Thanks to a private donation, Paula Towne’s sixth grade class was able to take this year’s science curriculum out of the classroom and into the field.
Students participated in an extensive study of watersheds and forest woodlands to understand the role nitrogen plays in the health and productivity of local ecosystems. Their research began with a five-day study at Olympic National Park, where they compared the health of the Elwha River to that of a pristine creek located within the park. In their research they inventoried macro-invertebrates as well as compared pH, nitrogen and oxygen levels of the water.
On coming back to Orcas, their studies continued with an analysis of the role fungi plays in nitrogen production and forest ecology. They discovered that not only do plants need fungi to assimilate nitrogen from the soil and air, but that fungi are capable of decomposing just about anything, including toxic pollutants.
The students ended their study with a trip to Orcas Island’s watershed, Glenwood Springs. Working with Glenwood's Mike McConnell, they analyzed the hatchery’s soil to understand how the introduction of a salmon run might change nitrogen levels of the soil and if increased nitrogen levels affect the surrounding woods.