Welcome to the Agua Apprentices Program

An online lesson and activity guide of environmental and science lessons to complete in your own space, from the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation. Apprentices can complete three lessons per “season” to be named an “Agua Master”. (Level 1 - Agua Novice, Level 2 - Agua Journeyman & Level 3 – Agua Master). There are two video’s per lesson, the educational message, then the activity as well as a printable lesson plan. Lessons are most applicable for K – 4th grade.  


The lessons were made to be replicable in your own space, meaning supplies around a common household. Don’t have the supplies? Stop by the Discovery Center, and grab a pre-made kit. The kits will be labeled outside the main doors in a green mini library cabinet. (use photo attached to show where). The Discovery Center gates will be locked, use the turnaround parking space to quickly park and grab your kit. Kits are first come first serve.

Lesson 1: Outdoor Archaeology

Have you heard the word archaeology before? Archaeology is the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites or digs and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains.  Artifacts can be things like pottery, tools, skeletons or buildings. Archaeologists study human activity, and life that roamed the earth before people, from thousands of years ago all the way through today. In addition to artifacts, how else do we learn about our history?  One way is through fossils! A fossil is the remains or impression of a prehistoric organism preserved in petrified form or as a mold or cast in rock. When a fossil is found in the earth a scientist can run tests to date the fossil so we can learn and understand the plants and animals that lived in different times.  All these things can help scientists and archaeologists figure out where we lived, how we lived, what we ate amongst many other behaviors and lifestyles.

We are going to be archaeologists today. When an archaeologist starts digging for artifacts, they keep careful notes about where items are found.  Most importantly, how deep in the ground the artifact is.  Why do you think that is important?  The deeper and artifact or fossil is found, the older it is. From this, archaeologists can place artifacts or fossils in chronological order (order of events). Sometimes though the ground gets disturbed and artifacts shift up down and all around.  


Now that we know a little about archaeology and fossils, it is time to become an archaeologist.​

Set-up and Supplies
  • Different sized paint brushes, cotton swabs, dry sponge (optional)  

  • Strainer

  • Sticks from outside

  • Twine or string

  • Notebook or paper to record findings 

  • Pen or pencil 

  • Various everyday household items (different sizes) to bury 

  • Play shovel (optional)

  • Gardening gloves (optional)


1. First, have your guardian gather various household items to bury.

Examples can be a pen, small toy, piece of clothing or anything that is okay to get dirty. For older kids it’s best to choose items that are difficult to identify without their context, such as the spring from a pen, or the spool from a dental floss container.

2. Have your guardian find a spot outside to create the arc excavation or dig site. 

In your yard, your guardian will bury the items at varying depths in a plot of dirt. Dry, sandy soil is best, as moist soil can make filtering the items through the strainer difficult.

3.Lastly, have your guardian will mark off the boundaries of the area in which the items were buried using sticks and string.

4. Now, with your guardian plot the “dig site” with in a notebook before beginning the "excavation" so that you will have a place to record your findings.

5. Use the play shovel or your hands with garden gloves to gently scrape or dust away layers of dirt, which can then be sifted through for artifacts using the strainer. Use the paint brush, toothbrush, dry sponge or cotton swab to gently clean away dirt from small objects. 


6. Once an artifact is found, it can be recorded in your notebook: object description, where it was found, and at what depth etc... Be creative and detailed with your descriptions! 

If you don’t know what an artifact is, guess in your notebook what it could be and what is could have been used for. 


Lesson 2: Food Chains and Food Webs

A food chain is linear network of links in a food web starting from producer organisms and ending at apex predator (consumers), detritivores, or decomposer species. Each food chain is one possible path that energy and nutrients may take as they move through the ecosystem A food chain also shows how the organisms are related with each other by the food they eat. Producers are living thing that can produce or make its own food.  Consumers are living things that eat other living things. Types of consumers are herbivores, carnivores and omnivores. Herbivores eat only plants.  What eats an herbivore? Carnivores eat meat only and will eat other herbivores. Omnivores eat both plants and meat, so they will also eat other herbivores. A decomposer is a living organism that eats organic matter such as rotting or dead plants and animals and leftover food like apple cores and half-eaten sandwiches. Examples of decomposers are worms, mushrooms, slugs and bacteria. 

In a food chain, it sounds like animals and other living organisms only eat one thing.  In nature, most animals eat many different types of food.

Set-up and Supplies
  • Poster board 

  • Pencil 

  • Colored pencils, crayons or markers

  • Food Chain Cards

  • Scissors (optional)

  • Glue 

Food Chain Activity

1. Cut out the food chain pictures and color them.

2. On your poster board, draw a picture of a sun in the middle. 

3. We are going to put your cards on the poster board one at a time.  Put them on the outside of the board and leave the middle open.  

4. Glue the pictures of the plants on the board first. Then, glue the pictures of the animals on poster. 

5. Your object is to draw a line between your plant or animal and something it eats or something that eats it.  Since plants don’t “eat” anything, what do they need to survive?  Now draw a line between your plants and the sun.  

Is this complete? 

This is a little messier than a simple food chain.  What does this look like? A web. This is called a food web and is a more accurate picture of how all the plants and animals interact.  A food web is all the food chains in a single ecosystem. Each living thing in an ecosystem is part of multiple food chains. What would happen to the food web if one of the plants or animals disappeared? If the animal is high on the food chain, then all the animals or plants it eats would increase. Would this be problematic or beneficial?  If the animal is low on the food chain, then all animals above it will go hungry.  Everything in this web depends on all the others to keep a balance.  What affects one of them affects them all. 

Food Web Challenging Activity

Now that you have gotten to know food webs, it is time to create your own. Here’s what your food web must have:  

  • 7 living things in your web

  • There must be at least 2 producers, 2 consumers and 1 decomposer 

  • Use pictures and words

  • All the plants and animals must be from the same habitat

1. Draw a sun again the middle of the back of your poster board. 

2. Decide what habitat you are going to use for your own food web. 

3. Next, pick the 7 living things that exist in your habitat. Remember, at least 2 need to be produces, 2 need to be consumers and 1 needs to be a decomposer.  

4. On the outside of the poster, begin drawing and writing each of the livings animals and organisms you picked. Remember, leave the middle open. 

5. Your object is to draw a line between your plant or animal and something it eats or something that eats it.  Since plants don’t “eat” anything, what do they need to survive?  Now draw a line between your plants and the sun.  


Lesson 3: Decomposer Bug Hunt

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see the word decomposer?  Usually it’s the icky things but the word that should come to mind is essential.  What is a decomposer? A decomposer is a living organism that eats organic matter such as rotting or dead plants and animals and leftover food like apple cores and half-eaten sandwiches.  Examples of decomposers are worms, mushrooms, slugs and bacteria. When decomposers eat organic matter, they pass it through their bodies and break it down into compost. Nature’s way of recycling. Out in nature, decomposers live under logs, rocks, or leaves. They feast on organic matter and leave behind nutrient rich compost for gardens, soils and the land. Since decomposers help speed up the natural process of decay, some people create homes for decomposers in their backyard.

Why do you think Decomposers are essential to all habitats? To understand why decomposers are so important, you must understand how habitats work.  Plants are almost always the base of every food web on the planet.  A food web is a group of connected food chains. A food chain is linear network of links in a food web starting from producer organisms and ending at apex predator (consumers), detritivores, or decomposer species. A food chain also shows how the organisms are related with each other by the food they eat. Producers are living thing that can produce or make its own food.  They take the energy from the sun, carbon dioxide from the air, and water and minerals from the soil to grow.  Since, Decomposers release nutrients, such as carbon and nitrogen, back into the environment these nutrients are recycled back into the ecosystem so that the producers can use them. Consumers are living things that eat other living things. Types of consumers are herbivores, carnivores and omnivores. Herbivores eat only plants. They take the plant material, water, and oxygen to grow.  What eats an herbivore? Carnivores eat meat only and will eat other herbivores. Omnivores eat both plants and meat, so they will also eat other herbivores.  Do you see any problems with a system that only has producers and consumers? It creates a one-way system from producer to consumer. 

Nature loves a circle!  Nothing wasted!  The stability of an ecosystem depends on the actions of the decomposers. Imagine what would happen if there were no decomposers? Wastes and the remains of dead organisms would pile up and the nutrients within the waste and dead organisms would not be released back into the ecosystem. Producers would not have enough nutrients. Other nutrients necessary for an organism to function properly would also be insufficient. Overall, many organisms could not exist.

Do humans play a role?  Yes! We eat mushrooms which are decomposers. We also help decomposers by composting and recycling which helps to reduce waste. Decomposers cannot survive well in landfills (where waste goes) because they don’t receive enough air or water. 

We are going to find decomposers by going on a bug hunt! 

Set-up and Supplies
  • Notebook or paper to record findings 

  • Pen or pencil 

  • Colored pencils, crayons or markers

  • Gardening gloves (optional)

  • Decomposer Bug Sheet (optional) 


1. Grab your notebook or paper and a pencil to record your notes and findings.

2. In your backyard, or with your guardian go out front to search for decomposers.  You might need to use gloves (if you don’t want to get your hands dirty) to move rocks or logs to find decomposers. 

3. Try to find as many decomposers as you can.

4. In your notebook, write down each type of decomposer you find. Record the type, where your found, if it was alone, and any other details you want. Also, draw a picture of the decomposer and write down any characteristics or details about it because later you will color in your drawings.

5. When you have completed your outdoor bug hunt, take your markers, colored pencils or crayons and color in your decomposer drawings. This will help you remember each decomposer and bring your decomposer bug guide to life. 

Challenge Activity

Can you think of other circles in nature? Examples are the seasons (winter, spring, summer and fall), O2 to CO2 from animals and plants, the water cycle and recycling. 

1. Think of other circles in nature or pick one from the example above. 

2. Draw a picture of the circle in nature you pick with arrows showing how the circle moves. 


Lesson 4: Fossil Findings

How do we know about dinosaurs? How do we know they even existed? The only way we know that these animals ever lived is by their fossilized bones or tracks. A fossil is the remains or impression of a prehistoric organism preserved in petrified form or as a mold or cast in rock. When a fossil is found in the earth a scientist can run tests to date the fossil so we can learn and understand the plants and animals that lived in different times. 

How are fossils formed? To answer this we need to remember the rock cycle. All rocks started on Earth as igneous (volcanic) rocks. These are rocks formed from lava. As the lava cooled, igneous rocks were made. The igneous rocks were broken down by water, ice, wind, or vegetation into small bits of rock like sand or silt. These small bits were carried, usually by water, to an area where they piled up on top of each other and compacted to form sedimentary rock. Do you know what sediment is? It’s stuff in the water that settle out. Over time, layers and layers of sediment make sedimentary rock. The third type of rock is metamorphic. As the layers of sedimentary rock get pushed down from the new layers above, they get put under tremendous heat and pressure which twists them into new types of rocks – metamorphic means “change shape”. Each type of rock can become another type over millions of years. 

In which type of rock do you think fossils form? Igneous rocks would burn any living thing to ash before it could be hardened into stone. Metamorphic rocks would also destroy any fossils with all the heat and pressure. Almost all fossils are found in sedimentary rock. If a plant or animal dies near water and gets covered by sediment quickly, it might turn into a fossil. Why does it have to happen quickly? If it doesn’t get buried fast, scavengers will eat it. Once an animal gets covered, it is still decomposing but much slower. This gives the sediment time to build up and make a cast of it. Once the animal decomposes completely, there is an imprint left in the surrounding rock. This gap slowly fills with other minerals and becomes solid. A fossil is not the actual plant or animal ... it a copy made of different material. 

Some of the earliest fossils found is the trilobite. Trilobites are a group of extinct marine arachnomorph (spider-shaped) arthropods (“arthropod” means “jointed legs). Trilobites form one of the earliest-known groups of arthropods. Today’s arthropods are animals like spiders and scorpions, millipedes and centipedes, crustaceans, and insects. It is a HUGE group. The trilobites were first on Earth around 550 million years ago long before the dinosaurs appeared around 230 million years ago. They lived on the ocean floor and ate smaller bottom living animals. Some were small (less than ½ inch) but some could grow bigger than 2 feet! 

These fossils were found in the mountains of Utah at about 6600 feet above sea level. Does that sound correct? Where did the trilobites live? And yet these were found in the mountains. How did they get there? The Earth is constantly changing. Most of these changes are very, very slow so we don’t notice them. But 550 million years ago this animal lived and died at the bottom of a shallow ocean. Over the years the area where they lived was slowly pushed up until it was above sea level by over 6000 feet! So fossils can tell us a lot about the plant or animal that made it, but it can also tell us about the changes in landscape around it. 

Let’s make a fossil! We are going to use a leaf found from outside to make a fossil imprint. 

Set-up and Supplies
  • Clay, Plaster of Paris, DIY Salt Dough or playdough (only need 1 of these)o

    • If Plaster of Paris- water, mixing bowl, spoon required to make the “clay” 

    • IF DIY Salt Dough- 1 ¼ Cups Salt, 5 Cups All-Purpose Flour, 2 cups water, mixing bowl, spoon, cookie sheet and foil or wax paper (this recipe makes enough for 10 fossils, you can cut down or add as needed) 

  • Cooking oil spray (only for plaster of paris and clay) 

  • Lid (can be a yogurt lid, or similar) (only for plaster of paris and clay) 

  • Leaf from outside 

  • Rock Cycle Sheet > DOWNLOAD ROCK CYCLE PDF


1. Go outside and find the leaf or leaves that you want to use to make imprints. Leave the stem connected to the leaf or leaves. 

2. If you are using plaster of paris, make the clay using the instructions on the box. If you are making the salt dough start by adding all your ingredients to your mixing bowl. Then, mix and knead your dough with your hands. Take a spoonful of dough and roll it into a ball. If your dough is too sticky, add more flour; if your dough is too crumbly, add more water. If you are using clay, start by taking a piece of clay and rolling it into a ball.  

3. Then begin flattening the ball of clay between your palms to look like a pancake. You don’t want it to be to thin though. .  

4. If using plaster of paris or clay, spray the cooking oil on the lid to act as a non-stick agent. If the lid is to oily, the clay will have a hard time drying. If there is to little, the clay will stick to the lid. If you are using salt dough, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lay a piece of foil or wax paper on top of a baking sheet so the dough does not stick. Lay your pancake looking dough on the baking sheet.  

5. Now, take the leaf or leaves you picked and press one leaf into one piece of clay or dough in order to make an imprint. It will look better if you use the underside of the leaf. 

6. Then gently pull the leaf off the clay or dough. 

7. Set aside to harden if you are using plaster of paris or clay. If you are using salt dough, put your baking sheet in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, take your homemade fossils out of the oven and let cool. Have fun! 


Lesson 5: Where Did My Lunch Come From

Where did my lunch come from? Did you know that no matter what you have packed for lunch, ultimately, everything you are eating food comes from dirt? All of our food, including animal products and processed foods, originates from the earth. We can trace our food back to its original form, and from there back to the soil. When we throw away our biodegradable materials to the landfill, we waste valuable nutrients that the soil needs to give new life. Through composting, we recycle our biodegradable materials and give them back to the soil. Compost feeds the billions of soil organisms that are essential in healthy soil. Healthy soil means healthy plants. Healthy plants mean healthy people and animals. 

Set-up and Supplies
  • Pencil

  • Paper

  • Colored pencils, crayons or markers

  • Lunch


Your challenge is to find a food in your lunch that did not come from dirt. 

1. Make a list of everything you are having for lunch

2. Take each food item on your list, and trace back to its origin from earth

 For example: Tuna Fish Sandwich 

  • Bread came from wheat grown in the dirt

  • Pickles are preserved cucumbers grown in the dirt

  • Lettuce is a vegetable grown in the dirt

  • Mayonnaise comes from eggs, that came from chickens, that ate grains grown in the dirt

  • Tuna living in the ocean eat smaller fish, that eat zooplankton, that eat phytoplankton, which needs nutrients from the decomposed bodies of dead plants and animals that accumulate on the ocean floor and are brought to the surface by currents. 

Can you find anything that didn’t come from dirt? 

Challenge Activity

Create a story, using pictures of all the food and ingredients you ate in your lunch. 

Using our tuna fish example from above: 

1. You could draw wheat on a farm.

2. Then, you could draw the cucumbers and lettuce growing on the farm. 

3. Then, show a farmer harvesting the cucumbers, pickling the cucumbers, and turning them into pickles. 

4. Next, you could include a chicken coop with chickens, eggs and grains for the chickens to eat. 

5. You can draw the ocean, with tuna, small fish, your small planktons and decomposers on the ocean floor. 

6. Lastly, you could draw a fisherman going out to the ocean to catch the tuna for your sandwich. 



What is pollution? 

The Agua Hedionda Lagoon sits at the bottom of a very large watershed. Does anyone know what a watershed is? A watershed is an area of land where all of the water that falls on that land drains to one place through something called “surface runoff.” This surface runoff can be created by things like snow melting off mountains or rainstorms that can flood the area. When this water overflows, all the excess water flows down into a larger pool of water. Sometimes that pool could be a stream, or a river, or a lake, or a lagoon. Does anyone know what pollution means? Pollution is the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance or thing that has harmful or poisonous effects. How many students here like to eat fish? How many like to play in the water? We are going to find out why watersheds are very important to everyone and why they need to be taken care of. 

(As the story is told, you will interact with your pollution model. When pollutants are added into the story, add them to your pollution model. If the pollution is “dry”, take a couple pinches and put them on your board. If the pollution is “liquid”, take a spoon and pour some on the board.)

“There was a time many years ago when our land was very wild. This was a time before roads and cars. Only a small number of Luiseño people lived here then. These NATIVE PEOPLE depended on nature for many of the things they needed to survive, but they lived simply and didn’t change the natural surroundings too much. The only things that would get into the lagoon were natural things like leaves. 

 + [Pinch some dry leaves on the board] 

Eventually, more people traveled to this land. They found rich soil for farming, forests full of wildlife, and a lagoon that provided plenty of food and water. It was a perfect place to live. Upstream, FARMERS planted crops to feed their families and later, all the people that came as the city grew. They used chemicals called fertilizers to make their crops grow faster. 

 + [Pinch some baking soda on the board near your farm] 

Some farmers kept pigs and other animals in BARNYARDS. Where there are lots of farm animals, there is lots of farm animal manure.

 + [Pinch some coffee grounds on the board near your farm] 

More and more people moved to the area. Gradually, a city grew up. People drained ponds and cut down forests to build houses, schools, churches, stores, roads, hospitals, and many other buildings. These BUILDINGS SITES left a lot of soil exposed to the weather. 

 + [Pinch some soil on to the board] 

Now, the city along the lagoon has grown to be a large city. Many people live and work in and around the city. Many businesses provide services for the people. Several FACTORIES make things that people want, like cars and furniture, but the factories leak paint and other chemicals. 

 + [Pour some green liquid on to the board near your factory] 

As people move about their busy day, they often drive from place to place. Traffic jams are a big problem for DRIVERS. If a car is not taken good care of it might also leak oil or other fluids. 

 + [Pour some yellow liquid on the board near the roads and cars] 

It’s a beautiful day so some people may be out WASHING THEIR CAR. The soapy water rushes down the driveway into the storm drain. The storm drain empties into the lagoon. The grease and grime on a car contains tar from the roads, very tiny bits of rubber from the wearing of tires, and rust. 

 + [Pour soapy water on your board near the roads and cars] 

Many people like to head down to the lagoon. Some zoom up and down the lagoon on MOTORBOATS and don’t notice that a little engine oil leaks into the water. The oil will not mix with the lagoon water but will float on the surface. It will coat the feathers of birds that paddle around the water making it harder for them to stay afloat or fly. 

 + [Pour some red liquid on the board near the ocean] 

Lots of people like to have FAMILY PICNICS on the beach along the lagoon, too. Some of these people have left their trash on the shore. 

 + [Pinch some pieces of litter on the board] 

In another area a PERSON FISHING snags a hook on a log. Instead of untangling it, the person fishing simply cuts off the snagged piece of nylon fishing line and lets it fall into the lagoon. 

 + [Cut a piece of floss and put it on the board in the ocean] 

There are many points of pollution here but none of it is very large. What animals could potentially be affected by this pollution? Could people be affected by this pollution? What do you think happens when it rains? Let’s look at what happens to the pollution when there is a rainstorm. 

 + [Use the watering can to simulate a rain storm and pour water all over the board] 

Where did all the pollutants go after it rained? They went into the lagoon and the ocean! What lives in the lagoon that could now be affected by this pollution? Fish and birds too because they eat the fish in the ocean. 

So who polluted the lagoon? Think about the pollution contained in your canister. What are some ways that the people in our story could have prevented polluting the lagoon? Was it just one or two things that polluted the water or was it many things? It was many things from many people. This is why it is important to remember that it is a combined effort that creates pollution and why it is most effective when it is a combined effort to prevent pollution. What could each of us do to keep the lagoon clean by making sure pollutants don’t get into the lagoon in the first place? For example, did you know that if someone takes their car to a car wash, the car wash is required by law to clean and reuse the water rather than using new water and letting it drain into the sewer? This prevents a lot of cars from adding pollution into the storm drains that lead to the ocean. How could we clean up the water? Is it easier to prevent pollution or clean it up later? ​

Set-up and Supplies
  • 1 large, medium and small cardboard box or plastic bins 

  • 1 box of markers or crayons 

  • 1 pair of scissors or box cutters 

  • 1 roll of tape (masking or duct tape) 

  • 1 box of food coloring (red, yellow, blue and green) 

  • 6 cups of water 

  • 1 cup of leaves 

  • 1 cup of sticks from the yard 

  • 1 cup of baking soda (or baking powder or baby powder) 

  • 1 cup of coffee grounds 

  • 1 cup of dirt 

  • A few sheets of newspaper, junk mail or paper trash for recycling, all cut up into pieces or shredded 

  • Optional: Construction paper 

  • Optional: Play-doh (store bought or homemade) 

Activity #1 - Pollution Table 

1. First, take your largest cardboard box or plastic bin. This is going to be your base. You are going to use this as your landscape. 

2. On your landscape, draw or build mountains towards the back and the ocean towards the front of your cardboard box or plastic bin. 

3. Then, take your medium cardboard box or plastic bin and poke holes in it but on towards the front of the box or bin. 

4. Next, take your medium size box or plastic bin and place it on top of your bigger cardboard box or plastic bin. You will want to prop it up so there is a slope. Additionally, you’ll want your medium size box or bin to hang over the front of the larger bin. You can see how this looks in the video. 

5. Now, draw two rivers between the mountains and ocean on our medium sized box or bin that flow to the ocean. 

6. Lastly, add a chemical plant, a farm, a house, a building, and two roads. Be creative and have fun! 

7. Once your pollution mode is complete, use the story to learn all about pollution and interact with your board. 

*You can substitute any drawings for play models or toys that can get dirty and wet. 




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