solutions.

Communicating Results

In a diverse world experimental results, and their implied implications might be relevant to many communities. Students must be able to share findings.

New research on Homestake contaminated soils on the Belle Fourche and Cheyenne Rivers

Macroinvertebrate bioassessment

Our working document is from the volunteer stream management guide:

Why monitor your watershed?
Typical reasons for initiating a volunteer monitoring project include:
  • Develop baseline characterization data
  • Documenting water quality changes over time
  • Screening for potential water quality problems
  • Determining whether waters are safe for swimming
  • Determining the impact of a municipal sewage treatment facility, industrial facility, or land use activity such as forestry or farming
  • Educating the local community or stream users to encourage pollution prevention and environmental stewardship
  • Showing public officials that local citizens care about the condition and management of their water resources
Of course, an individual program might be monitoring for a number of reasons. However, it is important to identify one or two top reasons and develop the program based on those objectives.
Some types of monitoring approaches and their application-
Physical Condition
Watershed survey
Determine land use patterns; determine presence of current and historical pollution sources; identify gross pollution problems; identify water uses, users, diversions, and stream obstructions

Habitat assessment
Determine and isolate impacts of pollution sources, particularly land use activities; interpret biological data; screen for impairments
Biological condition
Macroinvertebrate sampling
Screen for impairment; identify impacts of pollution and pollution control activities; determine the severity of the pollution problem and rank stream sites; identify water quality trends; determine support of designated aquatic life uses.
Chemical condition
Water quality sampling
Screen for impairment; identify specific pollutants of concern; identify water quality trends; determine support of designated contact recreation uses; identify potential pollution sources

What parameters or conditions will be monitored?

Determining what to monitor will depend on the needs of the data users, the intended use of the data, and the resources of the volunteer program. If the program's goal is to determine whether a creek is suitable for swimming, for example, a human-health related parameter such as fecal coliform bacteria should be monitored. If the objective is to characterize the ability of a stream to support sport fish, volunteers should examine stream habitat characteristics, the aquatic insect community, and water quality parameters such as dissolved oxygen and temperature. Alternatively, if a program seeks to provide baseline data useful to state water quality or natural resource agencies, program designers should consult those agencies to determine which parameters they consider of greatest value.
Money for test kits or meters, available laboratory facilities, help from state or university advisors, and the abilities and desires of volunteers will also clearly have an impact on the choice of parameters to be monitored. For characterization studies, EPA usually recommends an approach that integrates physical, chemical, and biological parameters.
How good does the monitoring data need to be?

Some uses require high-quality data. For example, high-quality data are usually needed to prove compliance with environmental regulations, assess pollution impacts, or make land use planning decisions. In other cases the quality of the data is secondary to the actual process of collecting it. This is often the case for monitoring that focus on the overall educational aspects of stream monitoring. Data quality is measured in five ways accuracy, precision, completeness, representativeness, and comparability
Where are the monitoring sites?
Sites might be chosen for any number of reasons such as accessibility, proximity to volunteers' homes, value to potential users such as state agencies, or location in problem areas. If the volunteer program is providing baseline data to characterize a stream or screen for problems, it might wish to monitor a number of sites representing a range of conditions in the stream watershed (e.g., an upstream "pristine" area, above and below towns and cities, in agricultural areas and parks, etc.). For more specific purposes, such as determining whether a stream is safe to swim in, it might only be necessary to sample selected swimming areas. To determine whether a particular land use activity or potential source of pollution is, in fact, having an impact, it might be best to monitor upstream and downstream of the area where the source is suspected. To determine the effectiveness of runoff control measures, a paired watershed approach might be best (e.g., sampling two similar small watersheds, one with controls in place and one without controls).
A program manager might also select one or more sites near professionally monitored sites in order to compare the quality of volunteer-generated data against professional data. It might also be helpful to locate some sites near U.S. Geological Survey gauging stations, which can provide useful data on streamflow. Certainly, for any volunteer program, safety and accessibility (both legal and physical) will be important in determining site location. No matter how sampling sites are chosen, most monitoring programs will need to maintain the same sites over time and identify them clearly in their monitoring program design.
Macroinvertebrate and chemical parameter survey methods appropriate for various needs can be found in the rest of this document at:
The Lead-Deadwood Watershed is here
  • Social Impacts
Will the Next War BeFought Over Water
  • Chemical Parameters Virtual Labs
Bangladesh Arsenic Scenario (AP Chem Gravimetric Analysis)
Acid Mine Drainage Virtual Lab (Chemcollective)
  • Biological Parameters
This link, is a "must read" if you are as concerned about the accuracy of your metrics as I am.
  • Historical Data