North Fork of the American River

The Mother Lode River Center is an ideal place to study a riparian habitat, the dynamics of water, the water cycle, erosion, scientific method, aquatic life and food chains. In our river study programs, students will be given a unique opportunity to observe what they are studying at school in the classroom directly, and explore their own curiosity about the world around them while being led by teachers and interpreters who are passionate about sharing the unique river environment.


The River Study program’s learning objectives are based on the Science Content Standards for California Public Schools. The programs utilize experiential learning modules to focus on observation and appreciation of change, cycles, adaptations, interdependence and eco-responsibility. Students participating in the River Study will be involved in hands-on science studies, giving them an understanding of hydrology, geology and the native species in a riparian environment. These topics will be covered in detail by our staff, but keep in mind that rather than educating students on this material for testing purposes, our staff will be encouraging students to review and understand the materials in a way that makes sense to them by promoting understanding through hands-on interaction.

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Sample River Study Program
Focus on 5th-6th Grades

9:00 — Welcome to Mother Lode River Center
  • Restrooms, liabilities
  • Boundaries
  • Introductions
  • Large Group Warm-up Games: Web of Life, Food Chain Duels
  • Set up the day
  • Break into groups
10-10:15 — In Small Groups
  • Play short name game
  • Hand out Journal
  • Set behavior Guidelines (See Rules and Behavior Expectations Sheet)
10:15-10:40 — Stations Begin:
  • What kind of bodies of water do the students know?
  • Water Resources Game
  • Observations of the River:
    • Sensory Observation — Touch and Feel Bags
    • Observation/Sound Map
  • Refer to 5th grade Standards: 6a,h,i
10:40-11:05 — Properties of Water:
  • Ask: What do you know about water?
  • What else is water called?
  • “H2O” what does it mean?
  • Water Pressure
  • Water Density
  • Surface Tension
  • Refer to 5th grade Standards: 6h,i
11:05-11:30 — Water Cycle:
  • Ask: What is a cycle?
  • Water cycle Diagram
  • Bracelets
  • Refer to 5th grade Standards: 2e,f,g; 3a,b,c,d,e
  • Refer to 6th grade Standards: 2a,b,c; 4a
11:30-12:30 — Lunch and free time
12:30-1:15 — Water Investigation:
  • Ask: How are Scientists Investigators?
    • Scientific Methods
  • Ask: What is a Bog?
    • How is it different than a River?
  • Students are the Scientists (break groups into 3 or 4s)
  • Note: Remind students of Respect for Nature, Fragility of Ecosystems
  • One person from each group collects from water samples
    • Temperature
    • pH levels
    • Oxygen levels
  • Refer to 5th grade Standards: 6a,h,i
1:15-2:00 — Aquatic Insect Observation:
2:00-2:30 — Swiftwater Rescue
  • Throw-bag rescue toss
  • Swimming in current, ferry angles
  • River crossing, tripod method
2:30-3:00 — Everyone together:
  • Water Politics Discussion
  • Letter Writing

5th Grade Standards

Science Curriculum Topics: water cycle, earth structure, rock formation, erosion, plate tectonics, faulting, soil (composition, formation and layering) and the impacts of human activities.

Science Content Standards: Life Sciences (2e, 2f, and 2g), Earth Sciences (3a, 3b, 3c, 3d, 3e and 5a) and Investigation and Experimentation (6a)

Life Sciences

2. Plants and animals have structures for respiration, digestion, waste disposal, and transport of materials. As a basis for understanding this concept:

e. Students know how sugar, water, and minerals are transported in a vascular plant.

f. Students know plants use carbon dioxide (CO2) and energy from sunlight to build molecules of sugar.

g. Students know plant and animal cells break down sugar to obtain energy, a process resulting in carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (respiration).

Earth Sciences

3. Water on Earth moves between the oceans and land through the processes of evaporation and condensation. As a basis for understanding this concept.

a. Students know most of Earth’s water is present as salt water in the oceans, which cover most of Earth’s surface

b. Students know when liquid water evaporates, it turns to water vapor in the air and can reappear as a liquid when cooled or as a solid if cooled below the freezing point of water.

c. Students know water vapor in the air moves form one place to another and can form fog or clouds, which as tiny droplets of water or ice, and can fall to earth as rain, hail, sleet, or snow.

d. Students know that the amount of fresh water located in rivers, lakes, underground sources, and glaciers is limited and that availability can be extended by recycling and decreasing the use of water.

e. Students know the origin of the water used by their local communities.

5. The solar system consists of planets and other bodies that orbit the Sun in predictable paths. As a basis for understanding this concept:

a. Students know the Sun, an average star, is the central and largest body in the solar system and is composed of primarily hydrogen and helium.

6. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other three strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:

a. Classify objects (e.g., rocks, plants, leaves) in accordance with appropriate criteria.

h. Draw conclusions from scientific evidence and indicate whether further information is needed to support a specific conclusion.

i. Write a report of an investigation that includes conducting tests, collecting data or examining evidence, and drawing conclusions.

6th Grade Standards

Science Curriculum Topics: water cycle, energy cycle, earth structure, rock formation, erosion, plate tectonics, faulting, soil (composition, formation and layering) and the relationship of human activities.

Science Content Standards: Plate Tectonics and Earth Structure (1a. 1d, 1e, and 1f), Shaping Earth’s Surface (2a, 2b, and 2c), Energy in the Earth’s System (4a), Ecology (5a, 5b, 5c, 5d, and 5e)

Focus on Earth Science

Plate Tectonics and Earth’s Structure

1. Plate tectonics accounts for important features of Earth’s surface and major geological events. As a basis for understanding this concept:

a. Students know evidence of plate tectonics is derived from the fit of the continents; the location of earthquakes, volcanoes, and mid-ocean ridges; and the distribution of fossils, rock types, and ancient climatic zones.

d. Students know that earthquakes are sudden motions along breaks in the crust called faults and that volcanoes and fissures are locations where magma reaches the surface.

e. Students know major geological events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain building, result from plate motions.

f. Students know how to explain major features of California geology (including mountains, faults, volcanoes) in terms of plate tectonics.

Shaping Earth’s Surface

2. Topography is reshaped by the weathering of rock and soil and by the transportation and deposition of sediment. As a basis for understanding this concept:

a. Students know water running downhill is the dominant process in shaping the landscape, including California’s landscape.

b. Students know rivers and streams are dynamic systems that erode, transport sediment, change course, and flood their banks in natural and recurring patters.

c. Students know beaches are dynamic systems in which the sand is supplied by rivers and moved along the coast by the action of waves.

Energy in the Earth System

4. Many Phenomena on Earth’s surface are affected by the transfer of energy through radiation and convection currents. As a basis for understanding this concept:

a. Students know the sun is the major source of energy for phenomena on Earth’s surface; it powers winds, ocean currents, and the water cycle.


5. Organisms in ecosystems exchange energy and nutrients among themselves and with the environment. As a basis for understanding this concept:

a. Students know energy entering ecosystems as sunlight is transferred by producers into chemical energy through photosynthesis and then from organism to organism through food webs.

b. Students know matter is transferred over time from one organism to others in the food web and between organisms and the physical environment.

c. Students know populations of organisms can be categorized by the functions they serve in an ecosystem.

d. Students know different kinds of organisms may play similar ecological roles in similar biomes.

e. Students know the number and types of organisms an ecosystem can support depends on the resources available and on abiotic factors, such as quantities of light and water, a range of temperatures, and soil composition.