Campaign engages youth, builds water resource awareness ethic
AMES, Iowa – An awareness campaign is moving across Iowa. It’s a campaign with lessons about tap water, birds and butterflies, crops and soils, dogs and frogs, and how they all connect with the water resources of every-day living. Water Rocks! is a youth water education campaign delivered by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. The campaign is an interplay of knowledge, caring and engagement.
Jacqueline Comito, Water Rocks! program director, and her team incorporate classroom visits, an interactive website, songs, music videos, hands-on learning activities, public service ads, teacher/peer mentor workshops and geocaching in an original, light-hearted approach to a vast topic. Comito says the multifaceted approach creates experiences that can lead to long-term multigenerational transformation.
The Water Rocks! team visits K-12 classrooms across Iowa, at no charge. They teach kids about water, natural resources and agriculture by weaving STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and the arts into learning activities that challenge and inspire a greater appreciation of water resources.
While Water Rocks! may be most recognized for its energetic team of educators, it is the statewide network of water-related experts and funding support from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture that make free classroom visits and teacher summits possible – and keep the campaign moving across Iowa.
“Iowa DNR is investing federal funds into Water Rocks! because we know our youth are the next generation of Iowa decision makers. If we can establish a water resources awareness ethic in kids, they’ll be better prepared to make decisions as adults,” said Allen Bonini, Iowa Department of Natural Resources watershed improvement program supervisor. “We have worked with this Iowa State group and know they are very effective educators. We have great confidence in their work.”
Free Classroom Visits
Elisha Kubalsky, Davenport middle school science teacher, says the Water Rocks! campaign is a good fit for her students. “Students at this age have great enthusiasm. The Water Rocks! lessons build on that enthusiasm and curiosity,” she said. “The lessons are challenging, but not unreachable – and the kids have fun with them.”
Kubalsky has two science degrees and is the entire middle school science department at her small private school. But even with her background, she finds it difficult to find or develop science content that connects with the students’ lives. Water Rocks! not only connected with students in three grades, it engaged them across the curriculum in age appropriate ways.
“I never imagined seventh graders excitedly shouting “Wetlands Bingo!” or all ages – preschool through parents – circled around a conservation station eager to see water demonstrations,” said Kubalsky. “Being on the Mississippi River, we see water every day – after experiencing Water Rocks!, we see it and understand it in new ways, and are excited about the science around water and soil.”
Free Teacher Summit
Water Rocks! hosted a teacher summit in Ames during June that was attended by 28 Iowa K-12 teachers and high school students. Kubalsky was one of the teachers selected to attend, free of charge. She and the others received information about some of the greatest environmental challenges faced today as well as innovative ways to teach about them.
“It was a nice mix of professional presentations, practice teaching the lessons and tours of research projects and wetland areas,” she said. “We worked with other K-12 teachers – science, language arts and band teachers – and brought home a kit of supplies for several Water Rocks! modules."
Kubalsky said connecting with Iowa State faculty and researchers was a bonus, calling it a very rich experience that teachers should consider. Two Water Rocks! Summits for K-12 teachers are planned for June 2015; a winter summit for non-formal educators is scheduled for December 2015.
Youth outreach moving beyond Iowa classrooms
The Water Rocks! team also takes the campaign to many county fairs and the Iowa State Fair each summer and is gaining attention nationally. The campaign’s “Rock Your Watershed!” computer game recently won national honors from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. The game uses agricultural scenarios to teach the effects of different land treatments.
Educational modules created for the campaign are being noticed and requested by other states. Learn more about modules and online materials at www.waterrocks.org.
To support this educational effort, contributions to Water Rocks! are accepted through the ISU Foundation.
This Iowa State University Extension and Outreach youth education campaign is supported by partnerships with Iowa Department of Natural Resources (USEPA section 319), Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Water Center and Iowa Learning Farms.