Student Investigations & Activities

riparian buffers Liz Yocum 1171x593

As part of a Learn Outside, Learn at Home investigation, CBF Field Educator Liz Yocum visited a local stream to show why riparian buffers are important for clean water. Her ice tray contains a few of the macroinvertebrates that live there.

Liz Yocum/CBF Staff

While we are eager to continue educating students during this difficult time, the health and safety of our staff and our communities is our top priority. We have followed strict social distancing rules when creating our videos.

On this page, students, teachers, and parents will find investigations and worksheets connected to Chesapeake Bay watershed content and curriculum. Many of these investigations include Adobe PDF worksheets and can be used with students learning remotely. Over the course of the spring, we will develop new content to support our school system partners, teachers, and parents.

TOPICS   Bay Critters | Habitat | Neighborhood Discovery | Oysters | State of the Bay | Watersheds

Spanish language worksheets are available for the following Investigation: Oyster Filtering Power
More to come

Bay Critters

Bay Balance Yoga

The Chesapeake Bay is an estuary—a place where fresh and saltwater mix that provides a unique habitat for a vast array of birds, mammals, insects, and fish. Get up close and personal with some of the Bay's coolest critters as you contemplate how each is adapted to live in this environment. Then, unroll your yoga mat and have some fun interpreting what you see with the Bay Balance Yoga Investigation!

 


Fish Adaptation

The Chesapeake Bay is home to fish of all shapes and sizes, each species uniquely adapted for the conditions where it lives. What can you learn about a fish’s food source, habitat, and lifestyle just from looking at it? Join CBF Educator Tiffany Granberg as she goes “fishing” for answers in this video, then take a deeper dive with our Fish Adaptations Investigation.

 


Blue Crab 101

Blue crabs are the Chesapeake Bay’s signature crustacean. They are delicious to eat, support commercial and recreational fisheries, and are a key piece in the Bay’s food web. They are also fascinating marine animals that are negatively impacted by pollution in the Bay. In the video below, watch as CBF Virginia Field Manager Ken Slazyk describes blue crabs’ key features and their life cycle in this animated video. By completing the Blue Crab 101 Investigation you can learn more about this important species.

 


Spring Peepers

On spring nights in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, a chorus of high-pitched peeps rings out from marshy woodlands and swamps.

In the video below, follow along with CBF Educator Liz Glaston as she tracks down the source—a tiny tree frog called the northern spring peeper. After watching the video, explore the importance of the small, rain-fed wetlands they call home and try your hand at composing some "Peeper Poetry" with our Spring Peepers Investigation.

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Habitat

Freshwater Mussels

Mussels are similar in many ways to oysters—they are bivalves with two shells that can filter water. But unlike oysters that only live in saltwater, several species of mussels can be found in the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s freshwater rivers and streams. CBF’s Virginia Senior Scientist Joe Wood researches the water quality benefits of these freshwater mussels. In this video, Wood explains why these mussels are good for rivers, how mussels trick fish into helping them out, and other interesting details about these dynamic organisms. After watching, test what you’ve learned by filling out the Freshwater Mussels Investigation.

 


How Forests Help Save the Bay

The towering trees and other vegetation that make up a forest provide several clean water benefits. Trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Their branches and leaves provide shade and habitat for animals. Their roots naturally filter water by absorbing pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus before they reach the Bay. But don’t take it from just us! Watch as Avett the Dog explores a forest and explains how he and other animals benefit from the clean air and water they provide. Then check out our Figuring Out Forests and Streams Investigation.

 


Freshwater Wetlands

In the videos below, follow along with CBF educators Ronnie Anderson and Ben Carver to learn about natural and manmade freshwater wetlands in the Bay watershed, what lives in them, and how they are threatened. Then dive into our Freshwater Wetlands Investigation.

Wooded Freshwater Wetlands

 

Exploring a Constructed Wetland

 


Freshwater Stream Health

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is composed of a network of streams and rivers that funnels freshwater from the land into the Bay. Over time, many of these streams have been negatively impacted by human activity, which has reduced the water quality entering the Bay and caused a loss of biodiversity.

In the following video, CBF Educator Doug Walters explores a tributary stream and discusses how to evaluate its health. After watching the video, see if you can identify key factors related to stream health in our physical freshwater stream investigation What Makes A Healthy Stream?" and our biological freshwater stream investigation What Lives in Our Freshwater Stream?.

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Neighborhood Discovery

Introduction to Backyard Birding

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to a plethora of well-known birds. Near waterways you can find the Chesapeake’s famed raptors—the bald eagle and the osprey. The watershed’s forests, woods, and backyards are home to recognizable species such as cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, and mourning doves. In this video, join CBF Educator Tiffany Granberg as she explains how you can identify the birds that may frequent your backyard and other neighborhoods in the Bay watershed. To learn more about the birds in the area, try the Identify Birds in Your Own Backyard Investigation.

 


Composting

When plants or portions of them, such as leaves or branches, die and fall to the ground they undergo a process called decomposition. As plants decompose, their organic materials break down, which returns nutrients to the soil. These nutrients help other plants grow. When humans control the process of decomposition it’s called composting. In this video, CBF Educators Tiffany, Leigh, and Claire explain composting basics, how to build a composter at home, and the different stages of decomposition. You can learn more about composting and its environmental benefits by completing the Composting Investigation.

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Oysters

Oyster Habitat Observations

You may know oysters help improve water quality and clarity in the Bay by filtering water, but did you know they also create homes for other critters? Join CBF Educator Kellie Fiala to explore how oysters build three-dimensional reefs and why this habitat is crucial for a wide variety of aquatic life, including crabs and fish. Try the Oysters and a Clear Bay Investigation to learn more about the value of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.

 


Oyster Filtering Power

Did you know that oysters feed on algae and naturally filter the water? That’s true! An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. The bivalves’ natural filtering ability helps clarify the water of the Chesapeake Bay. Clearer water helps more underwater grasses grow and improves the overall ecosystem. Fish and other marine critters use oysters and underwater grasses for protection and to reproduce.

In the following video you’ll be able to see for yourself how oysters make the water clearer. After watching it, work with your family members to figure out your family’s water usage and then calculate how many oysters you’d need to filter that amount of water with our Oyster Power Investigation. Haz clic aquí para la versión en Español. Then check out our Ask an Expert video for more cool facts.

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State of the Bay

Controlling Shoreline Erosion

Shorelines are an important line of defense for reducing pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. For many years private landowners have armored shorelines with bulkheads or other artificial methods to try to reduce land loss due to erosion. However, these methods can create issues over time as structures break down due to lapping waves and other factors. Meanwhile, scientific studies have shown that natural or "living" shorelines braced by grasses, trees, and other vegetation are more than capable of halting erosion while also providing habitat for animals and capturing carbon to reduce the effects of climate change.

In our Living Shorelines video, CBF educators Tiffany and Michael discuss the value of living shorelines, as well as issues related to bulkheads and other armored shorelines. After watching it, see if you can complete our Controlling Shoreline Erosion Investigation worksheet.

 


Backyard Report Card

Clean water starts with each of us—in our homes, in our yards, in our neighborhoods, and in our communities. From turning off the faucet when we brush our teeth to mowing lawns less frequently to provide habitat for wildlife, every action matters. Follow along with our Backyard Report Card video and downloadable investigation to explore how you impact the Bay at home and what you can do to safeguard water quality.

 


Sediment in Streams

Sediment is composed of dirt and other small particles. Sediment enters streams and other waterways when it’s picked up by rain washing across the land, as well as from streambank erosion. Too much sediment in the water causes it to become muddy, which restricts the growth of underwater vegetation and can endanger marine life. Watch the following video as CBF Educator Cameron Crannell explores a stream in Virginia and evaluates the water clarity to determine how sediment is impacting the water. By answering questions in the Reducing Sediment in Our Streams Investigation you can learn more about this ongoing Chesapeake Bay issue and ways to reduce sediment in waterways.

 


The State of Your Bay

Every neighborhood is filled with features that can impact water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. In the following video, explore two different neighborhoods with CBF Educators Megan and Claire. They’ll explain how trees, ditches, lawns, roofs, and other things that make up our neighborhoods are related to the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

After watching the video, try the State of Your Bay Investigationto explore your neighborhood’s impact on habitats and water quality.

 


Water Quality Testing

One of the most important ways scientists track the health of waterways is by performing regular water quality tests. These long-term monitoring data are essential for identifying pollution and gauging the effectiveness of restoration efforts in local rivers, streams, and the Bay. In the following videos, learn what water quality is and why it’s important from CBF Educator Rick Mittler, then follow along with CBF Educator Claire Cambardella as she performs basic tests to measure the chemical water quality characteristics of her local stream.

After watching the videos, learn more about what factors affect water quality measurements and how they are used in our Water Quality: Connect the Bay to the Classroom Investigation.

Why is Water Quality Important?

 

Water Quality Testing

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Watersheds

The Importance of Trees

Trees are among nature’s most important natural filters. They clean our air and water as well as provide shade and habitat for animals. But how much do you really know about them? Can you identify different species of trees that grow in the Chesapeake Bay region? Did you know that a tree’s rings can be used to determine how old it is and even if certain weather events occurred during its lifetime? In the following video, CBF Educators Liz and Ronnie will walk you through how trees improve water quality, how to identify them, and how you can analyze tree rings. In the companion investigation, you can learn more about how important trees are to the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.

 


Reducing Erosion is Good for the Bay

Every day throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, sediment from the ground is being washed or blown away by water and wind. This natural process is called erosion. When erosion happens too quickly—primarily due to water running off from agricultural land or excessive development in cities and towns—it can cause problems in waterways and the Bay. Too much sediment in the water makes the water cloudy, blocking sunlight from reaching underwater grasses. In addition, the excess dirt can potentially smother oysters. In this video, join CBF Educators Morgan and Matt at Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs as they explain why reducing erosion is good for the Bay.

After watching, test what you’ve learned by completing our Erosion Investigation.

 


The Watershed Journey of A Raindrop

A watershed is an area of land that contributes water to a body of water. The Chesapeake Bay’s watershed is made up of about 64,000 square miles of land that includes six states and the District of Columbia.

In the following video, watch the journey of Rio the Raindrop as it falls to the land near the Appalachian Mountains and travels through various streams and rivers on its way downhill to the Chesapeake Bay. Along the route, Rio, like other raindrops, is affected by pollution as well as natural filters that make the water cleaner.

After watching the video, work on our How Does the Land Affect the Water? Investigation to explore facts and features related to the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

 


Nutrient Scavenger Hunt

Nutrients are substances that are essential to life. They help plants and animals grow. But when too many nutrients enter waterways, they become a source of pollution. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus cause algal blooms that deplete the Bay and its tributary rivers and streams of oxygen, making the water inhospitable to marine life. That’s why the Chesapeake Bay Foundation works to prevent these nutrient pollutants from entering waterways in excessive amounts.

In the following video, join CBF Educators Maya, Ochae, and Nate as they scour their neighborhoods looking for sources of nutrient pollutants and the methods used to reduce them. After watching the video, see if you can find sources of nutrients and stormwater management best practices in your own neighborhood in the Nutrients: Too Much of a Good Thing Investigation.

 


Understanding Water Runoff: Gray vs. Green Filters

During and after rain showers, the water must go somewhere. Where does it go? Well, depending on the type of land the rain falls on the water can either run through natural green filters such as healthy soil and vegetation, or over hardened gray filters such as compacted dirt, roads, and roofs. The water that travels over and through these green and gray filters ultimately ends up in streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Graphic showing the landscape can be a green filter filtering pollution as the rainwater slowly sinks into the ground or a gray funnel, allowing pollution and toxins to be washed into our waterways.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

In the following video, CBF Educator Nathan Hesse examines different gray and green filters that make up the landscape and how they affect water quality. After watching the video, try our investigation When Rain Hits the Land.

Bonus investigation: A Little Puddle at the Bottom of a Big Hill
In this investigation, students can review and practice ratios as they relate to the depth of the Chesapeake Bay and other bodies of water.

 


Riparian Buffers and Clean Water

Riparian buffers, which are trees, shrubs or other vegetation along a stream or waterway, are an important tool to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The plants help filter pollutants that would otherwise enter the stream and ultimately the Bay. The buffers reduce land erosion and sediment delivery to streams or sedimentation, which can be harmful to stream health. Although erosion and sedimentation are natural processes, inappropriate land-use can accelerate their impact and cause sediment pollution.

In the following video watch as CBF Field Educator Liz Yocom details how riparian buffers can improve stream health and identifies several macroinvertebrates that can be found in streams.

After watching the video, complete the Riparian Buffer Investigation.

 

Share Your Clean Water Story

What does the Bay, its rivers and streams mean to you? What impact have the Bay and its local waters had on your life? We'd like to know.

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Do you enjoy working with others to help clean the Chesapeake Bay? Do you have a few hours to spare? Whether growing oysters, planting trees, or helping in our offices, there are plenty of ways you can contribute.

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