BHS science kids

Belgrade High School science students apply their lessons in a local stream.

Belgrade High School’s AP Biology students will present the findings of their water quality field research at a public presentation on Tuesday, May 28, at 5 p.m. in Room 209 at the high school.

Biology teacher Kim Popham explained that field studies normally aren’t part of the class curriculum, so her students’ efforts this year have been unique. Popham came up with the idea for the research study that would compare water quality in different sites, originally hoping to make it a collaborative project with Livingston High School. Though the two schools weren’t able to line up logistics for this year, the Belgrade students instead collected water samples to compare from two local sites – one off North 7th Avenue in Bozeman, and the other on Milesnick Ranch north of Belgrade.

Weather permitting, students have visited the sites once a month to measure the levels of pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, phosphorus, ammonia, and macroinvertebrates (insects) in the water. While this year’s efforts have been useful in establishing baseline data without drawing any major conclusions, the students have determined that the water quality between the two sites is fairly consistent.

As they worked on their presentations this week, the students talked about one exception they noted after finding a dead deer in the water near one of the collection sites. Their readings that day indicated significant differences in pH and dissolved oxygen levels that they believe, thanks to their knowledge about the effect of increased hydrogen ions in water, are attributable to the presence of the carcass.

Popham’s students say they have enjoyed the fieldwork as a break from the notoriously book-intensive AP Bio curriculum, but also as a chance to make connections between the coursework and its applications in the real world.

They say the project made it clear to them that water quality is important not only to the ecosystem, but also to Montana’s industries, such as tourism. They add that it has heightened their awareness about the importance of clean water on quality of life, and made it clearer about how their scientific knowledge can be applied in the real world or in future careers.

Popham is grateful for the local support that has helped get the project off the ground. The Gallatin County Water Quality District wrote a grant that funded the cost of the digital equipment the students have used to take their measurements. Local businesses pitched in by donating waders, the Milesnick Ranch has been very accommodating on water collection days, and the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center is planning to host the data the students have collected.

Popham said next year’s AP Bio students will continue the work this year’s class has begun, and she has not given up her hope to expand the project by working with other area high schools.

“My goal is to have kids go out and connect to their environment,” she said. “Having kids collecting real data is important to me.”