Teach for the Watershed

Teach for the Watershed

We are building the next generation of Great Lakes stewards through watershed education!

Teach for the Watershed (T4W) is a place-based, outdoor education program built upon the Michigan Science Standards and Next Generation Science Standards for watersheds, ecosystems, and nonpoint source pollution. Each year, our staff puts in over 1,500 hours in West Michigan streams to facilitate scholars’ learning first-hand how they can directly influence the local environment.

Starting out in the classroom, your students will explore a tabletop Enviroscape Watershed and Nonpoint Source Pollution model to discover how water moves across a landscape and transports pollution from our watersheds and into our waterways. Then it’s off to the field to engage in place-based learning by using the tools of the trade like waders, nets, microscopes, and chemistry kits to assess the health of your local stream. 

Part One: Enviroscape - 1 hour guest presentation

The Enviroscape Nonpoint Source Pollution Model is a striking model landscape that demonstrates the sources and effects of pollution within a watershed. Your students will be able to engage with the tabletop model and experience first-hand how nonpoint source pollution is created and moves into streams via stormwater runoff.

This lesson can be led by one of our WMEAC educators or facilitated virtually with a pre-recorded presentation.

Part Two: Freshwater Stream Study - 2 hour field trip


A stream study is a dynamic, hands-on approach to learning about the many natural elements that make up our local waterways.

Stepping into the shoes (or rather waders) of a freshwater biologist, your students will explore, discover, and measure this mysterious underwater world. Each station of this field experience seeks to find clues about the quality of our streams and the impacts of nonpoint source pollution from our watersheds.

In addition to using industry-grade equipment such as chest waders, dip nets, dichotomous keys, Secchi disks, and water chemistry kits, each student will be provided their own Watershed Journal to record their data and discoveries.

Station One - Biodiversity Walk and Physical Measurements (25 Minutes)

Starting off their field experience, the students will conduct a visual investigation of the riparian zone: the banks of the stream and surrounding land. Recording their observations in their Watershed Journal, they will identify potential sources of pollution and other abiotic factors that impact stream health.

This station also gives your students the opportunity, as the season allows, to remove vegetative invasive species or pick up litter from the field site. WMEAC will provide appropriate keys, bags, and gloves for this station.

Station Two - FreshWater Chemistry (25 minutes)

During this station a qualified mentor will lead your students through several chemical experiments to test for pollution within the watershed. Students will be able to participate in each test, learn what pollutants affect each test, and how to read their results. Each group’s data will be recorded in their Watershed Journals to be compared in the classroom after the field trip.

Equipment includes a thermometer, turbidity column, and easy-to-use LaMotte TesTabs for dissolved oxygen, pH, phosphates and nitrates. WMEAC will provide all the necessary equipment for each test.

Station Three - Collecting aquatic Macroinvertebrates (25 minutes)

During this station, students will wear waders and use dip nets to collect aquatic macroinvertebrates from leaf packs, logs, rocks, and undercut banks. These organisms are the basis of our freshwater food chains and are important bioindicators of water quality. 

Lacking a backbone and living in our streams and lakes, common “macros” include many types of insects as well as worms, snails, clams, and crustaceans! Different kinds of macros can survive in polluted or clean waters so sampling their biodiversity can help us estimate their stream’s health and quality. 

Station four - Identifying aquatic Macroinvertebrates (25 minutes)

After collecting a sample of macroinvertebrates from the stream students will sort, count and identify the organisms. This activity shows students how we can use macroinvertebrates as a biotic index to estimate the health of the stream.

Freshwater “macros” can be sorted into three categories based on their water quality needs: tolerant, somewhat sensitive, and highly sensitive to pollution. Compiling how many of each type of macro we find in the stream can help us estimate the impact of nonpoint source pollution on the water.

WMEAC will provide your students with tools and resources for identification. If you are interesting in renting our macroinvertebrate identification kit click here for more information.