Help your students discover science in the great outdoors
By using national parks as “living laboratories,” students gain a greater understanding of their impact on the environment as well as a greater sense of their responsibility as stewards.
We know it’s tough to get students out of the classroom these days, yet we still work with over 6,000 students every year!
Teaching science in context
The Bridging The Watershed program provides a wonderful opportunity to teach science in context and help students and teacher achieve a meaningful watershed field experience.
All activities in the BTW program, including the field study, are designed to engage students in Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEE).
Not all classes are the same
If there is anything we can do to assist you in participating in a field study, please ask. We can adapt the program to fit your needs.
Students engage in real science and issues as they collect authentic data on topics such as water quality, runoff and sediment in the water, and trash in the environment.
Free to Students & Teachers
Thanks to our partnership with the National Park Service and generous support from our donors, we are able to bring Bridging the Watershed field trips free (excluding transportation costs) to teachers our participating teachers.
You must have successfully completed at least one summer teacher/ranger institute or a workshop in one or more of the Bridging the Watershed curriculum modules to request a free field study through this program. Please check our Teacher & Ranger Professional Development page for upcoming opportunities and workshops.
How to Participate
- Register for a Teacher Workshop
To bring students to a national park in your area, all teachers must participate in one of our workshop, which are hosted throughout the year.
- Get Your Students Ready with Pre-Activities
Each module includes pre- and post- program activities which are designed to help students prepare. Being prepared is a critical step towards giving your students a successful experience in the parks.
- Preview the Purpose and Goals of the Trip
Although students may not have a precise idea of what will be expected of them during the field study, it is important that they have a general expectation of what they are going to be doing during the field study. This will help facilitate the field study and help the students know how they should prepare for their visit.
- Be Ready for an Adventure
This field study is far more than a walk in the park; it is designed to help students make a greater connection, both to their environment and to their work, by doing actual scientific studies in a natural setting and collecting authentic data that has real-world significance.
Program Availability for Spring 2023
In-person programs are returning to seven parks throughout the region this spring.
We are offering the following FREE programs at these locations.
Dates are limited.
(Note: These programs are for teachers who have completed BTW training):
National Mall and Memorial Parks
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Great Falls Park (VA)
Prince William Forest Park
Catocin Mountain Park
Can’t schedule an in-person field study?
We have virtual Bridging the Watershed options available too!
Virtual Programs (1-hour)
Water Canaries (macros)
In-Person Programs (3-4 hours)
Water Canaries (macros)
Exotic Invaders (invasive species)
Watershed Watchdogs (water chemistry)
Don’t Get Sedimental
Transportation logistics and costs are the responsibility of each participating school. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Bridging The Watershed program offers 5 core modules, as well as a host of park-specific curriculum units, that offer classroom lessons to prepare students for their field studies, guidance for data analysis after a field study, and background information on the subjects covered in the module. The Bridging The Watershed curricula builds on the constructivist pedagogy and uses the 5 E’s of the teaching/learning cycle – Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate – as its format. All activities are student-directed, with the teacher acting as the guide/facilitator. All lessons are correlated to national, state, and local education standards.
Choose a Program Right For You
You can view our list of participating parks here, and download the Field Study Restriction Guide spreadsheet to see a complete list of which lessons and modules can be taught in which parks.
The Six Core Modules
Exotic Invaders: Assessing Exotic Invasive Species
Students will identify and quantify the percentage of alien and invasive plant species present in national parks. Prior to the field study students will familiarize themselves with using a dichotomous key (decision tree) for plant identification by practicing with a BTW online activity. In addition to online practice, the activity “Bean There, Done That” allows students to grasp the importance of random sampling in scientific data collection by studying a sample site where beans are used to represent different plant species. Once the field study is completed, students analyze and report their data and take time to reflect on their unique park experience. Finally, students apply their knowledge and comprehension to research the impact of other invasive alien organisms. Students are encouraged to use the knowledge and experience they’ve gained in the field to engage in a service project such as participating in volunteer removal of invasive exotic plants from area national parks.
Don’t Get Sedimental: Runoff and Sediment in the River
Students will determine a National Park’s stream habitat rating based upon abiotic, biotic, and cultural factors. Prior to the field study students explore cultural eutrophication, land use and impact on the watershed over time. After the field study students analyze and report their real-time data, reflect on their park experience, and assess their group’s performance. Finally students apply their gained knowledge and comprehension to a real scenario in the watershed. Students are encouraged to use their field experience to engage in a service project such as joining a local stream monitoring group to examine the health of area streams.
Talkin’ Trash: Make a Litter Difference
Students will participate in a comprehensive analysis of trash present in a National Park.During their field study, students will collect, sort, and weigh all trash they have collected as a group. They will compute the percentage of recyclables by weight and volume, and compare their findings with that of the rest of the class. Prior to the field study students will analyze trash generated by a typical household to make inferences about lifestyle and consumer choices, and how these choices have lasting impact on their watershed. After the field study students analyze and report their real-time data, reflect on their park experience, and assess their group’s performance. Finally students apply their knowledge and understanding to larger issues by exploring the feasibility of landfill mining, and examining the repercussions of their own consumer choices. Analysis of this issue will encourage students to engage in a service learning project such as instituting and monitoring recycling in their school or participating in a cleanup in a National Park or their own schoolyard.
Water Canaries: Assessing Benthic Macroinvertebrates
In a national park, students will collect benthic macroinvertebrates from streams with nets, classify and identify them. Prior to the field study, students act out a play that portrays macroinvertebrates as “water canaries,” or early warning signals of decreasing water quality. They will use the Bridging The Watershed to identify macroinvertebrates they might find in the park. After the field study students analyze and report their real-time data, reflect on their park experience, and assess their group’s performance. By using macroinvertebrates as water quality indicators, students will gain firsthand knowledge of how to determine stream health. This knowledge serves to engage students in further investigating issues associated with water quality, and will allow them to pursue service projects like joining a local stream monitoring group to examine the health of streams in their own community.
Watershed Watchdogs: Assessing Water Quality
Students will determine a Water Quality Index of a National Park’s stream using nine physical or chemical parameters. Prior to the field study students use the Internet to research information about their local watershed. Students will also familiarize themselves with each parameter by practicing water quality testing on their own school’s drinking water. After the field study students analyze and report their real-time data, reflect on their park experience, and assess their group’s performance. Finally students use their knowledge and comprehension in an interactive game of polluting, then cleaning, a model of a waterway. Students are encouraged to use their field experience to engage in a service project such as joining a local stream monitoring groups to examine the health of area streams.
Students will assess the sustainability efforts of an individual park in the categories of waste, water, energy, and transportation. Students will explore renewable energy devices such as wind turbines and solar panels. Students will consider ways to be more sustainable both school-wide and through personal action.
The Park Specific Modules – We are not currently offering these modules
Battle to Save Water Quality – Monocacy National Battlefield
A Curriculum Module Written for Monocacy National Battlefield
Evaluating best management practices to preserve water quality on farmland
The battle that saved Washington, D.C. from Confederate capture was, and is to this day, on farmland. Environmental science, agriculture, or general science students explore how farmers, past and present, play an important role in water quality stewardship of the Monocacy River and its tributaries.
Herring Highway – Rock Creek National Park
Curriculum Unit for Rock Creek National Park
Rock Creeks’ fish inhabitants and human beings have been interdependent for thousands of years. Today, the survival of the fish is dependent upon human behavior more so than ever. Environments altered by humans can be altered again to accommodate wildlife.
In this module, students will learn about river herring, their characteristics, and migration patterns, study the problems the fish encounter and the methods designed to correct the problems, learn basic fish identification and conduct a field study at Rock Creek Park in which they will collect data about the kinds and numbers of fish present in Rock Creek.
Mine Over Matter – Prince William Forest Park
Depending on how it’s written, the story of Prince William Forest Park could be about fair pay for a day’s work or a business owner’s right to fire everyone, lock the doors and walk away. It could be about racial integration in the workplace and segregation at quitting time. It could even be about soil and water ecology or recreation and tourism. It could focus on government regulations or using natural resources for building wealth.
Through this lesson, students will engage with the cultural history and geology of Prince William Forest Park and broader implications of the topic.
This module is divided into three sections: activities completed prior to the park visit (Pre-Field Studies), activities conducted in the park, and the activities completed subsequent to the park visit (Post-Field Studies). In the Pre-Field study activities, students will examine the history of the Cabin Branch Pyrite Mine, and will become familiar with tools for assessing the impact of acid mine drainage on the soil and in Quantico Creek adjacent to the former mine
site. In the field study, your students will collect authentic soil and water data in Prince William Forest Park. Back in the classroom, students will gather in their field study groups and, using the data collected by all of the groups, will prepare an environmental impact statement which addresses one of the scenarios proposed in the lesson.
Potomac Gorge – C&O Canal & George Washington Memorial Parkway
A Curriculum Module Written for C&O Canal National Historical Park & George Washington Memorial Parkway.
Through this field study, students will use data and exploration to identify the relationship between humans and natural resources. Students will determine how human behavior in protected areas can help or harm an ecosystem.
Urban Pools – National Mall and Memorial Parks
A Curriculum module written for the National Mall and Memorial Parks.
The use and management of water in the parks in the District of Columbia are reflections of the enduring and evolving relationship between humans and nature. Students will come to a deeper understanding of our human connection to water, not only through the study of urban pools in Washington, D.C., but also through the study of how water has been used and managed throughout history in several different cultures.
The Urban Pools module has changed due to issues utilizing the pools incorporated in the teacher guide book. The module used to consist of students walking to different pools and determining the water quality at each pool. To help minimize distractions and provide a more meaningful trip the module has changed to stay at one memorial.
The entire module will take place at the FDR Memorial near the tidal basin. While there, students will compare the water chemistry of the variety of fountains. Students will have the opportunity to compare flowing and stagnant fountains. They will also compare this to the quality of either the Tidal Basin or Potomac River.
Water Power – Harpers Ferry National Historic Park
A Curriculum Module Written for Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
The physical and historical geography of the Harpers Ferry area demonstrates how landscapes shape human history and how human endeavors profoundly affect natural landscapes—a powerful reminder that the actions of today determine the opportunities of tomorrow.
These lessons provide an essential link to enrich and reinforce the educational experience of the Bridging the Watershed program. You can find online activities to prepare for a visit to the parks, gain knowledge about parks and their natural resources, and learn more about our Potomac watershed..
Fishing for a Name
This interactive lesson that helps students identify fish commonly found in the tidal waters of the Potomac watershed (downstream of the Great Falls) using a dichotomous key. Students will be introduced to fish anatomy vocabulary and use body shape and other physical features to identify fish.
This interactive lesson that helps students identify benthic macroinvertebrates using key characteristics. It also emphasizes the special adaptations each has to its aquatic habitat and demonstrates how macroinvertebrates can be indicators of the health of the stream.
Swim for Your Life
This interactive simulation game intended to appeal to students in middle and high school. During the game, virtual anadromous fish leave the open ocean each spring and travel into estuaries, coastal and freshwater rivers, and creeks to release their eggs. As the season moves into late summer and early fall, the juvenile fish leave the shelter of the upper estuary and begin a journey to the open ocean from which their parents came. During this trek, the fish encounter many perils, and not all of them will survive to reproductive maturity.
This interactive online activity that helps students practice plant identification and classification using a dichotomous key. This activity uses a visual key based on leaf shapes, margins, and their arrangement on a stem. Students will be introduced to vocabulary needed to use a plant key in the field and learn about common invasive plants found in national parks in and around the nation’s capital.