Resources for Educators

Lesson Plans for the Great Swamp and Passaic River Watersheds

The following lesson plans, data sheets, and resources are available to use in the classroom or at home. Help your children learn more about the connections between environmental science, chemistry, biology and geography.

The Great Swamp Watershed Association (GSWA) is pleased to announce the rollout of their virtual environmental education programs to partner schools. On April 14, GSWA educators launched their first online class to  4th grade students at Far Hills Country Day School. Since then, GSWA educators have delivered environmental learning experiences from the woods, their back yards, and inside their homes to nearly 800 middle and high school students. If you would like to bring GSWA educators to your classroom virtually, please reach out to Education and Outreach Director, Hazel England at or Water Quality Director Sandra LaVigne at

Feeling cooped up? Come spend a virtual and calming two minutes (vernal) pool-side at GSWA’s Helen Fenske Vernal Pool at our Conservation Management Area, also open to walk in person!

The mid-March forecast is warm weather – spring peepers, wood frogs and chorus frogs will likely all be calling.
Shoot us a message to let us know what you find. Find more information and trail maps on our CMA page!

These data sheets for water chemistry monitoring, visual stream assessment, and macroinvertebrate monitoring are used in GSWA’s SWaMP program. You are welcome to use them as is for SWaMP (School Water Monitoring on the Passaic) monitoring or other programs. For an editable Word document version, please e-mail

The educator’s guide to the Great Swamp Watershed is a 50 page guide available to download as a PDF.  The guide contains valuable background information about the Great Swamp region, the water cycle, What is a watershed and a description of the threats to the region including non-point source pollution. There are five regionally-adapted lessons from the Nationally recognized Water Education for Teachers (Project WET) guide to address specific water quality and Water cycle curriculum areas.

In this activity, students act as water molecules, moving from one part of the water cycle to another based on clues they find at each station.

This activity gives instructions for students to create a three dimensional model to learn about how water moves around a watershed.

Using a USGS Topographic Map, students learn how watershed boundaries often cross political, municipal, or county boundaries, and gain valuable geographical skills at the same time.

This Power Point reviews topics relating to water resources that are covered in the AP Environmental Science course. The presentation includes relevant information about how these broader concepts relate to the local region through case studies of local issues.

Lesson Plan for Any NJ Watershed

These lesson plans and activities are for various grade ranges and focus on various aspects of water quality. The World Water Monitoring Challenge (WWMC) encourages people to test their local water to gain an understanding of water quality.

The NJ WATERS guide offers regional watershed background information and activities to educate about a host of watershed and water quality issues.

Swamped! Activity Guides
In this lesson students learn about the impact of impervious surfaces on runoff and water quality in their local community, and identify ways community members can reduce their impact.
Activity 1 datatools
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Activity 2 data
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Teacher Instructions

Borrow Equipment From GSWA:

The following resources are available for educators to borrow from GSWA for a short period of time. There is no fixed charge to borrow this equipment, however a donation to offset the costs to maintain the equipment and replenish the supplies is appreciated. Duration of a loan can vary based on your needs and the needs of GSWA. Prior to borrowing equipment, you will be asked to complete an equipment loan form. For more information or to arrange to borrow equipment, please contact GSWA’s Director of Water Quality Programs, Sandra LaVigne, at, or GSWA’s Director of Education and Outreach, Hazel England, at Alternatively, you can contact us by phone at 973-538-3500.

The collection includes one or more glass vials of the most common macroinvertebrates found in Great Swamp Watershed streams and the Passaic River, each preserved in ethanol. Each vial is labeled with the common family name of the specimen and a picture notating the pollution tolerance threshold of the species. Some of the macroinvertebrates included are: mayfly, stonefly, case building caddisfly, net spinning caddisfly, clam, cranefly, leech, scud, blackfly, lunged snail, and water penny.

Available parameters include dissolved oxygen, pH, nitrate, phosphate, water temperature, and turbidity. The test kits feature user-friendly test methods and material needed to determine the results. Test kits are appropriate for middle school students and older. Up to 6 test kits are available to borrow at once, and test kits can be used multiple times based on arrangements with GSWA.

Our three-dimensional watershed model vividly illustrates to students how the actions of individual people and groups affect the quality of water in our lakes, rivers and streams. The model also helps simplify the concepts of point and nonpoint source pollution. The model features land uses found in many watersheds; houses, a factory, roads, a farm, construction site, golf course, streams, and a lake. If you haven’t used an Enviroscape model before, GSWA staff can train you prior to borrowing it. Two of the same model are available to borrow. The watershed model is recommended for students in first grade and up.

School Visit by GSWA Staff

GSWA staff can visit your school or homeschool group (with all necessary supplies and equipment). We are homeschool friendly and can customize a program based on your students’ ages and grades. During a school visit, we offer the following programs:

The School Water Monitoring on the Passaic program involves students in hands-on water monitoring on the Passaic River and its tributaries. GSWA staff can direct students through chemical, visual, and macroinvertebrate monitoring. Visit our SWaMP page to learn more about this program.

With a demonstration using our Enviroscape three-dimensional model of a community, and a topographic model of the Great Swamp Watershed, students will be guided through the “real” water cycle. The presentation includes discussions of what a watershed is, where our drinking water comes from, where our waste water goes, point versus nonpoint source pollution, human impacts on local waterways, and best practices to reduce our impact on local waterways.

This hands-on program focuses on looking for macroinvertebrates in a local waterbody and discussing adaptations that macroinvertebrates have to thrive in their underwater environment.

This hands-on program will have students exploring a local water body (location to be determined by educator and GSWA staff). Students will use nets to find macroinvertebrates, and use guides to identify what they find. An emphasis will be placed on identifying macroinvertebrates and what each family indicates about the water quality.

Not sure what to do with your students after the AP exam? GSWA staff can work with you to create a project for your students relating to the environment. In the past, we have worked with educators to come up with topics that student groups would research and then create a brochure and presentation or video about. The topics are relevant to GSWA’s work, and we have been able to use the research done by the students. Students prefer this style of project knowing that their work will be helping GSWA. We would be happy to discuss the possibilities of a Post-AP Project with you.

Take a guided tour of GSWA’s Conservation Management Area , a 73-acre property with a floodplain forest and upland sites. The site allows for investigation of vernal pools (weather depending), soil profiles in wetland and upland locations, and discussions on the function of wetlands, wetland ecology, and hydrology. Topics covered can be customized by request.

Social studies and science intertwine in this lesson, which teaches students how the development of communities in many parts of New Jersey is related to, and impacted by water availability. Where did our forefathers get their drinking water from? What happened to their waste?  How did modes of transportation influence the development of towns?  How did the availability of water sources influence industrialization in New Jersey?  Students will travel backwards and forwards through time as they unravel the importance of water in the story of New Jersey’s reliance on water through the ages.

Data Sources

Are you interested in using real data in your classroom? These are some great sources of water quality data:

NJ MAP is a publicly accessible, municipally-focused portal that takes a thematic approach to data visualization. NJ MAP is intended to serve municipal stakeholders involved environmental, land use and sustainability decision making. Intended users include Sustainable Jersey Green Teams, municipal planning boards, environmental commissions, land trusts, watershed organizations and concerned citizens among others. The NJ MAP vision is to make statewide GIS data relatable and easy to understand at the local level.

WikiWatershed is a web toolkit designed to help citizens, conservation practitioners, municipal decision-makers, researchers, educators, and students advance knowledge and stewardship of freshwater. With this site, you can model storms, runoff, and more.

Data from GSWA’s SWaMP program (School Water Monitoring on the Passaic) is collected primarily at sites on the Passaic River and its tributaries and includes data for pH, dissolved oxygen, water temperature, turbidity, nitrate, phosphate, E. coli, macroinvertebrates, and visual stream assessments. Data from the SWaMP program can be found here.

Data can be downloaded for each year and includes sites worldwide. Measured parameters include pH, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and macroinvertebrates.

After launching the GeoWeb Profile, a map of NJ is visible, with many different layers of spatial data on a menu. Individual layers can be clicked on or off to display a variety of spatial data including town boundaries, streams, land use, monitoring sites, known contaminated sites, and more. Note if a layer cannot be “clicked” on, you may need to zoom in more.

USGS collects water quality and quantity data at sites throughout the US. The search box can be used to find data available for a particular location (such as Passaic River Millington Gorge). Once a location is found, data can be viewed as graphs or downloaded in tables.

Global data collected by NASA such as rainfall, population, sea surface temperatures, etc.

Classroom-ready datasets and activities can be found here. For more detailed information on Ocean, Climate, and more datasets: Click here.

Free Resources

If you want to identify an aquatic macroinvertebrate you found in a stream, use the Stroud Water Research Center’s identification key. View here

Want To Own Your Own Supplies?

The following curriculum guides have been used by GSWA with students.