top of page

School Stream Monitoring Program

Field trips take place at streams and rivers across western Montana each fall and spring. Most schools visit the same reach each season to facilitate seasonal and long-term comparisons of chemical, physical, and biological data. Field trips are a great way for students to get out of the classroom, get field science experience, and learn about their watershed from a scientific inquiry perspective. Most schools complement their field experience with a classroom visit both before and after their trip to the creek to introduce concepts and discuss results respectively.

Students in a river taking cross section measurements.
Student reaching down to measure the water temperature of a river.

Initial data collected at any one site provides scientists with baseline information about the health of a particular stream. Systematic data collection at the same location over time enables us to form a historical picture of the stream or river’s condition. In the broader picture, stream monitoring helps students become more familiar with their local waterways. And once acquainted with local streams, they are more apt to notice changes and in watershed health. In this process, students begin to understand how local waterways fit into the larger picture of the watershed. Additionally, increasing awareness and sense-of-place relationships naturally encourages watershed stewardship.


Chemical, Physical, and Biological Parameters based on Montana Watercourse’s Volunteer Stream Monitoring Project. We have recently started using Healthy Water/Healthy People Advanced Surface Water Testing Kits, which measure nutrients, turbidity, minerals and electro-conductivity.

Kids in waders standing in a river collecting bugs with nets.

physical station

Students record stream cross-section, velocity, substrate, bank condition, and channel shape. Visual observations include adjacent land-use, plants, wildlife, and human activity (human presence, footpaths, trash, impacts on plants) soil type, and any restoration efforts.


chemical station

Students measure pH, Dissolved Oxygen (DO), water temperature, and air temperature (both in degrees Celsius). Three readings are taken with a field pH meter. DO is measured using Hach Kits, in which there are a series of chemicals to add to a water sample that indicate the parts per million of dissolved oxygen. 


biological station

Students sample aquatic macro- invertebrates (small, water-living insects without a backbone or with an exoskeleton). Certain insects, such as mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies, require cold, clean and clear water for survival. As such, these bugs (the same bugs on WEN’s new logo) are indicators of healthy streams.

wen field ethics
A view from above of river rocks.

  • Respect where you are, whether you are on public land or private property.

  • Use designated trails.

  • Keep field site impacts to a minimum; in other words, Leave No Trace.

  • Our conduct in the field should set a good example, worthy enough for others to follow.

bottom of page