Juchems Receives Outstanding New Professional Award at ISU

It’s May and that means it is American Wetlands Month. Normally, I would want to try to make my argument once again about how landowners should consider giving wetlands a second look on their land. Wetlands are a key component to Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy (learn more in Jake Hansen’s blog post titled Iowa CREP Wetlands) and often when farmed aren’t profitable (Should prairie potholes and other wet areas be farmed?). I know there is a history between landowners, wetlands and government regulation that sticks in many craws. But if we care about a sustainable and healthy Iowa, we need to rethink those issues going forward. Wetlands have important jobs to do in Iowa.

Instead of writing that column, I am dedicating this space to Iowa Learning Farms staff member, Liz Juchems, for recently receiving an Iowa State University Professional and Scientific Outstanding New Professional Award. This award reflects Liz’s commitment to Iowa State, her professional reputation and her esteem among her peers.

I have known Liz since she began working for the Iowa Learning Farms in 2008 as a student hourly employee while a freshman at ISU, and have been fortunate to work with her as our events coordinator since 2013. If you have been to any ILF field days over the last four years, you have Liz to thank for their quality and effectiveness.

Liz joined the team at a time when the ILF and Water Rocks! programs were starting to see substantial growth. Liz assumed not only the responsibility for coordinating farmer field days, but also coordinating all incoming requests for Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! community outreach events (school visits, camps, youth outdoor classrooms, farmers markets, festivals and more) that are received annually – no small task with hundreds of event requests each year.

Over the last four years, the Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! programs have grown significantly and have become widely recognized flagship conservation programs across Iowa. This is due in large part to Liz’s tremendous ability to keep track of details and ensure positive, clear communication internally and externally. We now average 30+ field days and 200+ outreach events each year, reaching 20,000+ people each year in quality educational encounters across Iowa!

With Iowa Learning Farms, Liz has also been instrumental in taking on a leadership role with field research/demonstrations, data collection, communications and outreach delivery. Since her hiring in 2013, the field research/demonstration arm of the Iowa Learning Farms has seen significant expansion and diversification, thanks in large part to being awarded multiple new research/demonstration grants. Each of these funded proposals involved the establishment of different cover crop trials across Iowa, collectively adding 20 new field research/demonstration sites statewide. Liz took the reigns as the farmer liaison, coordinating all project details with participating farmer-partners and research farm staff, as well as coordinating field data collection efforts with Iowa Learning Farms staff and student interns, training her co-workers on the appropriate protocols to follow both in the field and in the lab to ensure successful data collection.

However, data collection is just one portion of the job –another major component is how that content is delivered to the general public, making often complex science, social science and economic data accessible to farmers, other conservation stakeholders and youth across the state. A good example of her work is the ILF publication series titled Talking With Your Tenant that offers talking points and relevant research findings about a number of different conservation practices. Liz has grown into the role of being one of our team’s key educators on conservation issues in the state of Iowa.

For these and so many other reasons, Liz is more than deserving of this prestigious university honor. Quite simply, she is excellent! We are grateful to have her as a member of our team. Congratulations, Liz!

Jacqueline Comito

Working Together to Educate Youth in Dubuque

A few weeks back, the 4th and 5th students at St. Anthony and Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Schools in Dubuque were treated to high energy, highly interactive presentations from Water Rocks! … but these presentations were particularly special in that they featured a couple of local rock stars in the conservation world!

The Back Story:
As our Water Rocks! visit to St. Anthony & OLG was approaching, I realized it was going to be a pretty tight week for our small staff, and I’d likely be handling the event solo. However, situations like this also present the opportunity to partner with other conservation stakeholders across the state, and even better when it’s someone that’s already been trained on Water Rocks! materials.

Bev Wagner, with the Dubuque Metropolitan Area Solid Waste Agency, has participated in multiple Water Rocks! workshops in the past, including the Water Rocks! Summit, so she has been trained on a variety of the unique hands-on games and activities that we utilize in the classroom. Knowing I was headed to Dubuque, I knew exactly who to call upon!

I connected with Bev right away to see if she might be available to help out and co-present with me, and within a matter of minutes, she responded, “I am available the whole day and would love to help out.” With a smiley face. :)

A few days in advance of my trip to Dubuque, Bev contacted me and asked if her student helper, Ruth, an education student at Loras College, could also come and help out. YES, absolutely!

Fast Forward to Game Day:
Bev, Ruth and I met 30 minutes ahead of time, getting everything loaded into the classroom, set up for the interactive presentation, and we quickly talked through the content. Our topic of the day was The Wonderful World of Wetlands (read more about it in our earlier blog post Wetlands Outreach: Tools of the Trade). The first class of the day, I took the lead in presenting; Bev and Ruth observed while also actively assisting with handing out materials to the students, awarding prizes, etc.

With one class under our belts, Bev and Ruth were both feeling more comfortable with the content, so from that point forward, we tag-teamed the entire 50-minute presentation. We started off with an audio listening tour of wetlands, describing the creatures that live there and what the environment might look like. Ruth showed the class an image of wetlands as we connected that with the listening field trip the students had just gone on. Bev guided the students in talking through all of the different names that wetlands go by, calling on students to share one of the names and then saying it out loud together as a class.

We then jumped in with the characteristics that make wetlands unique (hydric soils, presence of water, and vegetation). That was followed by the 3 jobs that wetlands perform – there were 3 of us, so each one took a job (and its corresponding prop) and explained it to the class!  I started off with a filter (water purification), Ruth followed with a sponge (water storage), and Bev concluded with the house (representing habitat).

Bev and Ruth led the classes in discussing the amazing diversity of plants, animals, microorganisms, and other life found in wetlands – as much biodiversity in Iowa’s wetlands as is found in the Amazon rainforest!  We talked about how wetlands are especially important to migratory creatures – birds and butterflies.

Students then got the opportunity to summon their inner birds for an intense game of Habitat Hopscotch!  Bev was the keeper of the (infamous) “situation jar” which housed different situations that impacted wetlands, while Ruth and I acted as the “bird police,” ensuring that students were landing in the correct squares and sending them to bird prison when they stepped out. Being a Catholic school, one of the 4th grade students asked if instead of bird prison, could we call it “bird heaven”? Priceless!

After 5-6 rousing rounds of Habitat Hopscotch, it was pretty clear that the loss of wetlands has a serious impact on migratory birds. Iowa has lost ~90% of its original wetlands, so that means protecting the remaining 10% of wetlands is critically important!

One 5th grade student responded, “I think we all need to #(HASHTAG) Save The Wetlands!

It was then time to move on to our other big game, Wetlands BINGO!  Again, Bev and Ruth were awesome helpers. Bev was our official BINGO caller, while Ruth and I called out the names of corresponding creatures found in wetlands. Each one of us chipped in with fun facts about the different creatures, as well as sharing which ones were our favorites. When a student got a BINGO, we worked together to come up with a simple trivia question to test their knowledge before awarding a prize from our treasure chest. The 50 minutes with each class passes by so quickly with all the games and hands-on activities involved!

By the end of the day, we had presented to five different classes of students, and I’m pleased to say that not only did the students have a whole lot of fun, they also learned a whole lot about wetland ecosystems and their importance on our landscape. Further, this school visit was a great success in terms of the collaborative teaching effort – a win-win all around!  Bev and Ruth were awesome to work with, and it was fantastic to have local conservation personnel involved helping out with Water Rocks! as well as connecting with the local teachers and students. We look forward to more opportunities like this in the future. All in all, it was a great success —  one of those days when you go home really feeling like you made a difference. And that’s a great feeling.

Ann Staudt

Water Rocks! is now on Pinterest

There is now a super easy way to find and share Water Rocks! materials online.

An example of some of the many “pins” that you can find on the Water Rocks! Pinterest page.

Pinterest is a free website that lets you browse and “pin” websites and articles that you find interesting or useful. Think of it as a personalized media platform where you can bookmark all of your favorite recipes, DIY projects, photos and more!

Water Rocks! is using this platform as a way to connect people with the educational resources we have on our website. In other words, this is a virtual storefront to our music videos, documentaries, enhanced learning activities, and interactive games. Pinterest will also show you related materials, so there is no shortage of inspiration to choose from.

So if you are looking for science-focused educational materials for youth, check it out! Please share this link with your favorite teachers!

Stay tuned as we’ll be adding more content to the page over the coming months.

~Nathan Stevenson

Announcing the 2017 Water Resources Internship Program!

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We are looking for a great group of college interns that are passionate about conservation and natural resources, and eager to learn more about the many water and soil issues here in the state of Iowa. This competitive internship program is not just limited to ISU students – it’s open to undergraduate college students from any institution across the country.

Read on for full details of our 2017 Water Resources Summer Internship Program.  Applications are being accepted through this Thursday, January 26, at 5:00pm! Perhaps you know a college student who might be interested. Please pass this information along to them!

2017 Water Resources Summer Internship Program

Position Description:
Have an interest in the environment, conservation, and agriculture, particularly water and soil quality? We are seeking undergraduate student interns for summer 2017 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:

• Work with two exciting Iowa State University education and outreach programs:
Water Rocks!, focused on youth outreach, and
Iowa Learning Farms, focused on adult/community outreach
• Help children and adults better understand environmental and agricultural issues
• Travel throughout the state of Iowa with the fleet of three Conservation Station trailers
• Develop strong oral communication skills
• Contribute to water and soil quality research projects in ISU’s top-ranked Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering
• Gain technical skills related to environmental science, soil and water quality through both field and lab research

The program is based on campus at Iowa State University and will involve travel 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 10 and runs through Friday, July 28, 2017.

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

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:
• Participation in 5-week spring training course for internship (one night per week, beginning week of March 27)
• Possession of valid driver’s license
• Background check with ISU Risk Management for working with youth

How to Apply:
Required application materials include:
• Resume (Include your GPA, major, related coursework, and previous work experience)
• 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 26, 2017. Please submit your complete application package to Ann Staudt via email – astaudt@iastate.edu. We will conduct interviews with qualified students in early February.

Ann Staudt

 

Water Rocks! Assemblies are Rockin’!

What do singing, dancing, dog poop, water quality, full audience participation, and a big blue Snuggie all have in common? You’ll get all of these things and more with the brand new Water Rocks! Assemblies!

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This fall Water Rocks! rolled out a creative and exciting endeavor called Water Rocks! Assemblies, using music to teach the science of water quality for kindergartners through 8th grade across the state. The mission of Water Rocks! Assemblies is to educate, challenge, and inspire young people towards a greater appreciation of our water resources. Water Rocks! continues to reach students through its popular interactive classroom visits, but the Water Rocks! Assemblies are unique in that multiple classes, even multiple grades, with hundreds of students, can be reached at one time! Since Water Rocks! took their new show on the road in September, thousands of students across Iowa, along with their teachers, have rocked out with Water Rocks! Assemblies.

During the Assemblies, students learn about watersheds, natural resources, conservation, and land use. The teaching is done through music, dance, theater, games, and interactive lessons. This innovative approach of infusing science and music makes learning fun, and helps students commit valuable information to memory.


A teacher at Beaver Creek Elementary in Johnston said, “The team made the water facts exciting, fun, and informative. I believe my students will remember quite a few of the presented concepts. This was a great experience for my students!”

The Assemblies encourage students to participate by singing, dancing, performing in a play, and answering questions. Catchy Water Rocks! songs like “We all Live in a Watershed,” “What’s in Your Water?,” “Scoop That Poop” and “The Watershed Rap” bring students and teachers to their feet to sing and dance. Teachers are happy to see their students have such a great time while learning.

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A teacher from Turkey Valley Elementary school in Jackson Junction told us, “Bringing music into the presentation had students saying they couldn’t get the tune out of their heads – a good thing!”

Students in 4th-8th grades are entertained by an activity called “Watershed Broadway.” Peer helpers from the school perform in a play that illustrates how various pollutants move from our land to waterways in the Mississippi River Watershed, eventually making their way to the Gulf of Mexico. A Water Rocks! team member donning a big blue Snuggie plays the part of a raindrop who has just fallen out of the sky, and has to travel to the river. Along the way the raindrop meets some friends who join her on the journey to the river. These friends are pollutants such as garbage, sediment, fertilizer, pesticide, oil, and dog poop. Their journey to the river culminates with a cannonball into the river, in which the audience gets to see how pollution affects our waterways.

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Students in kindergarten – 3rd grades learn about harmful water pollutants by playing a gameshow-style game called “Clean River, Dirty River.” In the game, students are selected from the audience to come to the front. They are each given a picture of an item that can be found in a clean river or a dirty river. One at a time, they are asked to place their item on either the “Clean River” poster or the “Dirty River” poster. It serves as a great visual for younger students to see how pollution impacts our rivers!

Peer helpers are an integral part of the assemblies. Peer helpers are students identified as leaders by the faculty and staff at the school. The helpers sing, dance, and perform alongside Water Rocks! staff. They also encourage the audience to participate in the songs and activities. If possible, high school students are used as peer helpers, which is always a big hit with younger students.

A high school peer helper from Turkey Valley said, “I had an amazing time working with you guys! I learned things about water and watersheds that I didn’t even know. A little girl that told me it was the greatest day ever, and she was so happy that she got to dance with high schoolers. It was the cutest thing ever. Thank you guys for coming and letting us participate in the assembly. We all had a great time, and so did all the students that we talked to! Thanks so much!”

The Assemblies were created keeping Next Generation Science Standards in mind, so that teachers can coordinate classroom lessons with the information presented in the assembly. After each Assembly, teachers are given a packet of follow-up resources that contain workbooks, enhanced learning activities, DVDs, CDs with award-winning Water Rocks! music, and more.

Would you like to bring a Water Rocks! Assembly to your local school? Sponsorship opportunities are available — this is a particularly unique opportunity for Soil and Water Conservation Districts, local businesses, and individuals to show your support for conservation and natural resources education! Water quality matters to us all! Contact Jacqueline Comito at 515-296-0081 or jcomito@iastate.edu to discuss sponsorship to reserve a School Assembly in your local district. Spots are filing quickly for spring, so act today!

Jenn Riggs

Celebrating our Soil!

wsdlogo_upd_enThe holiday season is in full swing, and today is no exception.  Perhaps a lesser-known holiday than some of the others, December 5 marks World Soil Day! Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly back in 2003, World Soil Day was designated “to celebrate the importance of soil as a critical component of the natural system and as a vital contributor to human wellbeing.”

With some of the richest, most fertile soil in the world, we certainly have a lot to celebrate here in Iowa! In honor of the World Soil Day celebration, we have two new videos to share with you today, highlighting the critical importance of our soil resources. We’ve got all ages covered – there’s something for everyone!

Interesting Things Underground

Created by Megan Koppenhafer as part of a summer student internship project, Interesting Things Underground celebrates in song the amazing diversity of living creatures right under our feet!  The peppy tune was written by our friend Marty Adkins with the NRCS.

This music video is great for preschool and elementary-aged students, helping them to see the “millions and billions and trillions and zillions” of unique living creatures in the soil ecosystem. Further, we also have enhanced learning activities + worksheets for Grades K-2 and 3-5 to accompany this video!

 

Keep That Soil Alive

For the middle school, high school, and adult audiences, we are thrilled to share with you a little sneak peek preview of our brand new music video called Keep That Soil Alive!  Dedicated to women who care for the land, this video explores our legacy and connection with the land, landowner-tenant relationships,  and the many different conservation practices that help our soil stay alive and thrive  — all woven together with a Johnny Cash-inspired tune.

Enjoy the short trailer, and stay tuned for the full video release in early 2017!

 

Slow Jam Soil Erosion

Our last video spotlight is NOT a new release, but still one of our favorites – Slow Jam Soil Erosion with the one and only Rick Cruse, aka Poor Rick/Dr. Soil.  Our soil here in Iowa is an incredible resource, but we’re losing that soil more quickly than it can be replenished through the process of erosion.

Let’s give our soil a shout out today on this day of celebration for World Soil Day!

Ann Staudt

Water Rocks! Hosts Multi-State Youth Water Education Summit for Non-Traditional Educators

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In early November, Water Rocks! hosted the Multi-State Youth Water Education Summit for non-traditional educators. This two-day Summit, hosted at Reiman Gardens in Ames, brought together more than twenty educators from Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and South Dakota. Educators from these states came to Ames to become more familiar with Water Rocks!; our award-winning Iowa State University Extension and Outreach youth water education campaign.

Participants at the early November Summit represented a wide range of professions, from county extension and state DNR offices, to 4-H and county conservation programs and botanical gardens. Thanks to generous funding from the North Central Region Water Network, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (US EPA, Section 319 of the Clean Water Act), educators were able to take advantage of the opportunity to come to Iowa State University for water quality education and Water Rocks! training, and received not only reimbursement for their travel expenses, but also took home $800 worth of educational materials to use in their home programs!

Educators attending the Summit heard from Iowa State University faculty on the newest research related to water quality, soil health, nutrient transport from agricultural land, erosion and climate change. These expert presentations were followed up with interactive demonstrations from ISUEO’s Water Rocks! team, allowing Summit participants to channel their inner 5th graders, and engage with the educational presentations just as students would. Water Rocks! youth education modules covered a wide range of environmental topics, including biodiversity, watersheds, wetland ecosystems, and soil health. Attendees participated in regional roundtables to share their tools of the trade with the larger group, and also discussed the challenges they face in their home states in reaching target audiences.

The Water Rocks! Multi-State Youth Water Education Summit for non-traditional educators was an overwhelming success. It opened up dialogue among professionals in neighboring Midwestern states who face similar environmental issues and outreach challenges, and who hope to utilize Water Rocks! educational materials and music videos to address some of those challenges, and bring in a fresh, artistic perspective to their existing programming. But you don’t have to take our word for it; check out what Summit participants had to say about their experiences!

What struck me the most during the summit was the importance of music and movement to learning these science concepts. The Water Rocks! program has found unique ways to make learning about these concepts fun and memorable. What also struck me is how positive, enthusiastic, and talented the Water Rocks! team is, and they are a testament to how big things can happen when people are passionate and enthusiastic about something. –Missouri team

The program’s passion for environmental conservation and education of youth are reflected in the activities and resources it provides educators and learners.—South Dakota team

I’ve attended other conferences in the past where the topics and speakers have been focused on water, but I thought the creativity and scope of the topics and speakers were outstanding…There are so many children who connect with art either visually or audibly. The inclusion of art in the Water Rocks programming… allows children with all types of learning strategies to get involved, understand, and, hopefully, retain the information that is being presented. –Iowa team

I have been involved with water festivals for many years and we have done similar hands-on lessons, however, the Water Rocks kit is the most professionally developed that I have seen. –Missouri team

I am extremely confident I will be a much better teacher and advocate of the topics after the Water Rocks! summit.—Iowa team

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–written by Brandy Case Haub