River Camp helps students explore and learn about rivers and science

Students from River Camp visit Campus River as part of their daily lessons

Drawing pictures of rivers, collecting muddy sentiment samples and learning about what scientists do: for a week in May, that was the work of 25 elementary students as they participated in River Camp on the IU campus.  

The camp brought together faculty, graduate and undergraduate students from both the School of Education and the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Doug Edmonds, Associate Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, reached out to Professor Meredith Park Rogers, wondering if funding from a National Science Foundation grant he had written could have broader impacts through the Saturday Science Quest program at the School of Education. 

Along with Edmonds and Park Rogers, two science education Ph.D. students, two doctoral geology students and three elementary pre-service teachers put together a weeks’ worth of lessons for students going into fourth through sixth grade. These lessons included understanding the anatomy of a river and the different parts of it, types of rivers, hydrology and topography, the landscape of rivers and the power of water. The instructors also helped the students understand the role of scientists: how they do their work and the many environments they work in. Beyond the stereotypical “scientist in a white coat and lab” image, participants got to see and gather data themselves - and learn from it.

Students work with sand and water at River Camp
Professor Meredith Park Rogers leads a lesson during River Camp
A student traces the pattern of a river at River Camp
Students work together on river shapes
Students from River Camp visit Campus River as part of their daily lessons

Campus River served as the camp’s anchor. After visiting the river at the beginning of the week and learning about the differences between braided rivers and meandering rivers, campers returned later in the week and studied the river from three different places: near the Wright Education Building, behind the Lilly Library and in Dunn Meadow. 

“We asked the students based on what we learned this week, what would you identify the Campus River to be, braided, meandering, neither or both. You had to have evidence to back up your vote,” Park Rogers said. 

Students also gathered sentiment from the river as they learned how it was deposited, and they collected more data on rivers from Google Earth. All the work was part of a bigger goal of understanding the importance of using evidence to support their thinking and realizing the range of ways in which scientists work.

“I have not received reports from parents like I have after this week talking about how much their children enjoyed it, that they came home each day talking about what they were learning from it,” Park Rogers said. “(One) mom said, ‘We’re going on our family vacation to the Grand Tetons and our daughter is so excited to look for what we talked about (during River Camp).’”

And it wasn’t just the participants who learned from the camp: of the three pre-service teachers who helped with the camp, Park Rogers said one is changing their concentration to science.