Creating a New Generation of Stream Ecologists

RiverRATS stands for River Research and Appreciation Through Science. This program’s main goal is to engage students in their local waterways. We host lessons in streams and in the classroom that give students a chance to act as stream ecologists. Our hands-on inquiry based lessons focus on the physical characteristics, biological communities, and chemical makeup of local streams. Through this program RiverLink hopes to increase our communities understanding and appreciation of aquatic ecosystems, especially in younger generations. We believe that in order to foster stewardship of our local waterways we first have to promote and demonstrate what makes them so great and worthy of protection.

How to Setup a Lesson

All lessons need to be scheduled at least 2 weeks in advance. 

  1. Determine which focus topic(s) you’d like us to cover, how much time you have available, and whether or not you can transport your group to a stream site.
  2. Contact us at education@riverlink.org or (828) 252-8474 x 12 and let us know these details.
  3. We’ll setup a meeting to discuss possible lessons, dates/times, and integration with your lesson plans/curriculum.
  4. We’ll provide you with some materials to pass out to students and send home to parents.
  5. On the day of a lesson, RiverLink will provide all supplies for a day of fun, science and exploration.

All of these lessons are provided free of charge thanks to funding from the Pigeon River Fund and Walnut Cove Members Association. If you’d like to contribute to this program a simple $10 donation can support a student through our entire stream ecology curriculum.

Focus Topics

Watersheds & Stream Anatomy


Recommended age: All ages!

Location: Lessons can be hosted in the classroom or at a nearby stream.

Suggested time frame: 1-2 hours

Understanding water quality extends far beyond the banks of our streams and rivers. All of the surrounding land use has a huge impact on the formation of these ecosystems. These lessons help students understand the big picture of their watershed and specific features of waterways. We investigate how changes in the land can alter the course of a stream & we break down the various physical features of our rivers. Students will learn how to measure cross sections and velocity, predict stream channel alterations, and identify a multitude of different habitats. All of this can be explored in an actual stream or we can bring our stream table to investigate within the classroom.

Habitat & Biodiversity

Recommended age: 5th grade and up.

Location: Lessons are best in a stream, but we can host the lessons in a classroom as well.

Suggested time frame: 1-2 hours

Biodiversity plays a huge role in helping us determine the quality of our waterways. These lessons teach students how to identify species and how they contribute to a healthy stream. Students will get in the creek and search for macroinvertebrates using nets, and looking under rocks and in leaf packs. Once they’ve collected a good sample we’ll discuss nearby habitat observations and how they support our findings. RiverLink will provide nets, sampling containers and waders for these lessons. In the near future we’ll also be able to host similar lessons looking at fish populations.

Water Chemistry & Human Impact

Recommended age: 7th grade and up.

Location: Lessons can be hosted in the classroom or at a nearby stream.

Suggested time frame: 1-2 hours

For those who really want to dig into the chemistry of their water, these lessons give students a great chance to act as citizen scientists. RiverLink will bring all the equipment required to test nitrates, phosphates, pH, dissolved oxygen and turbidity. Students will learn how each of these measurements affects water health and what factors could be contributing to them. We’ll work together to examine how human activity around the stream is impacting our findings. Students measurements will also help us monitor water quality in streams across the French Broad River Watershed.