The Fabulous World of Wetlands

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Joshua Harms, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2018-19.

As a continuation from last month’s blog, I will be explaining another one of our great modules with Water Rocks!. Our presentation over wetlands has many interesting and important facts along with a few games as well. The module is meant to feel like the students are on a game show and we are their game show hosts. This presentation, like all the others, has been fine-tuned by our team to make it run super smoothly in the classroom with elementary and middle school students.

Our Fabulous World of Wetlands module starts with an audio “field trip,” where we have all the students close their eyes as we play some sounds from out in nature. We then ask them what different sounds they heard. After they have given us some of the different creatures they heard, we ask them where they think the sounds were recorded, hoping that they eventually answer wetlands. We then ask them to answer a trivia/evaluation question to establish their baseline understanding of the subject.

We then continue into our first game, a guessing game in which the students have to try and guess what the three main characteristics of wetlands are (hydric soils, presence of water, and water-loving plants). After the students eventually get all three things, sometimes with the help of some hints, we move on to show them three objects that represent the three main jobs of wetlands. The first object is a coffee filter and we explain that wetlands filter the water and leave it cleaner after it passes through the wetlands. The second object is a sponge and we explain that hydric soils store water like a sponge would if it was dropped in a bucket of water. The third and final object is a small house, which we use to explain that wetlands are a habitat to many different creatures. After we get done explaining the three jobs we have the students repeat them to lock the knowledge into their brains.

We then transition to talking about some certain creatures that rely on wetlands, particularly migratory birds and butterflies. We ask the students to think about if we were all to get on a bus and take a long journey down to Texas, what would be some reasons that we would stop on our journey? They usually answer with things such as food, water, bathroom, sleep, etc. We then explain that for those same reasons that we would stop, birds and butterflies need those same things and they stop at wetlands to take care of all of it along their journeys. This leads us into the next game which is Habitat Hopscotch. This game involves different states that are on the birds’ and butterflies’ migratory paths, as pictured above. But there is a twist—there are some situations that remove wetlands in certain states, which means we remove that state from the game. We then go through all the situations one-by-one, and by the end of the game, there are only three of the original ten squares remaining. That means there are not many wetlands left for the birds and butterflies to stop at!

After the completion of Habitat Hopscotch, we show two maps of Iowa, one of what Iowa looked like 200 years ago and the other one of present day Iowa. What we are showing the students is that our state used to be almost all prairie and wetlands but now the state is mostly covered by corn and beans. We then let them know that 90% of our original wetlands have been converted into other things. We also tell them that 99.9% of our state’s prairie land has also been converted. But it’s not all bad news—there has been good work with farmers to restore both prairie and wetlands on part of their land, which is great for all the creatures that call wetlands home.

This leads us into our game of Wetlands Bingo, which allows the students to see many more of the creatures that live in wetlands. After each wetland bingo, we ask that student a trivia question that gives them a chance to win a prize. When we have had multiple winners, we then finish with the same trivia/evaluation question that we did near the beginning of our presentation. We also leave each classroom teacher with a set of Wetland Bingo cards, so they and their students can continue learning about the Fabulous World of Wetlands and all the amazing creatures that call wetlands their home!

Joshua Harms

January 16 Webinar – A Conservation Chat with Secretary Naig

ILFHeader(15-year)Wednesday, January 16th at 12:30pm Iowa Learning Farms will kick off our 15th anniversary by hosting a webinar with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.

Naig_Central Iowa Fair 2018The webinar will feature ILF program manager Dr. Jacqueline Comito and Secretary Naig discussing conservation, water quality and the Secretary’s vision for Iowa.  They will also discuss the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and how Iowans are working to meet the nitrogen and phosphorus loss reductions outlined in the Strategy. Webinar participants will be able to submit questions for Secretary Naig during the webinar through the Zoom Webinar software.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, January 16, 2019
TIME: 12:30 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars and click the link to join the webinar

More information about this webinar is available at our website. If you can’t watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available on our website:
https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

Liz Juchems

Apply today for Water Resources Summer Internship!

Have an interest in the environment, conservation, and agriculture, particularly water and soil quality?  We are seeking undergraduate student interns for our summer 2019 Water Resources Internship Program who are self-motivated, detail-oriented, strong communicators, enthusiastic, and have a sense of fun! Interns’ time will be split between outreach and research, all centered around environmental issues and challenges in Iowa.

Visit the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program webpage for additional information and complete application instructions. Applications close Thursday, January 31 at 5:00pm.

Summer interns will have the opportunity to:

  • Work with two exciting Iowa State University education and outreach programs:
  • Develop strong oral communication skills as you help children and adults better understand environmental and agricultural issues
  • Travel throughout the state of Iowa with the fleet of three Conservation Station trailers
  • Contribute to water and soil quality research projects in ISU’s Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering
  • Gain technical skills related to agricultural and biosystems engineering, environmental science, soil health and water quality through both field and lab research

Highlights from the 2018 Water Resources Internship Program. 

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How to Apply:
Required application materials include:

  • PDF Resume (Be sure to include your GPA, major, and previous work experience)
  • PDF Cover Letter (Tell us what interests you about this internship and why you’d be a great fit!)

Internship application deadline is 5:00pm on Thursday, January 31, 2019. Please submit your complete application package to Liz Juchems via email – ejuchems@iastate.edu.

Liz Juchems

We All Live in a Watershed

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Joshua Harms, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2018-19.

The work that the Water Rocks! crew performs is truly amazing. Traveling to schools and teaching young students about ways to protect our natural resources is such a great thing.  Every single one of our modules is on a different topic of conservation. Over the next several months, I’ll be sharing some insight into the different modules that we teach to our target audience of upper elementary and middle school students, to give you a behind the scenes look into how our classroom outreach programs roll!

Our best module is our watershed presentation. We start off with introductions and a trivia/evaluation question, then we get right into it by explaining the definition of natural resources. After we have explained the definition, we ask the students to give some examples of different natural resources. When that is complete, we introduce our major word of the day which is watershed.

We usually ask the students if any of them know what a watershed is. We then show them the definition and break it down in a couple different ways. First we have them cup their hand in front of them and we explain that the crease in the palm of their hand is a river, and their hand around it represents the land making up the watershed. We then have them “make it rain” on their hand/watershed and we ask them where all the water sheds off to. Another way to explain watersheds is with the concept of a cereal bowl and how the milk always flows to the bottom.

Next we show the students that watersheds come in many different sizes. After that we show them a map of the US which contains the 4th largest watershed in the world by the name of the Mississippi River Watershed. This map helps the students see how all our waterways are connected and that everything we do on the land eventually affects our water. This concept is the main thing we are trying to get the students to understand.

At this point we allow for the students to be creative with our game called We All Live In A Watershed! We give students a piece of riverfront property and an imaginary $5 million to build whatever they would like on their piece of land. When the students have completed their drawings, we go through a tour of the watershed and see what everyone had drawn. We continue on to then show them what the river water might have looked like in Iowa approximately 200 years earlier, and that our landscape was much different, primarily covered with tallgrass prairie.

Fast forward back to today. We then discuss with students pollutants that could get carried into the water, such as trash, soil, chemicals, oil, and dog poop. We then start the second part of the game which involves the students picking the most prominent pollutant coming off of their piece of land. They then come up to the front and we give them a cup of water with our biodegradable example of the pollutant. After everyone has acquired their cup of water, we have the students one by one pour their cups into the jar representing the river, demonstrating that all of the water drains to one common point in a watershed, and to show how all the pollution has really affected our water. We then talk with the students about some of the different things they could do to help the current water situation – we’re all in this together and it’s really encouraging to hear their ideas of ways to keep the land and water around them healthy!

We close with the same trivia/evaluation question that we asked in the beginning in order to gauge students’ change in comprehension after just a short 45-minute presentation. From our Water Rocks! 2017-18 School Visits Evaluation Report, 36% of students could correctly define a watershed prior to our classroom presentation. After our Water Rocks! lesson, 95% of students could correctly define a watershed.

Joshua Harms

A Challenge for the New Year

CLGHeaderJamie Benning | Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Water Quality Program Manager

Late last month, farm advisors, consultants, agronomists and farmers gathered for the 30th annual Integrated Crop Management Conference.  Over these years, participants have been able to choose from well over 100 sessions on the latest research and recommendations for soil management and water quality from the field to watershed scale. Since the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS) was introduced in 2013, there have been additional sessions focused on reducing nitrate-nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) loss.

ICM 2018This year, Matt Helmers, Mark Licht and I led two interactive sessions with about 60 participants each with the objectives of reinforcing the goals of the NRS, discussing specific practices and their costs and effectiveness, and encouraging dialogue and deeper thinking about the challenges to meeting these goals. We used an online tool called Kahoot and participants responded to each question anonymously using their smartphones.

The groups did a great job identifying the major sources of nitrate-N and P loss from agricultural systems and selecting practices that will most effectively reduce loss within the field and at the edge of field.  This is positive feedback for ISU Extension, Iowa Learning Farms, and many other agriculture and conservation organizations that have developed and delivered outreach and professional development opportunities for this audience over the past five years.

Understanding and ranking cost effectiveness was a bit more challenging for the group, indicating that we need to double down on our outreach and education on recent research and scenarios to better reinforce this information as it is critical for decision-making.

As we moved into discussing the challenges of reaching the INRS goals, one of the discussion questions asked the participants to identify THE major barrier to adopting wetlands, saturated buffers, and bioreactors, three major edge-of-field nitrate-N reduction practices.  The four options we gave the groups are four very common barriers to adopting practices:

  1. Costs are too high
  2. It is too time consuming to work with agencies to install practices
  3. Landowner-tenant relationships are challenging
  4. Farmers and landowners are not feeling a sense of urgency to install these practices.

I was very surprised that 38% of both groups selected the lack of a sense of urgency as the top barrier to adoption. 

The costs of practice installation came in nearly tied with 33% selecting it as the top barrier. In discussions with similar groups and with conservation colleagues, I hear the cost limitations much more frequently, especially in the past few years of low commodity prices, along with the other two choices.  In response to the other three barriers, significant outreach and incentive programs have been developed and modified to address these concerns. Farmers’ sense of urgency is rarely discussed.

The response to this question caused me to reflect on how our outreach programs may be influencing this lack of urgency.  Leaders agree that we have measured increases in funding and technical assistance, the number of learning opportunities available to farmers, landowners and stakeholders, acres of implemented practices and many other indicators of progress but that we have a huge amount of work yet to do to reduce the size of the hypoxic zone.  The Hypoxia Task Force has set an interim goal of a 20% load reduction in both nitrate-N and P by 2025 and a 45% reduction by 2035.


river restorationMy goal for the New Year is to bring the timelines front and center to convey that the INRS, while voluntary, is not optional and we need to increase our efforts.  I also want to illustrate the relationship between reducing the size of the Gulf Hypoxic Zone and local drinking water quality protection, better habitat and quality of life that result from cleaner rivers and lakes, and the economic development opportunities for small businesses that design and install conservation practices, grow and sell cover crop seed, and beginning farmers seeking to grow their pasture-based livestock operations.

As you reflect on the 2018 growing season and think about goals for next year, I challenge you to set at least one goal related to improving the water quality leaving your farm.  To increase the chances that you will achieve this goal, write it down and talk to someone about it!

Here are a few draft goals to get you started:

  • Stop by your Soil and Water Conservation District office and meet with your local watershed coordinator, they may have financial and technical assistance opportunities for you
  • If you have tile on your farm and have easy access to an outlet, start measuring nitrate-N leaving in the tile.  There are several programs available to help you with tile monitoring, call 515-294-6038 or email me, benning@iastate.edu, and I can help you get started
  • Set a time to meet with farmers in your area that have tried cover crops to discuss their experiences and learn from them
  • Set an appointment with your NRCS District Conservationist to review your conservation plan and discuss changes that could be made to improve water and soil quality

To demonstrate to the public that the voluntary system can work, acres of cover crops, numbers of wetlands, bioreactors, and saturated buffers, acres of no-till and many other practices all need to increase sharply over the next few years.  Making one of the commitments I listed or setting your own unique water quality goal will lead to water quality improvement and may make your farm more profitable in the process.

Jamie Benning

Water Rocks! Launches New Pollinator Classroom Presentation

The Power of Pollinators classroom education module extends the Water Rocks! portfolio designed to assist teachers in teaching about environmental science in Iowa

Water Rocks! has announced the launch of “The Power of Pollinators, its newest conservation-focused, interactive classroom presentation for upper-elementary and middle school classrooms. The new Pollinators module was developed with assistance and input from Iowa State University experts as well as classroom teachers across Iowa. Water Rocks! piloted the programming with Turkey Valley Schools fourth and fifth grade classes in late October.

“Turkey Valley Schools have shown leadership in conservation thinking through the establishment of native prairie and butterfly garden projects, and inclusion of critical conservation lessons in multiple grade levels across the district,” said Ann Staudt, director of Water Rocks!. “The pilot experience allowed us to learn as much as we taught. The teachers and students were very motivated to help fine-tune the learning modules.”

Turkey Valley 4th grade students and teacher Robyn Vsetecka show off their school garden plot. The students chose to plant a mix of vegetables and flowering plants to attract pollinators.

Conservation takes center stage at Turkey Valley Community Schools; their native prairie plot was established over twenty years ago on school grounds.

Water Rocks! classroom education modules are designed primarily for grades four through seven. Content is adjusted in collaboration with each classroom teacher to ensure the best outcomes. And, each module is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

“The Water Rocks! team really grabbed the attention of the students and helped them quickly learn new vocabulary and scientific concepts in a high-energy and fun way,” said Robyn Vsetecka, fourth grade teacher at Turkey Valley Schools. “They covered a lot ground, but the approach wasn’t overwhelming for those students unfamiliar with pollinators, yet still informative and engaging for the ones who already had some experience.”

Students eagerly listen to instructions as they prepare to compete in the Monarch Migration Madness game.

Pollinator Jenga was quite a hit with the students and teachers alike at Turkey Valley!

The Pollinator module uses a variety of visual aids, interactive games and on-your-feet activities, to facilitate age- and grade-appropriate learning for all learners. Favorites among the students were the Pollinator Jenga game, Monarch Migration Madness game, and seeing bee houses.

“We were delighted to see the students’ faces light up when we helped them realize that each could make an impact on supporting pollinators by doing things a simple as planting wildflowers or even adding potted plants on a patio or balcony,” noted Staudt.

To learn more about Water Rocks! classroom education modules, or to request a free school visit, please go to https://www.waterrocks.org/classroom-visits/.

 

The Adventures Down Your Gravel Road

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Joshua Harms, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2018-19.

Taking adventures adds lots of new life experiences. Many people think that those adventures involve lots of money and traveling to different states or countries. However, people miss out on a lot of experiences in the natural world that could very well be right down the nearest gravel road.

I think we could all benefit from learning to love the places we live instead of always wanting to live somewhere else. The beauty of this world we live in is endless. I encourage you to go explore the areas around you because you may just find some of that beauty closer to you than expected. Each of the four seasons here in Iowa bring a different type of beauty along with them. Spring brings lots of blooming flowers, summer brings some bright sunsets, fall comes with the beautiful change of color within the leaves, and finally winter brings a snowy wonderland.

At the end of October I took an adventure of my own down some gravel roads in my area looking for cool photos to be taken, and I found some places that I didn’t even know existed before. Here are two of the photos I took while on this expedition. Myself and a friend of mine explored some of the very little remaining prairie land. This land was quite difficult to find as it is very hard to see from the road. So if you were looking to find this area of prairie, good luck!

I encourage you to explore the area around you, because there very well may be some amazing things around your area that you never knew about. Iowa is a truly amazing state, but the beauty thereof may just be a little more hidden than it used to be. By all means go out and explore the world we live in to find some of that hidden beauty. Get out in nature and take in the sights and sounds of our great state – adventure awaits!

Joshua Harms