Riparian Habitat Exploration (RHE)

Photo of a magnifier looking at 4 animal species.

Do wish your students had more opportunities to explore nature and learn the importance of our state's water resources? 

If so, the Riparian Habitat Exploration (RHE) Aqua STEM Unit might be exactly what you are looking for. In the RHE, students become field scientists and use the three dimensions of science instruction and systems thinking to explore the inner workings of a healthy ecosystem. After studying how the many parts of a riparian ecosystem work together to accomplish the whole-system’s objectives, students take their knowledge into the field where they assess the health of a local riparian area by planning and carrying out an actual field investigation.

Driving Question: How is life in the environment ruled by water and impacted by humans?

Note: The term Riparian Area is unknown to many people. Riparian areas are lands that occur along watercourses and water bodies. They are distinctly different from surrounding lands because of unique soil and vegetation characteristics that are influenced by the presence of water. We’re hoping your students will know this term after their study of water in the environment!


  • Engaging curriculum guides students in performing real world field investigation at a local riparian area.
  • All lessons incorporate Arizona Science standards.
  • System Thinking lesson framework deepens student learning.
  • Curriculum includes lessons, presentations, and resources directly ready for classroom use. 
  • APW Educators facilitate a "kick-off" classroom presentation.
  • Field investigation equipment and logistical assistance for field trip provided by APW.
  • Ongoing coaching and support for teachers. 

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What's a Riparian Field Investigation?

Unit  Objectives:

  • Identify components that make a riparian area especially suited for animal and plant life.
  • Ask questions and define problems while applying science and engineering skills to real world environmental careers.
  • Plan and carry out a scientific investigation in the field.
  • Analyze and interpret data to assess ecosystem health. 
  • Use evidence to construct an argument on how life in the environment is ruled by water and impacted by humans.

Standards Correlations:

Arizona Project WET offers real-world and relevant lessons that support teachers in meeting Arizona State Science Standards. Bellow is a list of standards our unit meets (or partially meets) by grade level.

F Fully meets the standard as written.
P Partially meets the standard. Lesson could be expanded to fully meet this standard.
M Marginally meets standard. Lesson could be expanded to fully meet this standard.




Use evidence to construct an argument regarding the impact of human activities on the environment and how they positively and negatively affect the competition for energy and resources in ecosystems. (Lessons: 1, 2, 4, 6,) F  
6.E1U1.6 Investigate and construct an explanation demonstrating that radiation from the Sun provides energy and is absorbed to warm the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. (Lessons: 4, 6) M  
6.L2U1.14 Construct a model that shows the cycling of matter and flow of energy in ecosystems. (Lesson: 6) F  
6.L2U1.13 Develop and use models to demonstrate the interdependence of organisms and their environment including biotic and abiotic factors. (Full Unit) F  


7.E1U1.5 Construct a model that shows the cycling of matter and the flow of energy in the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere. (Lesson 6) P
7.L1U1.10 Develop and use a model to explain how cells, tissues, and organ systems maintain life (animals). (Lesson 6 & 8) M
7.L1U1.11 Explain how organisms maintain their internal stability and evaluate the effect of external factors on organisms’ internal stability. P
7.L2U1.12 Construct an Explanation for how some plant cells convert light energy into food energy. (Lesson 6) P


8.P4U1.3 Construct an explanation on how energy can be transferred from one energy source to another. (Lesson 6)
8.P4U2.5 Develop a solution to increase efficiency when transferring energy from one source to another. (Lesson 6) M
8.E1U3.8 Construct and support an argument about how human consumption of limited resources impacts the biosphere (Full Unit)


Essential HS.P4U1.8 Engage in argument from evidence that the net change of energy in a system is always equal to the total energy exchanged between the system and the surroundings. (Lesson 6) M
Plus HS+E.E1U1.1 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the Sun’s energy transfers between Earth’s systems. (Lesson 6) F
Essential HS.E1U1.12 Develop and use models of the Earth that explain the role of energy and matter in Earth’s constantly changing and internal and external systems (geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, biosphere). (Lessons 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) P
Plus HS+E.E1U1.4 Analyze and interpret geoscience data to make the claim that dynamic interactions with Earth’s surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems (Lessons 1, 4, 6, 7, 8) M
Plus HS+E.E1U1.5 Obtain, Evaluate, and communicate information on the effect of water on Earth’s materials, surface processes, and groundwater systems. (Full Unit) F
Essential HS.E1U3.14 Engage in an argument from evidence about the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, changes in climate, and human activity and how they influence each other. (Full Unit) F
Plus HS+E.E1U3.9 Construct an explanation based upon evidence, for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity P
Plus HS+E.E1U3.10 Ask questions, define problems, and evaluate a solution to a complex problem, based upon prioritized criteria and tradeoffs, that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural and environmental impacts (Lessons 1, 4, 5, 6,7,8, 12) M
Plus HS+E.E1U3.11 Develop and use a quantitative model to illustrate the relationship among Earth systems and the degree to which those relationships are being modified due to human activity. (Lessons 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12) M
Essential HS.L2U3.18  Obtain, evaluate, and communicate about the positive and negative ethical, social, economic, and political implications of human activity on the biodiversity of an ecosystem. (Lessons 1, 11, 12) F
Plus HS+B.L2U1.1 Develop a model showing the relationship between limiting factors and carrying capacity, and use the model to make predictions on how environmental changes impact biodiversity. (Lesson 1, 4, 6) F
Plus HS+B.L4U1.2  Engage in argument from evidence that changes in environmental conditions or human interventions may change species diversity in an ecosystem. (Lessons 1, 4, 6, 12) F
Essential HS.L2U1.19 Develop and use models that show how changes in the transfer of matter and energy within an ecosystem and interactions between species may affect organisms and their environment. (Lesson 6, 7, 8) F
Essential HS.L2U1.21  Obtain, evaluate, and communicate data showing the relationship of photosynthesis and cellular respiration; flow of energy and cycling of matter . (Lesson 6) P


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