Kicking Off the 2021 Conservation Station Outreach Season With Soil and Water Conservation Week!

Happy Soil and Water Conservation Week! The Conservation Station season is just around the corner and our team has been busy getting the fleet ready to roll.

Each of our trailers houses a unique combination of highly visual and interactive Iowa-centric demonstrations that delve into the impacts of land management choices, both urban and agricultural, on water quality and the connections between our state’s water, soil, and wildlife. We are looking forward to the launch of our newest trailer this spring highlighting the importance of wetlands!

The 2021 Conservation Station experience will certainly be different from past years—just as all facets of our lives have changed with COVID-19. Conservation Station team members will wear face coverings and practice physical distancing, as per Iowa State University policy, and will include audio amplification for improved audio accessibility. All Conservation Station activities are being closely evaluated and adapted to ensure that they can be delivered safely and effectively.

We look forward to seeing you this summer at an event near you! The season kicks off on May 1st and we will be updating our calendar for summer events soon, so be sure to check back for updates.

Liz Ripley

Water Rocks! 2021 Earth Week Chalk Challenge

Earth Day is Thursday, April 22 and Water Rocks! has partnered with the Soil and Water Conservation Society and Artworks Studio for our second annual Earth Week Chalk Challenge! We want to encourage Iowans of all ages to get outside and enjoy nature, while celebrating Earth Week by creating chalk drawings! Entries can be submitted by an individual artist or a team (new for 2021!)—we encourage classes, 4-H clubs, families, and anyone else who wants to work together, to submit a team entry.

Winners will be selected based on a blind judging of entries and through People’s Choice awards (based on Facebook voting), and Water Rocks! prize packs will be mailed out after the contest ends.

The contest is open NOW through April 25, visit waterrocks.org/chalk-challenge for complete contest rules and to submit your entry. Be sure to like or follow @WaterRocksISU on Facebook or Twitter – voting for the People’s Choice awards will take place on Facebook April 26-29!

MAKE A SPLASH! Apply Now for Water Rocks! Summit Educator Workshop

Applications for the 2021 Water Rocks! Summit are open now through Monday, April 12!

The Water Rocks! Summit is a professional development workshop that offers training for teachers, extension educators, and naturalists. This year, the Summit will be offered as a four-week blended course, meeting every Thursday from June 17 – July 8, 2021.

During this four-week blended course, participants will—


How will the blended delivery work?
What time commitment will I be expected to make?


Who can apply for the Summit?
Teachers of all grade levels are welcome to participate in the Water Rocks! Summit. Our extensive classroom materials include lessons and activities for grades K-12—science centered, and integrating social studies, literature, music, and the arts. Naturalists, ISU Extension and Outreach youth staff, and other youth educators are also welcome to apply!


How and when do I apply?
The 2021 Water Rocks! Summit Application is available online. Applications are open now through Monday, April 12, 2021 at 11:59 pm.


How much does the Summit cost?
Thanks to our partners, the Water Rocks! Summit is FREE of charge for all accepted participants, and includes the following:

The only out-of-pocket expense is for one license renewal credit, if desired (read on for additional information).


What about license renewal credits?
The 2021 Water Rocks! Summit will be eligible for one (1) license renewal credit.  License renewal credit costs ($35) are the responsibility of participating teachers.  License renewal registration information will be provided to all participants accepted into the Summit, and each teacher can decide whether or not to seek the credit.


Additional questions?
Please reach out at the email address below, or call 515.294.4878, and I’ll be happy to answer any additional questions.

Ann Staudt  

The Conservation Station Fleet Rolls Again!

GOOD NEWS: Our fleet of Conservation Station trailers will be rolling again this summer! Now is the time to start thinking about spring and summer events that would be enhanced by a visit from one of our trailers. Visits from a Conservation Station trailer are available free of charge and are a great addition to county fairs, farmers markets, festivals, and other community events. Activities are being adapted to ensure that they can be delivered safely and effectively.

The Conservation Station’s online request system for spring and summer 2021 is now open and accepting requests. Submit your request by Monday, March 22 for priority consideration.

Did you say free?
Yes! The Conservation Station trailers are available to participate in events free of charge. Many thanks to our Iowa Learning Farms partners and Water Rocks! partners for making this possible!

How do we request the Conservation Station at our event?
Submit a request online! Please note that submitting a request does not guarantee that the Conservation Station is booked for your event. We often receive many more requests than we are able to fulfill, so get your request in by Monday, March 22 for priority consideration.

A Time of Metamorphosis

2020 feels like a metamorphosis year on so many fronts. 

As I reflect on how our Water Rocks! youth education program has adapted/ pivoted/ reinvented itself (choose your buzzword), the idea of a metamorphosis seems most appropriate. Our program is centered on teaching youth about water, soil, biodiversity, and other environmental science concepts, so viewing this transformation from a biological sciences perspective just seems like a natural fit.

Those of you that know me well know I’m a pretty simple person. But occasionally I’ll have these random deep thoughts, like:

  • What does a caterpillar’s transformation to a butterfly really feel like?
  • Does it hurt?
  • Is it true they actually have to eat and digest themselves to kickstart the chrysalis stage of the process?

For Water Rocks!, this time of metamorphosis has meant transforming our youth outreach program from one centered on in-person, face-to-face interactive presentations and music assemblies in schools across the state, to something suddenly and completely different.  We are creatures of habit. Change is hard. (See questions above: What does the caterpillar’s transformation feel like? Does it hurt?). However, in reality, the building blocks were primed and in place for Water Rocks! to adapt, survive, and thrive …

For years now, our Water Rocks! team has been writing music, producing videos, developing enhanced learning activities for teachers, and delivering science-based content in creative, out-of-the box ways … that’s just how we do business!  This is what ultimately equipped us to quickly transition our offerings to meet the unique needs of students, teachers, and parents during the rapid spread of COVID-19. Despite a global pandemic, natural resources, water quality, and environmental education are too important to just put on hold or set aside. 

We are thrilled to have now developed a full “menu” of offerings with Water Rocks!, ranging from outdoor school presentations while the weather permits this fall, to a brand new, puppet show-inspired video series poised to launch later this month. Read on for a glimpse into the unique and multifaceted approaches Water Rocks! is taking to connect with students and teachers across the state, engaging them on timely natural resources topics.


Outdoor School Presentations

Equipped with tables, chairs, face coverings, hand sanitizer, wireless microphones, and a full PA system, the Water Rocks! team now loads up its Conservation Station trailer 3-4 times per week to hit the road for OUTDOOR school presentations! We’ve completely retooled our signature indoor school presentations and assemblies from the ground up to align with physical distancing standards and to ensure a safe outdoor educational experience for everyone involved. Students may learn about watersheds through humorous songs, skits, and raps, or they may discover the plight of pollinators as they compete in the Monarch Migration Madness game.  K-8 students are loving the interactive and outdoor aspects of these Water Rocks! presentations—something refreshing and completely different during school days that are heavy in screen time.


Virtual School Presentations

Just as pollinators are journeying south, the Water Rocks! team will soon be migrating, too—indoors. We are excited to offer our brand new Water Rocks! Live Streaming virtual school presentations beginning November 17! Designed as a hybrid news broadcast/variety show, these presentations will originate from the ISU campus, from our “WR! news studio” set, while also providing the opportunity for students to see conservation practices out on the landscape through “field reporter”-style interviews (e.g. students will “visit” Iowa wetlands, even in the dead of winter, via video footage captured in the field during the fall months). Water Rocks! virtual school presentations will be coordinated with one teacher and classroom of K-8 students at a time to maximize opportunities for (virtual) interaction and to customize the presentation to the local geography and water quality issues.



Entertaining + Educational Videos

What do you get when Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood meets Water Rocks!? = HARMONY BROOK WATERSHED!.  Launching yet this month, Harmony Brook Watershed is an original, puppet-show based video series designed to teach elementary school students all about natural resources and the environment around them, featuring characters that are all native Iowa species: Fox, Frog, Owl, and Leo (short for Lepidoptera –> swallowtail butterfly). Each 3-5 minute episode is filled with moments of laughter, learning, and appreciation of the surrounding natural world. Stay tuned to our YouTube channel so you’re ready for the debut of this new series!  While you’re on our YouTube page, check out two other series that we’ve launched in recent months: WR! Out-of-the Box and WR! Unplugged—50 episodes between these two series!



Contests and Challenges

Water Rocks! is all about encouraging Iowans of all ages to get outside and experience the amazing natural resources around them. One of the fun ways we’ve done that is through a series of contests and challenges!  Our Fall Colors Found Art Contest is open now through October 19—get out for a walk, collect interesting nature items (leaves, rocks, feathers, twigs, pinecones, etc.), and arrange them into an artistic masterpiece!  The contest features both youth and adult categories, with prizes awarded in each group. Previous Water Rocks! challenges have included Earth Week Chalk Challenge, Earth Week Found Art, and the TREE-mendous Iowa Tree Challenge.


As this year of metamorphosis continues to unfold, stay tuned to the Water Rocks! website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates on our virtual school presentations, video releases, upcoming contests, and more WR! goodness.

Ann Staudt

 

Water Rocks! TREE-mendous Iowa Tree Challenge

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wrheader.png

Enjoy the summer weather and appreciate the trees around you during the Water Rocks! “TREE-mendous Iowa Tree Challenge”! The challenge, which will run August 3 through 17, invites Iowans to get outside and discover the trees that grow across the state by snapping pictures of themselves with as many varieties of trees as they can.

We have awesome prize packs available, based on the number of different trees you find! Prize packs will be awarded to those who successfully complete the challenge, while supplies last!

For full challenge rules and details, visit https://www.waterrocks.org/trees.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tree-mendous-iowa-tree-challenge-facebook-01.png

The TREE-mendous Iowa Tree Challenge is being produced in partnership with the Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa’s largest and most comprehensive environmental coalition and dedicated to education and advocacy and working together to protect and preserve Iowa’s environment.

We can’t wait to see your tree photos—be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (@waterrocksisu) to see our favorite submissions!

Hilary Pierce

Building a Strong Foundation

Lindsey Page grew up in Maxwell, Iowa, and worked on her grandparents’ farm from a young age. She graduated from ISU in May 2020, with a bachelor’s degree in Forestry and minor in Animal Ecology. Lindsey is passionate about the outdoors and is eager to engage others with her passion.

After finishing my undergrad in May following the blur of online classes, presentations, meetings and an online graduation ceremony. I learned so much about my own tenacity, patience and creativity.  Before the pandemic, I was on the hunt for a summer internship that could offer me the opportunity to practice my interpretation skills, allow me to work with kids, provide a research opportunity or give me a peek into the professional world surrounding outreach in Iowa. What I didn’t know was that the Water Resources Internship would check almost all of those boxes and more even after the pandemic.

Working for Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms this summer has helped me start to lay a strong foundation for my career in community outreach and environmental education. I have enjoyed the freedom to explore my creative side, the structure of a real 9-5 job, the opportunity to assist with fieldwork and the time dedicated to traveling around the beautiful state of Iowa.

We have been working on a series of projects throughout the summer including a county park project which allows us to not only explore every corner of Iowa but create our own activities for those seeking a socially distant adventure in Iowa. Another project we have been assisting with is the preparation of materials for the Teacher’s Summit Water Rocks! hosts every year for teachers desiring to incorporate conservation topics into their curriculum. We have also been working on two research projects, one revolving around monarch butterfly habitat in restored prairies in central Iowa and the other around earthworm midden counts in different croplands.

Each project has taught me more than the last. I am extremely happy that I have gotten to be a part of creating several outreach opportunities for Iowans as well as learn more about the crops and management practices used by landowners in an area that I was born and raised. As a native to central Iowa I have always appreciated the efforts made by those that care about the integrity and longevity of our land. I want to be a part of the positive impact I know education and conversation can have. Most of my job experience prior to this internship has actually been associated with agriculture and connecting Iowans to their surroundings through interpretation and hands-on fun on the farm!

Before this internship I worked for an agritourism destination in central Iowa where I was constantly kept on my toes. I was tasked with many responsibilities ranging from live performances, animal care, team leading, customer service, and my favorite task was creating and implementing my own summer camp program as a camp director last summer. I am so glad that the Water Resources Internship has been able to offer me the same kind of fast-paced multifaceted environment I am used to.

Although I am missing working directly with kids, who are my favorite audience, I have been so blessed to be a part of an internship as diverse, educational, fun and rewarding during this time of uncertainty. However, one thing I am certain about is that this experience will lead me towards my ultimate goal of inspiring others to interact with the world around them.

Lindsey Page

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