Making a splash with youth water(shed) education

1NewThingForWater(WR!)Here at Water Rocks!, our #1newthingforwater for 2016 is to help every student across the state of Iowa learn what a watershed is, how it functions, and why watersheds matter.

We utilize a wide variety of different games, lessons, and hands-on, interactive activities to help young people grasp the concept of watersheds and why they matter. Each activity has a clear educational lesson to it, while also being FUN! Let’s follow the Water Rocks! team to a few different school events to see how it’s done.

We All Live in a Watershed is our most widely utilized classroom module – here you can see it in action with 6th grade students at Adel-De Soto-Minburn!  At the beginning of the lesson, we introduce the concept of a watershed. We use lots of repetition – reading the definition out loud, repeating after me, and having each student build their own individual watershed in their hand. We all “make it rain” and they get to see up close and personal how water always moves downhill, following the slope of the land, draining to one common water body.


Students are then “gifted” their own parcel of land in a watershed, along with an imaginary $5 million to build whatever they would like on their piece of land. The sky’s the limit … some students build houses and mansions, others opt for business operations… crop and/or livestock farms, restaurants (Casey’s, Pizza Ranch, and the “golden arches” are very popular!), malls… as well as parks and recreational areas (soccer fields, baseball/softball diamonds, etc.).  Once in a while, we even have special creatures like narwhals and unicorns make an appearance!  It’s a blast to see the students’ creativity come to light as they develop their pieces of land in really unique ways!


Students love drawing on their pieces of land and seeing how the whole watershed comes together once all of the puzzle pieces are up on the watershed map. Then comes the big question – thinking about the concept of a watershed, how does our new land use affect the water in the river?!  Together, we spend a good amount of time discussing the many water quality challenges we have in Iowa, addressing different types of pollutants that can end up in our water bodies in both urban and rural landscapes.

Each student is then given a cup of water that represents the water that sheds off of their piece of land. They are tasked with identifying one or more type(s) of pollution that could be picked up and carried away with the water, as a result of what they built on their land, and a fake version of that pollutant is added to their cup of water.


We then use a gallon jug to represent the common water body (river) where all of that water eventually drains. So students one by one pour their cups of water into the river!  As you can imagine, the water gets cloudier, dirtier, and more polluted with each cup of water that is added – it’s a very visual representation of the cumulative effect of all of our actions.



The reaction from the students is priceless – there’s the definite “gross” factor, but this exercise is rooted in exactly what’s happening in the environment around us as pollutants shed to our rivers, lakes, and streams.

One of the 6th Graders at ADM had me falling over laughing with this comment:
“Eww, that’s nasty! That looks like when I puked back when I was 6 years old!”

Finally, we wrap up by talking about action items and how we are all responsible for doing better – discussing good conservation practices (both urban and agricultural) that can be implemented to help water quality. We also address water consumption (quantity) as well – there are lots of ideas that 6th graders can readily implement, like reusable water bottles, turning off the water while brushing teeth, shorter showers, etc.

We All Live in a Watershed is not the only mechanism we have in place for teaching about watersheds, nonpoint source pollution, and water quality…

The Watershed Game (aka Enviroscape) is a super hands-on, visual representation of the watershed concept. After discussing where different pollutants can come from on the landscape, students at Meeker Elementary Science Night in Ames each grab a water bottle as they become a cloud and help to make it rain! As the rain falls, the “mock” pollutants are carried away with the rain drops, making their way to the streams and eventually the common lake. Again, it’s a fun and highly visual activity to help learners young and old better grasp what a watershed is and how it works! This activity is a big hit at county fairs, farmers markets, and other family events!


We’ve also developed an urban-focused module called What’s In Your (STORM)water?. This module utilizes a game show theme throughout, with groups of students competing against their classmates – think “The Price Is Right” meets water quality!  In the photos below, 3rd grade students at South Union Elementary (Des Moines) learned many new vocabulary words including stormwater, runoff, and infiltration, while also competing in game show games like “Ducks in a Row” and “Duck, Duck, Pollute,” featuring the famous Stormwater Sombrero!


While these events highlighted above all happen to be in central Iowa, we have participated in community/youth outreach events across all 99 counties and always map out our requests each year to ensure we’re “sharing the love” across all corners of the state! Check out our 2016 Schedule of Events page for a snapshot of where we are traveling in February and March.

Would you like to invite the Water Rocks!/Iowa Learning Farms team to your area to visit a school, youth outdoor classroom, summer camp, public library, county fair, or farmers market?  Read more about our Classroom Visits and Conservation Station trailers on our website – thanks to our partners, we are able to continue to offer these educational opportunities free of charge! Requests for April – November 2016 are currently being accepted. When you’re ready to put in a request, hop on over to the Request a Visit page on our website.

Ann Staudt

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