Water Rocks! Earth Week Art Challenges

Wednesday, April 22nd is Earth Day! Water Rocks! has partnered with the Iowa Environmental Council, Soil and Water Conservation Society and Artworks Studio of Carroll, Iowa, to encourage participants of all ages to get outside (at a safe distance from one another) and celebrate natural resources with us through art!

Our Earth Week Chalk Challenge is meant to inspire people to create chalk masterpieces with messages about the earth, biodiversity and our shared environment. (If you don’t have chalk at home, check out this link to make your own!)

The Earth Week Art from Nature Challenge encourages participants to gather items from nature to create unique artworks.

These contests run until 5 pm Friday, April 24th. Get outside and show off your love for our planet and its natural resources, as well as your creativity!

Like or follow @WaterRocksISU on Facebook or Twitter to enter your art and see all of the other creations!

Fun and novel prizes from Water Rocks! and Artworks Studio will be awarded to creations garnering the most likes and shares in both challenges, including a special “People’s Choice” prize pack and bragging rights for the most shared and most liked entry in each contest.

From the Director: Learning As We Go

The heart and soul of the Iowa Learning Farms program has been our face-to-face outreach and education. Each year, we have traveled to every corner of Iowa and talked to as many farmers and local folks as we could. Whether it was a field day in Page County or a county fair in Floyd County, we show up to engage Iowans on the importance of conservation and water quality practices. In addition, the Water Rocks! program travels to at least 180 Iowa schools a year with a vibrant hands-on environmental youth education program.

In any given year, we make face-to-face contact with some 36,500 people across Iowa: 1,100 field day attendees, 5,500 visitors to the Conservation Stations and 30,000 young people! That is a lot of social contact.

Since March 17 when ISU sent us all home and took us off the road, we have been asking ourselves how we take outreach programs that rely on connection and in-person engagement and put them online? The first couple of weeks of working from home were disorienting—we were trying to find our rhythm and perhaps even our purpose.

We have a lot of online content and so there were a couple of things we scaled up immediately. We increased the frequency of our highly successful and interactive ILF webinar series from monthly to weekly. We have seen participation in the webinars increase every week. Thanks to everyone who has agreed to present on short notice!  

For Water Rocks!, we already have a rich cache of online environmental educational materials, so we increased our monthly E-News to weekly so that teachers would know what is available to students and parents for home education. Again, we saw a significant increase in the number of subscribers and open rates the E-News received.

Both of those initiatives were good first steps, but we knew we would need to do more. We also knew if we didn’t come up with new activities, we would run out of things for team members to do and layoffs could be possible. It is difficult to be creative in the middle of a pandemic, but also extremely important to be creative.

With Water Rocks!, we are taking our award-winning school program and turning it into videos via Facebook and YouTube. New videos will be posted at 1 pm every Tuesday through Friday at least through May. Check out www.waterrocks.org for more details.

For Iowa Learning Farms, we are giving our hand to virtual field days. We worried about all the things that could go wrong trying to livestream a Zoom meeting from a farm field: internet connections and technological mishaps were very likely. We have opted for a hybrid—we are taping the field component at an earlier date and playing the video during the live virtual field day.

I am grateful that Mark Licht and Alison Robertson readily agreed to host our first ILF virtual field day, happening tomorrow, April 16. This was our opportunity to work out the mistakes before heading to our farmer partners’ fields. Taping went well and being out in the sun away from our desks felt terrific. When I got back to my computer to edit the material, I learned that we had some technical difficulties with the sound on Alison’s field portion, so I had to cut most of the sound and she will just explain what you are seeing live during the event on Thursday.

I have since gotten the connector cables I need to ensure higher quality sound while taping with my iPhone for future events. ILF farmer partner Wade Dooley has volunteered to host our next field day on April 24 and I look forward to being on his farm next week to tape. During taping, we are using every social distancing precaution, including driving to field sites in separate vehicles. We wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the willingness of our partners and team members to try something different.

During the live event, we will encourage folks to use their audio to ask questions and participate in discussions with the field day presenters. The Zoom system is designed so that only one speaker can be speaking at a time, so we will see how that goes.  These virtual field days will be works in progress. They won’t be perfect, but we can’t let the perfect get in the way of connecting with each other. We will learn as we go.  In this way, it won’t be so different from what it has always been with the Iowa Learning Farms program. Like any other field day, we will conduct evaluation. Over time, we will have lots of opportunities for improvement. Improve we must, because for now, virtual field days are all that we have.

No one knows when it will be safe to gather in larger groups again. I know I speak for my whole team when I say that we miss encountering all of you on your farms, in your schools and at your community events. We look forward to the day when we can be with you in person and back on the road again. Until that time, join us online and we will do our best to deliver the quality outreach and education you have grown to expect from us!

If you want to catch a field day or webinar you missed, they are archived on our website.

Jackie Comito

Water Rocks! Amps Up Online Environmental Learning Fun

Water Rocks! is expanding its online portfolio of environmental and water quality education programming with the addition of two streaming video programs. Water Rocks! Unplugged is a weekly studio session featuring Water Rocks! music and associated lessons. Water Rocks! Out of the Box is a series of short natural resources lessons with at-home activities. Both programs leverage the strong science education content typically delivered through the Water Rocks! classroom visits and assemblies which have been put on hold this year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The unprecedented closure of schools across Iowa led us to brainstorm some new ways to use technology and remote learning to continue delivering our natural resources and water quality content and lessons to youth around Iowa,” said Ann Staudt, Water Rocks! director. “Our enewsletter, The Monday Mix, has been well received, and these new streaming options will give teachers, parents, and kids some new options to have fun while learning—all while keeping natural resources, water quality, and the environment around us at the forefront. We are eager to provide resources and support teachers and parents who are facing incredible challenges.”

Water Rocks! Unplugged features Water Rocks! music frontman Todd Stevens, performing acoustic versions of hit songs from the Water Rocks! catalog. Each performance is accompanied by a quick lesson highlighting the key science elements related to the song. New videos will drop on Facebook and YouTube every Tuesday and Thursday at 1 p.m. CDT – beginning TODAY, April 14!

Water Rocks! Out of the Box is a series of virtual video lessons featuring student intern Emma Flemming, sharing fun, hands-on, at-home adaptations of classroom lessons and interactive activities from the Water Rocks! classroom visit program. Each lesson runs 5-10 minutes, and a new video will drop on Facebook and YouTube every Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m. CDT – beginning TOMORROW, April 15!

Aligned with the new normal of working from home and learning from home, these video projects are being recorded and produced in the performer’s homes.

“Flexibility and innovation are watchwords right now, and Emma and Todd have both come through with creative ideas, effort and content for today’s youth,” continued Staudt. “Emma has shown great ingenuity in adapting the Water Rocks! activities for at-home use. Building on her experience visiting classrooms in our Water Resources Internship Program last summer—she’s truly driving the Out of the Box project. We are excited to launch both of these new video series.”

As Iowa schools implement online programs at all grade levels, the Water Rocks! online resources and online learning modules provide science-based content that is easy to use. All Water Rocks! programming is correlated to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) adopted by most Iowa school districts. Teacher, parent and student links to music, videos, games and educational resources are available free of charge at www.waterrocks.org

Be the first on your block to catch the new videos Tuesday through Friday each week at 1 p.m.! Just follow these links to Water Rocks!’ social media pages:
https://www.facebook.com/WaterRocksISU
https://www.youtube.com/user/WaterRocksISU

Water Rocks! eNewsletter Offers Fresh Science Activities Weekly

Water Rocks! has launched The Monday Mix, a new multimedia e-newsletter providing conservation and water quality education materials and activities for school-age youth who are suddenly “learning from home.”

“In these uncertain times when schools are closed and we’re all social distancing from one other, we here at Water Rocks! want to continue to make science education fun, interactive and accessible for Iowa’s students,” said Ann Staudt, Water Rocks! director. “Water Rocks! has a wealth of fun STEM and science-based educational videos, songs, games and classroom materials that are ready for use by students, teachers and parents. We encourage everyone to explore the site, sign up for The Monday Mix and have some fun learning about our state’s environment and diverse ecosystems.”

The Monday Mix is distributed via email to all subscribers each Monday. Current subscribers to the Water Rocks! newsletter will automatically receive The Monday Mix. To sign up to receive The Monday Mix, click here.

Content each week will highlight Water Rocks! music videos and fun natural resources-related activities that can easily be done at home by students in grades K-8.

Water Rocks! is widely known for its innovative conservation education programming delivered to elementary and middle schools across Iowa through a mixture of classroom visits, school assemblies and outdoor classrooms. With the uncertainty of school furloughs happening throughout Iowa, the Water Rocks! team is extending much of its library of content for individual use in homes.

“We understand the strain the sudden closure of schools is having on parents and teachers, and we are delighted to share our materials in ways that will facilitate fun learning for the whole family,” concluded Staudt.

Here’s a sample of some soil fun facts shared in last week’s edition:

Now Accepting Applications for 2020 Water Resources Internship

WR!HeaderHave an interest in the environment, conservation, and agriculture, particularly water and soil quality?  We are seeking undergraduate student interns for summer 2020 who are self-motivated, detail-oriented, strong communicators, enthusiastic, and have a sense of fun!

Interns’ time will be split between research and outreach, all centered around environmental issues and challenges in Iowa.   Summer interns will have the opportunity to:

The program is based on campus at Iowa State University and will involve travel in university vehicles to research sites and various outreach events around the state, which includes some scheduled night and weekend events.  This is a paid internship, with students working up to 40 hours/week.  The internship program begins Wednesday, May 13 and runs through Saturday, August 1, 2020.

The Iowa State University water resources internship program serves as an outstanding springboard for careers in agriculture, engineering, the environment, and/or further studies.

From a relatively small beginning as student research assistantships in 2007 with a single trailer-mounted rainfall simulator, to the addition of a second and the launch of the Conservation Station fleet in 2010, interns were integral to the program. Today there are three Conservation Stations in regular use, and the teams of interns go out with them for nearly every visit.

Over the years 50+ individuals have served as water resources interns and have gone on to such careers as project engineer, watershed coordinator, environmental educator, field research specialist, and USDA-FSA program technician, while others have pursued graduate school opportunities.

Learn more about past internship experiences in this Wallaces Farmer article.

Job Skills and Requirements:

  • Currently enrolled undergraduate student (open to all majors)
  • Demonstrated interest and/or background in environmental science, natural resources, conservation, soil and water quality, agriculture, and/or education
  • Evidence of strong communication skills
  • Ability to learn new tasks quickly
  • Teamwork skills
  • Self-motivated
  • Detail-oriented
  • Time management skills

Additional internship requirements include:

  • Participation in 4-week spring training course for internship (one night per week, beginning week of March 23)
  • Valid US driver’s license
  • Background check with ISU Risk Management for working with youth

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 Friday, January 31, 2020.   Please submit your complete application package to Liz Juchems via email – ejuchems@iastate.edu.  We will conduct interviews with qualified students in early February.

Water Rocks! Annual Report Reflects Impacts on Students Across Iowa

The annual school visit evaluation report from Water Rocks! highlights comprehension increases among youth, outreach to new schools and underserved counties, and accolades from teachers

Water Rocks! has published its 2018-2019 School Visits Evaluation Report, detailing the impacts Water Rocks! visits had on students, teachers, and conservation education during the 2018-19 academic year. Water Rocks! teams conducted 197 school visits, 17 more than the previous year, and participated in 13 outdoor classrooms, one more than the previous year. Having identified 11 priority counties that have had limited exposure to Water Rocks!, the team redoubled efforts to connect with schools in these underserved areas – garnering success in eight of the targeted counties.

Water Rocks! is a uniquely Iowan youth conservation and water quality education program that uses a creative mix of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), music and the arts to connect with students in grades K-12 with science-based information about Iowa’s natural resources and ecosystems. Through high-energy classroom presentations, outdoor classroom programs and school assemblies, Water Rocks! energized nearly 33,000 youth during the school year.

With a keen eye on constant improvement, Water Rocks! uses several assessment tools to gather feedback from teachers and students. Among the teachers’ comments were “engaging to the entire class,” “reinforced the ecosystem unit,” and “retention of the information was amazing!” In addition, assessments before and after lessons showed improved comprehension among students for almost all programs when compared to the previous year.

“This report is a guidepost to improving how we teach these important lessons and assure we are delivering the most value in the short time we are with the students,” said Ann Staudt, Water Rocks! director. “The assessments help us identify topics that need more repetition to plant the ideas and concepts more firmly in the students’ minds. We are working with the future leaders and decision-makers for our state, and we feel our role is crucial to building awareness of conservation and water quality for future generations.”


Key findings in the report include:

  • Presented in 197 schools and 13 outdoor classrooms, reaching 32,800 students
  • Key topic comprehension levels increased 40 percentage points or more in all programs when comparing students’ pre- and post-lesson evaluations
  • Of teachers attending Water Rocks! assemblies, 99% would recommend the program to peers

To read the report, learn about assessment methods or to view comments from students and teachers, please visit https://www.waterrocks.org/201819-water-rocks-evaluation-report.

Faces of Conservation: Jacqueline Comito

This blog post is part of our ongoing Faces of Conservation series, highlighting key contributors to ILF, offering their perspectives on the history and successes of this innovative conservation outreach program.


JACQUELINE COMITO
Director, Iowa Learning Farms

Jacqueline Comito joined Iowa Learning Farms in April 2005, soon after it was formed, and has been a key leader and contributor to the program ever since. She brings a strong background in social science that influenced the development and growth of the program’s highly successful evaluation and feedback initiatives.

As Director of ILF, how do you see your role with the organization?
As ILF has grown over the past 15 years, my roles and responsibilities have changed, but fundamentally, I like to think the most important part of my job is to help ensure the organization stays true to what has made us successful—an emphasis on farmer-to-farmer outreach to put information and best practices in front of those that can make the best use of them.

Sometimes I’m a cheerleader and coach, other times I facilitate brainstorming and conversations among team members to continue to develop and expand the vision for ILF. I want to make sure we are effectively and efficiently reaching as many farmers as we can. As an organization we need to continue to grow and improve how we support farmer conservation implementation. This is where a robust evaluation program really helps; it provides a positive feedback loop that fosters ideas and energy for our efforts to help build a Culture of Conservation in tangible ways.

 

Evaluation and feedback are priorities for ILF. How do you see this part of the program evolving in the years ahead?
Evaluation is an organic thing. It must come out of what you are doing with programming. If it’s an integral part of the planning process, programming and evaluation are seamless elements that support each other. For example, when we were building our recently launched Emerging Farmers program, we included evaluation and feedback in the mix from the beginning. We used these tools to fine-tune the program to the unanticipated and evolving needs of participants. This approach helps us deliver more value to our participants more quickly.


How important is youth outreach—such as the Water Rocks! program—to Iowa making progress on conservation, water quality improvement and the nutrient reduction goals for Iowa?
It’s incredibly important! With youth we are playing the long game. We are planting seeds with these young people about conservation, water quality, and what they can do individually to have an impact. When they become decision-making adults, our hope is that they will have a solid framework and environmental ethic that puts natural resources challenges and solutions in the forefront of their thoughts and actions.

In addressing today’s youth, we are speaking with the future scientists and inventors. Not only are we providing education, we feel as though we are modeling career opportunities in science and research.

 

If you had to choose two, what are the most impactful achievements or lessons-learned from the first 15 years of ILF, and how do they inform the path going forward?
Field days. We’ve developed an excellent process for organizing, promoting, and operating field days that works for everyone involved, and takes a lot of pressure off the host farmer or organization. Field day programs are crucial to facilitating farmer-to-farmer conversations.

The Conservation Station trailers have also been a significant achievement for ILF. Designing and redesigning these mobile classrooms across the years have kept materials fresh, enabled us to respond to feedback, and drawn audiences to learn about conservation, farming practices and water quality. Utilizing the trailers at county fairs, farmers markets and community gatherings, we’ve been incredibly successful in taking the conservation message to the public.


How do you see the next five years of ILF evolving?
ILF will continue to be a strong voice providing education and advocacy for conservation practices at venues from field days to classroom programs. There is no end in sight for the need to continually reinforce the challenges facing Iowa and provide information and education through outreach programs such as ILF.

 

What are your fondest memories of working with ILF?
The relationships I’ve formed with colleagues and people throughout the state are very special to me. I’ve particularly enjoyed getting to know many farmers and learning about farming processes, challenges and their conservation efforts. Even if there are long periods between meetings, when I do get a chance to see them it’s like seeing an old friend. Relationships and community are essential to the success of ILF, and we are striving to make the most of advocates across Iowa to help build a Culture of Conservation that will benefit all.


If you could look 15 years into the future, what one thing would you like to see as a result of ILF activities?

My hope for the future of Iowa includes a substantial increase in the number of wetlands. I would love to be a part of finding a solution and resources to make a reality of the goal to take three-to-four percent of cropland out of production and return it to prairie and wetlands. We would also like to build a fourth Conservation Station trailer with an emphasis on wetlands education.


Previous Posts in our Faces of Conservation series: