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Pond Installation in Mt. Airy, NC

June 6, 2011

A small pond is a treasure trove of life. You’d be surprised at the diversity of organisms that take up residence in a mud puddle. A few common animals come to mind – frogs and turtles in particular. But the close observer knows that there are many species of ‘bugs’ that quickly colonize a small body of water. Living, breathing, moving things fascinate children (and some of us who have kept a hint of that child-like wonder alive). They stimulate curiosity. I’ve watched students light up at the sight of a bird or a bug. If a school can have a few niches of natural habitat that attract wildlife, doors can open to new avenues of exploration and learning.

water garden

100-gallon in-ground water garden installed at Jones Intermediate School in Mt. Airy, NC

Mike Dunn and I had the opportunity to work with students and teachers at Jones Intermediate School in Mt. Airy, NC to install a minipond (or water garden) on Thursday, June 2. It was part of a two-workshop series the Museum’s Outreach section offers called “Creating Schoolyard Habitats.” First, we meet with the teachers and demonstrate ways to use their habitat in the classroom and what they will need to do prior to habitat installation day. Then we work with students to install it. Back in April we had our session with the teachers, who ‘got their hands dirty’ exploring the world of aquatic macroinvertebrates and pond plants that we brought in. Yesterday, students literally got their hands dirty – leveling, backfilling, and potting – as part of the installation of their 100-gallon in-ground minipond.

installing water garden

Students work to level water garden

Four groups of students joined us in the courtyard behind their school for about 30 minutes each. Each group helped with one aspect of the pond installation. The first group stayed dry as we checked to make sure the pond was level in its hole (thankfully, the assistant principal’s husband did most of the digging!) and then backfilled the gaps around the pond. The second group helped to fill the pond with water (and they didn’t spray each other with the hose!) and to measure the proper amount of dechlorinator for their pond. I was very impressed with the 3rd graders use of multiplication and fractions! The final two groups helped to re-pot the plants for the pond – white water lily, blue flag iris, horsetail, pickerel weed, and golden club. As with all our projects, we provided native North Carolina plants for the school. The plants will provide shelter for the organisms that move into the pond, and most produce flowers that will be attractive to pollinators.

Sampling macroinvertebrates

Students use a turkey baster to sample macroinvertebrates.

In addition to helping with the hard work, the students also closely observed some critters that might find their pond and move in! They used dichotomous keys to identify things like predaceous diving beetles, water boatmen, tadpoles, and damselfly and dragonfly nymphs. And they were wise enough to know how those critters will get to their new pond – frogs will hop there to lay eggs, damselflies and dragonflies will soar in from the air and lay their eggs, and adult beetles will fly in from nearby locations. As is our custom if the school is in a different county from where we collected the critters for observation, we didn’t add any living creatures to the pond. And we encourage them not to add fish to the pond. A fishless pond supports a greater diversity of life than a pond with fish. Over the next year, the students will get to watch as their pond grows up and is colonized by myriad living things. And it can be a source of inspiration, curiosity, and learning for years to come! Check out the museum web site to see how your school can get involved in similar schoolyard habitat projects.

Using a magnifier

This student uses a magnifier to take a closer look at a macroinvertebrate

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