Backpacks and binders. Construction paper and crayons. Pens, pencils, and Post-its. Back-to-school season is upon us! There’s such an excitement in the air as students get stocked up on supplies in preparation for the start of a new school year ahead.
While school supply shopping in August is symbolic of the back-to-school movement, back-to-school preparations have been underway since June for 64 K-12 teachers participating in the Water Rocks! Teacher Summit workshops put on by our team. These teachers descended upon the Iowa State University campus for two days of learning and full immersion on all things water, soil, and natural resources.
Why train teachers? Educating youth on water, land, and wildlife issues in the natural environment is a team effort! While the demand for agricultural products is ever increasing, as is society’s demand for clean water, the health of our water bodies and our land rests in the engagement of youth as the future decision-makers. At the same time, schools statewide face ever-tightening budgets and elimination of field trips exposing students to these topics. Enter Water Rocks! and our Teacher Summits.
If we can help classroom teachers expand their knowledge, comfort, and confidence in teaching about natural resources issues and science-based solutions for Iowa’s environment, we can build a cohort of passionate, energetic educators that are on the front lines in reaching the next generation. If we can equip teachers with hands-on games, interactive activities, and ready-to-use materials to help convey conservation concepts in the classroom, we can create a ripple effect in terms of youth water education. Training teachers means the potential for directly reaching hundreds, if not thousands, of students statewide as teachers integrate these Iowa-centric natural resources topics, games, and activities year after year. Training is one of the three keys pillars of the Conservation Learning Group at ISU, and the Water Rocks! Teacher Summits help educators make waves when it comes to integrating natural resources topics in creative and engaging ways with their students.
Over the course of each Water Rocks! Teacher Summit, participants are introduced to agricultural and environmental topics through presentations by ISU faculty and researchers working directly in these fields, broadening their understanding of the current science. How is that information translated back into the classroom, whether it be to 4th graders or high school students? The Water Rocks! team makes it easy, pairing each expert presentation with a fun and engaging hands-on activity or interactive game that teachers can use with their students back in the classroom. For instance, Randall Cass, ISU Extension Entomologist, spoke to participants about the challenges facing bees and pollinators, which was followed by participants competing in the original Monarch Migration Madness game developed by Water Rocks!. Each school team goes home with an activity kit chock full of ready-to-use educational materials for the classroom. Finally, a field tour gives teachers the opportunity to better understand the connections between land management, water quality, and wildlife habitat as they explored conservation practices firsthand on the ground.
Since 2014, Water Rocks! has conducted 13 summits, reaching 263 teachers, 14 high school peer mentors and 62 Extension and environmental educators—multiplying the impact of our engaging youth water education efforts across the state and across generations!
Mikell Brosamle, Galva-Holstein Community Schools, can’t wait for her students to experience the connectedness of the environment around them through the use of games and activities:
“I found the Summit to be refreshing and invigorating. … I received a plethora of useful classroom materials and information on how to present them in a format that kids will LOVE! … With all the hands-on games, intriguing music videos, along with educational activities to support the lesson, the students will be excited about learning how to improve their environment and save habitats by learning that all water is connected. It will teach them that EVERYONE plays an important role and that their choices are important.”
Several teachers acknowledged how much they personally learned about agricultural production, water quality, and the environment around them. Kathy Lynott, from Erskine Elementary School in Cedar Rapids, shared how her personal perspectives have shifted after two days at the Water Rocks! Summit:
“I predict I’m going to drive into a ditch or get pulled over for swerving on the road. This is a result of my participation in the WATER ROCKS! Summit. My erratic driving happened the MINUTE I left the Summit.
“My eyes are constantly wandering off to corn and bean fields now!? I’m looking at the slope of the fields, if they’re draining into little waterways, what, if any, buffer crops are surrounding the fields, how large the buffer crops are and I’m even noticing the curvature of the fields. My poor husband had no idea what he was in for when I arrived home. … He grew up on a farm so he was already pretty knowledgeable about land and water. He was, however, still open to listen to new ideas especially about the pollution nitrate and phosphorus are causing to fresh water sources.
“It’s not just nitrate and phosphorus… it’s a combination of trash, poop, loose soil, fertilizers, pesticides, and oil all going into our water. Yes, the same water we drink from. Doing our part by picking up dog poo, recycling and conserving water are small ways we can make a big difference. … Also, the milkweed around our property will now be carefully tended to. I literally mowed AROUND 2 plants I noticed next to the fence line yesterday.”
With back-to-school on the horizon, it’s high time to get those scissors, staplers, and spiral notebooks ready to go. And you can send the kids and grandkids back to school knowing that there’s an amazing cohort of teachers across the state equipped with sound science, brimming with enthusiasm, and ready to rock their students’ worlds when it comes to learning about Iowa’s water, land, and wildlife.
The 2019 Water Rocks! Teacher Summits were made possible through funding from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (USEPA Section 319) and Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.