Students peer through a computer camera lens, through a cell phone camera lens and finally through a drop of water clipped into a spectrometer. In a rare Zoom among many this week, these sixth grade students have resumed their water quality studies of Lake Merritt, the jewel of Oakland.
For decades, St. Paul’s Episcopal School students have studied ecology and environmental stewardship with a simple walk across the street to learn with their teachers on the shores of Lake Merritt.
Then came the coronavirus. Students moved away from campus. “We made the best of it,” says Tony Bald, their Science teacher. “I asked a student, who lives nearby and in an apartment overlooking the Lake, to give daily updates. I've been asking him "How crowded is it looking there? Is there a lot of trash in the outfall after the rains?"
When Mr. Bald heard from the school’s community partner, Lake Merritt Institute’s Environmental Scientist Katie Noonan, they set up the first citizen science Zoom. Noonan and her husband brought their water testing instruments to the dock at the Glen Echo Creek outlet to Lake Merritt and Bald hosted the meeting with the class.
“We’re getting an average of 5.5,” reports Mr. Bald, reading the student chat responses to what they see through the spectrometer.
“O.K., now I’m feeling much more confident about the reading,” answers Ms. Noonan. “It’s important to gather observations when we’re working in the field,” she explains. Ms. Noonan finishes the class with testing pH and oxygen levels in the lake. Just like a 'normal' week at Lake Merritt.