Nurturing nature: Environmental Science class goes to Dorr 


Lucy Peck, Staff Writer

This Tuesday, students in the two Upper Division (UD) Environmental science classes waded through the stream at the John Dorr Nature Laboratory to get hands-on experiences in the field, UD science teacher Camilla Nivison said. “Because we are based in a city, it is hard to go out and do fieldwork so I’m glad Dorr has allowed us to learn these field techniques.” These techniques included collecting data outside, sampling macroinvertebrates, and using dichotomous keys and water test kits, Nivison said. 

This was the Environmental Science class’ first trip to Dorr, Nivison said. She has been hoping to take this field trip for a few years, but was not able to as a result of the pandemic, she said. “It is a great way for students to get back to a place they love.”

The class learned about sustainability at Dorr, Nivison said. The lodge is constructed out of LEED certified platinum, she said. The building is equipped with photovoltaic solar panels which generate electricity and a solar water heating system which heats water by running it through pipes on the roof which are exposed to the sun’s rays, she said. Dorr’s toilets also use gray water — rainwater collected on the roof for flushing — as opposed to fresh water. 

Leonardo Hess (12) liked seeing how Dorr uses sustainable practices, he said. “It was cool to see how problems like water drainage or pollution can be solved,” he said. “It was nice to see that HM cares about these things and implements solutions.”

In the afternoon, the class conducted a lab about macroinvertebrates to determine the water quality of Dorr’s streams, Nivison said. “These organisms are macro so they are big enough to see without a microscope, and they are invertebrates so they don’t have bones — mostly insects with aquatic larval stages.” The class was able to determine the stream’s water quality and the extent of its pollution based on the types of macroinvertebrates they discovered, she said. 

Tomoko Hida (12) is not fond of insects and was apprehensive about the lab, she said. “We used big nets to scoop out the bottom of the pond and examine the organisms.” The group mainly found small organisms like dragonfly nymphs, she said. 

The lab relates to what the students have been discussing in class, Hida said. “We have talked about water pollution with regards to the way people are impacted by it,” she said. “We’ve also discussed how fertilizer and runoff can impact water quality by increasing nitrogen levels, decreasing dissolved oxygen and creating a dead environment for organisms.” 

The lab was a good learning experience, Hess said. “The lab opened my eyes to what was living in the pond,” he said. “We’ve talked a lot about ecosystems and the way the organisms within an ecosystem act and react towards one another and how external factors impact the ecosystem,” Hess said. “By seeing what’s in the pond, I saw all the different parts involved in sustaining the ecosystem.”

The class has yet to come to a conclusion about the quality of the streams, Hida said. “We are currently examining the dissolved oxygen levels and the types of organisms we encountered.” 

Nivison loved seeing the students participate in a field activity, she said. “They’re so happy when they really get into it and stop caring about getting dirty.” In fact, Nivison hopes that more UD classes will take advantage of Dorr as a resource for field trips and extensions of classroom learning, she said. 

Hess also found the lab to be more interactive than taking notes in the classroom, he said. “The experience helped ground what we’ve been learning about in class,” he said. “It’s always enjoyable to go out on a fieldtrip and try something new.” 

Nivison anticipates that this field trip will continue to occur annually, she said. “There is a lot of upfront work when you plan something brand new, but now that we have a bit more of a plan in place, it will be much smoother getting a field trip like this off the ground again.” 

If the class were to do this lab annually, they could begin collecting longitudinal data, Nivison said. “If we keep track of all of our data from year to year, we can track if there are any changes in the system over time.”