Life in Our Watershed:
Investigating Vernal Pools

4th and 5th Grade
Join Our Waitlist

Splash invites all 4th and 5th grade teachers in Sacramento County to apply for a place in this program, by clicking on the button at the top of the page. This program integrates a 13-lesson, standards-based science curriculum with a field trip to the vernal pools at Mather Field. The curriculum prepares the students for their field trip by teaching them all about vernal pools and the plants and animals that live in them. Classroom preparation is the key difference between Splash field trips and others, because the students arrive prepped with all the knowledge they’ve learned about the vernal pool ecosystem. This knowledge empowers them and results in an exciting, hands-on interactive field trip in which information is shared among students, guides, and teachers, and then brought home to parents.


Thank you for giving our class such a lovely experience!  It was truly enjoyable to see all the cute critters in ‘Critterville.’  SPLASH is an amazing program!  It is not only great for preserving nature and animals such as vernal pools, but is fun and educational as well.  I want to recognize SPLASH for all the hard work put into creating our projects, presentations, materials, workbooks, etc.

Carissa, 5th Grade Student, Arlene Hein Elem., EGUSD

Not only did my class learn a lot, but I did as well. This generation is our future and it is important for them to see different parts of our ecosystem and how it is important to the area. One girl was sad to hear that only 5-10% of the Vernal pools still exist. She wants to grow up and make sure they are taken care of.

Sheila Lauk, 5th Grade Teacher, Empire Oaks Elem., FCUSD

Thank you for our vernal pool field trip. My favorite part was when we got to use the cups and scoop up the critters, because I saw a lot of my animals. I have learned a lot through Splash. I learned about CA voles and copepods. I have also learned how to look through a microscope. Thank you again for the wonderful day.

Keymara, Student

About the Field Trip

Children learning

Every year from January through April, the Splash Education Center at Mather Field welcomes more than 100 classes of 4th and 5th graders on their vernal pool field trips.  These field trips allow students the chance to get “up close and personal” with the animals and plants they’ve been studying in the classroom through the Splash curriculum, Life in Our Watershed: Investigating Vernal Pools (IVP).

The field trip is hands-on, interactive, and provides lots of opportunities for the students to share their vernal pool knowledge with each other, their Splash field guide, and the parent chaperones.  This integration of classroom and experiential learning is a unique and exciting aspect of this Program.

The Field Trip at Splash runs from 9:30am – 12:30pm.  Half the field trip is spent rotating through the learning stations inside the Splash Center, while the other half of the field trip is spent exploring the spectacular vernal pools scattered throughout the grasslands at Mather Field.

Please be sure to read “Inside the Splash Center” and “Outside in the Field” below to learn more about what your class will see, do, and learn on your field trip.  Once your field trip is scheduled, you will want to carefully read the details and use the checklist in this “Preparing for Your Field Trip” document.

Inside the Splash Center

When students enter the Splash Education Center, they enter a world of fun, hands-on science investigation that builds on the knowledge they’ve acquired in the classroom, through the curriculum materials and activities Splash provided to their teachers.  After a brief introduction, the students split into three groups of 8-12 students.  Each group follows its guide through the three learning stations in the Center.  Afterwards, the students are encouraged to share their knowledge with others to help protect water quality, endangered habitats (such as vernal pools), and the unique animals that depend upon them.

Watershed Model

Our curriculum contains strong messages about protecting water quality throughout our watersheds.  The concept of a watershed can be difficult to grasp, but we’ve found the best way to help students understand it is to experiment with a model of an urban area, with streams flowing through it.

The students participate by “polluting” certain parts of the model, learning from their Splash guide why each pollutant is harmful in aquatic ecosystems and what we can do to prevent it from entering our waterways.  The students then “make it rain” and observe the runoff “polluting” the streams and rivers as it flows downhill and collects in the low areas of the watershed.

The students come to realize that the critter they studied could die as a result of pollution.  More importantly, they come away from this activity with an impressive knowledge of how to prevent water pollution.

Microscope Station

At the microscope station, the students get to see things that few kids (or adults, for that matter) ever get a chance to see!  They peer through as many of our twelve microscopes as possible to identify each different live specimen of aquatic invertebrates that inhabit the vernal pools at Mather and see incredible details on each tiny animal.  The students also answer a question about each animal that is designed to focus their observations, aid in the identification process, and encourage them to use deductive reasoning to come up with an answer.


Critterville is frequently the highlight of a student’s time inside the Center.  Here, the students get “up close and personal” with larger live animals that are commonly found in and around the vernal pools at Mather.  The animals in Critterville are rescued and typically include a few snakes, frogs, salamanders, rabbits, and an owl!

The students spend time visiting each of the animals and then gather for a brief discussion.  Several students get the chance to share their knowledge about the critter they studied with the rest of the group.  This gives them the opportunity to become the “teacher” and reinforces their understanding of the concepts they learned in the classroom.

Outside, In The Field

The outdoor portion of the field trip is where all of the lessons and activities in the elementary curriculum come together for the students, like putting together an ecological puzzle.  They get to experience first-hand the beauty, uniqueness, and fragility of the vernal pool habitats at Mather.  Students can actually see the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains, which serve as a visual reminder that they are part of the Sacramento River Watershed.  Even more exciting, while they’re walking in the field, students eagerly anticipate finding the critter or flower that they studied as part of the curriculum.

The outdoor portion of the field trip varies depending on whether the class visits during the wet phase of the vernal pools or the flower phase.  The progression of the phases is dependent on the weather conditions over the course of the late-winter and early-spring.  No matter the phase, though, students will be led by their guide through the grasslands and to at least one vernal pool.  They will hone their observation skills by looking for signs of coyotes, voles, gophers, and snakes, as well as spotting different species of birds, plants, and lots more.  Every visit is different!

Wet Phase Walk

Students that visit between January and mid-March are usually treated to the great diversity of living things in the vernal pool habitat they visit.  They kneel on wooden platforms at the water’s edge and the moment they’ve been waiting for arrives: they get to look for and observe the aquatic critters in the vernal pool!  They get so excited when they actually find their critter!  They discover a multitude of critters and plants and explore the importance of each to the ecosystem.

Flower Phase Walk

When a class visits towards the end of March or in April, the students will see Mather’s vernal pools in their colorful glory!  On the walk, the students try to find the particular flower that they studied and learn to identify others, as well.  Each student is given a 10x magnifying loupe so they can more closely investigate the tiny parts of a flower and understand how flowers enable a plant to make seeds and reproduce.  Students discover a multitude of insects visiting the flowers and learn more about and appreciate the important relationships between vernal pool plants and the special insect species’ that pollinate them.

Information for Teachers

Program Eligibility

To be eligible to participate in the Splash Investigating Vernal Pools Program you must teach 4th or 5th grade at a school in Sacramento County.

We also offer private extracurricular activities for Nature Bowl groups, scout groups, and home school groups, tailored to the needs and interests of your group.  Additionally, Splash offers five (5) public guided vernal pool critter and flower walks on pre-scheduled weekends.  Your students may want to return with their families to learn and observe even more!

Standards Alignment

This PDF document provides detailed information about how the Splash curriculum aligns to the 4th and 5th grade NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) and California State Teaching Standards.

What Teachers Receive

Once you are accepted into the program, you will receive a full set of curriculum materials, which includes all of the items listed below. The program includes a mandatory four-hour teacher training and we will provide you with an online teacher toolkit. You will be required to review the Teacher Expectations and Materials Loan Agreements and complete the forms documenting your agreement, but you may keep the materials at no cost for as long as you continue to teach the curriculum. …And of course, you get to join your students on the Field Trip!

Teacher’s Manual – Includes 13 lessons
Critter Catalog – Laminated, color fact sheets about vernal pool animals
Flower Facts – Laminated, color fact sheets about vernal pool plants
Fairy shrimp Kit – Easy-to-use kit for growing fairy shrimp in your classroom
(optional) The Mysteries of Vernal Pools – 10-minute DVD introduction to vernal pools.

Request Fairy Shrimp Cysts & Instructions for Growing Fairy Shrimp

If you are a teacher participating in the Splash Elementary Program, please fill out this form to request a packet of fairy shrimp eggs and instructions for growing them.  We regret that we are only able to supply eggs to those currently enrolled in the program. You can also use this form to request other materials.