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Changing Hudson Project

Project curriculum was developed by scientists and educators at Cary to help students understand how the Hudson River changes over time. By collaborating with area teachers, scientists, and management agencies, the curriculum has grown to include a wide range of topics that engage students with visualizations, readings, investigations, and actual scientific data.


How does the Hudson River ecosystem respond to different types of changes over time? Are these changes permanent, or will the ecosystem be able to recover? The Changing Hudson Project (CHP) addresses this question by developing web-based modules for high school students and teachers. The modules combine unique and engaging Hudson River data collected by us and other scientists, student-generated investigations, student-friendly tools for data analysis, visualization and modeling, background for students and teachers, assessment tools, and links to the required curriculum. The Changing Hudson Project Team included scientists and educators, teachers, and experts in data visualization.

Project Background

The Hudson is constantly changing. Tides ebb and flood, and organisms move from one place to another. As the seasons pass, the water warms and cools, populations of migratory fish appear and then leave the river, and plants sprout, grow, and die. Over longer periods of time, we note that the physical character of the river and the kinds of plants and animals living in the river are different from those described in early journals, or even recollected by people with long memories. All of these changes may be normal or even essential parts of the Hudson River ecosystem, or they can lead to irreversible and substantial change in its character. Which of these changes are simply "bends" in the river ecosystem and which are "breaks" - fundamental, long-lasting shifts? The Changing Hudson Project (CHP) helps teachers and students explore this question using evidence that they collect from existing scientific studies.

Regular, predictable changes like the tides and the seasons are not only a normal part of the river's ecosystem, but are essential for maintaining its present character (think about how the Hudson River ecosystem would change if we could somehow stop the tides or the seasons!) Larger and less predictable changes can markedly affect the character of the river's ecosystem. Hurricanes cause high flows that wash out plankton and rooted plants and make the river muddy for many days. Nevertheless, the river's ecosystem recovers from these storms, and returns to its familiar character in a few weeks. Other examples of impressive but ultimately transitory events include long-term droughts or even sewage pollution before the Clean Water Act. However, some changes, either natural or human-made, change the character of the river forever (or at least for a long time). Human introductions of alien species such as the zebra mussel have caused radical changes, which probably will not be reversed for decades, if ever. Likewise, changes in sea level will alter the salinity of the river, leading to changes in the biological communities of the river, and in the usefulness of the river for drinking water and human recreation. Understanding the importance and consequences of all types of change in the Hudson is the central theme of the CHP and an important and current topic of scientific inquiry.

Educational Philosophy

Ecological educators are interested in how best to foster student learning with real data, both to teach important concepts and to build student facility with inquiry based on authentic evidence. The CHP reflects our conviction that we must combine learning from scientists' data and student-initiated investigations with conceptual and teaching tools. The CHP provides these tools, building on cutting-edge scientific data and approaches of the Cary Institute and our expertise in teaching and learning. Students learn to apply concepts from biology, ecology, chemistry, physics and earth science, as well as skills from mathematics, data analysis and modeling to understand the changing Hudson River ecosystem. The CHP provides access to student-friendly real datasets and tools for guided and open-ended inquiry with these data, opportunities to do their own investigations where they collect similar data and explore similar concepts, and link them to required learning standards.

The CHP provides tools teachers need to engage students in inquiry-based learning: background information and links to more references; instructions for student inquiry using both student-friendly datasets and lab or fieldwork related to the topic; suggested sequences of instruction; and samples of student work with commentary.

At the core of the CHP are Hudson River datasets from the Cary Institute and elsewhere, including freshwater flow, suspended sediment, chlorophyll, zooplankton, fishes, and zebra mussels. This is the first time that such a broad diversity of Hudson datasets are made available for education. Conceptual frameworks for students and educators are included. Linked to the datasets are investigations that students can do of related phenomena either in the lab, near their school, or in the Hudson. There are guided lessons and directions for open-ended, student-centered inquiry for both the data- and investigation-based inquiry components of the module. Complementing the data and investigations are dynamic and engaging visualizations, some as animations, others as Powerpoint shows, to make river dynamics vivid. There also are tools for data analysis and synthesis. Finally, the modules contains authentic, embedded assessment tools, developed by the Project Educators and Lead Teachers.

Project participants

Alan Berkowitz - Project Director
Cornelia ("Lia") Harris - Project Coordinator

David Strayer - Project Co-Director, and Project Scientist
Stuart Findlay - Project Co-Director, and Project Scientist

Vicky Kelly - Data Analysis and Visualization Expert
Jerry Jenkins (White Creek School) - Data Visualization Expert

Mary Leou (New York University) - Education Consultant
Cindy Hmelo-Silver (Rutgers University) - Education Consultant

Nina Caraco - Project Scientist
Jon Cole - Project Scientist
Michael Pace - Project Scientist
Charlie Canham - Data Analysis, Visualization and Modeling Expert

Pilot teachers

Paul Adams, Marlboro Central HS, Marlboro, NY
Jaclyn Augustine, University Neighborhood High School, New York, NY***
Christina Battah, Horace Greeley HS, Chappaqua, NY
Debra Cook, Onteora Central School, Boiceville, NY
Terry Cunningham, John Jay HS, Hopewell Junction, NY
Kirk Dorton, Arlington HS, Lagrangeville, NY
Melissa Dowd, The Green School, Brooklyn, NY
Matthew Essery, Woodstock Day School, Woodstock, NY***
JoAnn Fargione, Millbrook HS, Millbrook, NY
Christine Guarino, Highland HS, Highland, NY
Janine Guadagno, Tabernacle Christian Academy, Poughkeepsie, NY
Bridget Kenny, Ossining HS, Ossining, NY
Paula Kumar, MLK Jr. High School, Hastings, NY
Ben Kwiatkowski, Irvington HS, Irvington, NY
Donna Light-Donovan, Croton-Harmon HS, Croton on Hudson, NY
Anthony Loughran, Coxsackie-Athens HS, Coxsackie, NY
Mitchell Manzo, Roy C. Ketcham HS, Wappingers Falls, NY
Peter Mobijohn, Poughkeepsie HS, Poughkeepsie, NY
John Neering, Scarsdale HS, Scarsdale, NY
Dixon Onderdonk, Kingston HS, Kingston, NY
Kathryn Schneider, Hudson Valley Community College, Troy, NY***
Patricia Tomaseski, Millbrook HS, Millbrook, NY
Lecia Zulak, FDR HS, Hyde Park, NY

*** Denotes teachers who began project  in 2006 as Ecosystem Education Fellows, developing initial teaching materials with education staff from the Cary Institute.