High school students use the Diatoms of the United States website to identify and count diatoms in their local rivers, as part of an innovative and experiential environmental science program. This news report is adapted from the Project Periphyton, Newtown High School Blog.

Project Periphyton involves more than 200 high school students and 11 teachers from Connecticut high schools (Crosby, Danbury, Newtown, Terryville, The Sound School and WAMOGO) in a science-driven watershed and climate change education program. Studies are supported by funding from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The Housatonic and Pomperaug River watersheds and the western end of Long Island Sound are the classroom. Students work closely with aquatic scientists and environmental educators to engage with current scientific questions. What is the quality of the water? What is the hydrologic regime? How does the diversity of diatoms reflect watershed health? By posing research questions, then collecting and analyzing data, students strengthen their understanding of the connections between organisms, rivers, watersheds, the broader region, and climatic change.

Data is collected, recorded and analyzed using best practices, and then shared with the professional science community. Students compare freshwater and marine environments, and communicate their findings through reports and presentations. Finally, students create visual tools to communicate their findings to the public.