What's in the Water?

    What's in the Water?


    To observe and list abiotic factors in specific ecosystems.


    In this lesson, students will observe and list abiotic factors in lakes, rivers, or wetlands.  Specifically, they will measure pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and temperature.

    See discussion questions  that provide some additional information and some leading questions to help guide discussions on the linkages between water quality factors and how they change both naturally and through human activity.

    Materials Needed:


    Classroom Activity:class activity

    1. Ask students to list all the abiotic factors they can think of in an aquatic system (e.g., solar radiation, physical structure of the stream or lake, surrounding landscape, weather, and the properties of water itself)

    2. Tell them they will be testing four of these factors that relate specifically to the water pH, dissolved oxygen (DO), turbidity and temperature

    3. Define each of these factors. Talk about why these factors are important in an aquatic ecosystem, what can naturally influence these factors, and what humans can do to influence these factors

    4. Demonstrate how each test will be conducted in the field

    The following videos demonstrate how each test is conducted. pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and turbidity

    You can also let the students try out each test, using tap water or other water that you've brought to the classroom

    Prepare for Field Activity:

    Proper preparation, before entering the field, is important to class safety. Follow the links below for tips for thorough preparation.

    Field Activity:field activity

    1. Set up a station for each factor (pH. DO, turbidity, and temperature).

    Note: Many teachers have an adult or older student  volunteer at each station.


    • pH station supplies: pH strips, waste container for used strips, pH instructions;
    • DO station supplies: DO kit, waste container for used ampules, DO instructions;


    2. Divide the students into four groups. Provide each group with clipboards, pencils, and worksheets. Explain to the students that each group will start at a different station, and rotate so they will measure all the factors.


    3. The students should fill out the site observations section of the student worksheet before beginning their measurements.


    4. The students should follow the instructions for measuring each factor found on the sampling instruction sheets.


    5. As measurements are made, students record their results on the student worksheet. You can choose to have one record keeper per group, or have each student record all the information.


    6. Leave some time at the end to discuss your results. The worksheet provides comparisons with Utah's water quality standards. You may also want to compare results from different sites.

    STEM Activity:


    After sampling, it is beneficial for the students to graph and view the data in order to understand the activity they have just completed. Some helpful ways to assist students in a better understanding are:

    1. Use your data to create graphs and comparisons. You can view examples of some graphed data here

      • Compare results of the 4 samples taken from different water sources or different locations within a water body.  
      • Compare samples from the same station on multiple dates.

    2. Compare your results to results collected by others. 

    3. Have students interpret maps with water quality data. These maps were created by teachers involved in CMaP. Students could also monitor water quality data and use GPS technology to create their own maps.

    Discuss what the results mean. (See the discussion questions for this exercise, and for pH, Dissolved Oxygen, Temperature and Turbidity).

      • Utah's Water Quality Standards  or guidance are indicated on the field sheets.
      • Learn about the "beneficial use designations" of the stream you are monitoring and what your water measurements mean.
      • Discuss what activities might affect the measurements you made.  For example, loss of shade along a stream leads to more heating from the sun.

    Watershed connections  

    Watersheds are natural outdoor laboratories. Use the map below to find the watershed you teach in. Use the watershed connections in the Stream Side Science lessons to learn how you can use specific stream locations, local data sources, local contact and other information in your area to make the Stream Side Science experience more relevant to your students.   

    What watershed do you live in?

    If you live in Utah, the map below shows all of the watersheds that either drain into or out of Utah.
    OR go to Surf Your Watershed to locate your watershed anywhere in the U.S.