Stream Exploration

Grade level: K-4


Goal: Through exploring local streams, students will gain a greater appreciation for our natural environment, a greater understanding of the effects of urban runoff, and a greater understanding of their role as stewards of our environment. 


  • Students will observe their local stream. 
  • Students will collect and count aquatic wildlife in their local stream.
  • Students will observe plant species growing near their local stream.
  • Students will be able to identify aquatic wildlife that thrives in clean water (e.g., stoneflies, mayflies, caddisflies, freshwater mussels, freshwater fish) and that can survive in polluted water (beetles, dragonflies). 
  • Students will use their findings to make inferences about the water quality in their local stream.  
  • Students will be able to discuss the impact people may have on their local stream.
  • Students will be able to discuss the impact of urban runoff on their local stream. 
  • Students will be able to discuss ways in which they can help to improve the water quality in their local stream. 
  • Students will participate in stewardship of their local stream

Next Generation Science Standards:

  • K-LS1-1. Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive. 
  • K-ESS3-3. Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment.
  • 1-LS1-1. Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.
  • 2-LS4-1. Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.
  • 3-LS4-3. Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
  • 4-LS1-1. Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction. 

Environmental Connections

EPA priorities met by this lesson:

Education:  Community Projects
Increasing young people’s understanding of the benefits of and participation in environmental stewardship related to clean water, soil and land revitalization, and management of ecosystem health. In an urban setting, this project advances outdoor, place-based experiential education and community-based stewardship as primary teaching tools.

By observing and analyzing their local stream, students will gain a greater understanding of the impacts urban runoff and pollution has on aquatic life. They will engage in stewardship by cleaning up trash near their local stream. 

Environmental: Ensure Clean and Safe Water

Supporting educational and stewardship efforts focused on restoring watersheds and their aquatic ecosystems to protect human health, support economic and recreational activities, and provide healthy habitats for fish, plants, and wildlife.

By stewarding their local stream, students will be able to see the impact they can have on creating a healthier habitat for aquatic life. 

Environmental: Cleaning Up our Communities by Revitalizing Land and Preventing Contamination

Supporting school-based composting and waste reduction education, educating young people about contaminants in urban waters, and engaging young people in developing solutions and action plans to revitalize the land, making the community safer and greener.

Students will gain a greater understanding of the impacts of urban runoff on their local stream, and begin formulating ideas about what they can do to improve stream quality in their city.



The teacher will begin this lesson with a whole group discussion about urban runoff, what it is, and how it can affect water quality. The teacher can read All the way to the Ocean, by Joel Harper, to further solidify the impact of urban runoff. 


Students will be provided with data sheets of aquatic invertebrates that can survive in various levels of pollution (low pollution, moderate pollution, and heavily polluted waters.)  Students will visit a local stream, where they will spend some time quietly observing the area and noting insects, plant species, and any litter that is visible. 

Using buckets and nets, students will collect sample invertebrates from the stream. Buckets will be filled with stream water, and students will work in pairs to collect samples. After approximately 20 minutes of collecting, students will count the aquatic animals found.  Students will note which animals are able to survive in polluted waters and which can survive in only clean water. Then, students will gently return the animals to the stream. 


Students will discuss their findings in small groups, and develop an inference about whether the water is high in pollutants or low in pollutants. Students will share ideas in their small groups on ways in which to improve the quality of the water in the stream. 


Finally, students use trash grabbers and trash bags or buckets to collect litter around the stream. This action reinforces the idea that students are stewards of their environment and that they can have a positive impact on the watershed.

Materials needed: 

  • Buckets
  • Nets
  • Trash grabbers
  • Trash bags
  • Health of a Stream worksheet
  • All the Way to the Ocean, by Joel Harper


Students will take an active role in the cleanup of the area around the stream by removing litter. In addition, students will be able to discuss the impact of urban runoff and litter on the aquatic life in the stream, and come up with solutions for improving water quality. Students may create drawings to share what they learned. 


Aquatic insects by level of water pollution tolerated
Lessons plans and hands-on activities about aquatic macroinvertebrates and water quality for K-6 students. From Utah State University
This key is intended to assist Connecticut Envirothon students in the identification of aquatic benthic macroinvertebrates.
Students explore how contaminants move into groundwater From Utah State University
Worksheet for students to record invertebrates found and make an inference about the health of the stream.
Excertped from Bugs Don't Bug Me from Utah State University
Students describe and identify the link between land use activities within a watershed and water quality. Students evaluate the quality of a “water sample” (a bag of skittles), graph their results, and form a hypothesis about the land use near... read more
West River Watershed Management Plan Technical Memorandum #1: State of the Watershed February 2015 Prepared For: Save the Sound & West River Watershed Coalition In Cooperation With: Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental... read more