STEAMing the River

STEAMing the River Students at Ipswich STEAM mold topographical maps of watersheds.

Streams of Ipswich residents and families had more than one way to explore the Ipswich River at Tuesday night’s 1st Annual District-wide Ipswich K-12 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Showcase. Attendees wandered from project to project through the Ipswich Middle School gym, learning about ways students can work together with citizens and organizations to solve community problems, using STEAM principles.

Volunteer Judy Schneider explains the conductivity test.

At the Ipswich River Watershed table, Outreach Committee volunteers Judy Schneider and Susie Winthrop, and Pike Messenger illustrated one way volunteers help us with water quality science. Four samples of water from different locations along the main stem of the river had been gathered that morning. Visitors then used a conductivity meter to take readings from each sample. The meter, which measures how well the water conducts electricity, is a tool to measure water purity. Conductivity is highest near areas with more development and roads, since more road salt and fertilizers and other pollutants end up in the water. Based

A student takes a conductivity reading of water from up river.

on the readings, the citizen scientists made hypotheses about which sites the water samples were drawn from. Volunteers guided discussions about how water quality data can help us understand the effects of pollution on fish and aquatic life.
On the other side of the gym, fifth grade STEAMers shared what they had learned about the Ipswich River in an art class, creating a three-dimensional model of the Ipswich estuary with malleable sand. One comment: “I learned that the land doesn’t just drop straight off into the river, but that river banks that slope gradually down to the water are important to the river.”

Student and parent study the map of the Ipswich River watershed.

Indeed, a Town of Ipswich project led by Conservation Administrator Alicia Geilen addresses this exact student observation. In a project funded by the state’s Coastal Resiliency Grants program, a team of municipal staff is working with the Ipswich River Watershed Association and consultants to assess downtown areas of the Ipswich river bank for erosion and other vulnerabilities. River banks play an important role not only in diluting pollution from roads and development, but also in protecting our infrastructure from storms and flooding. For more information about this project, visit www.pie-rivers.org/ipswichriverbankproject .
As we heard from many at the Showcase, this town loves its river, and through education and discussion we can work together to keep it a healthy one.

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