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  

Comito Recognized for Program Pivot During Pandemic

Director Jacqueline Comito honored with ISU Extension Pivot Award for leading efforts to develop and launch virtual conservation and water quality education and outreach programming

Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! announced that director Jacqueline Comito has been recognized for her efforts in leading the pivot to virtual programming over the past year. John Lawrence, ISU Extension and Outreach vice president, conferred the Extension Pivot Award as a part of his recent COVID-19 Exceptional Effort Awards.

The award cited Comito’s creativity and leadership of the team in quickly retooling previously in-person programs to develop and deliver virtual field days and weekly ILF conservation webinars. In addition, he noted her guiding the Water Rocks! launch of a range of virtual programs including new videos, in-person outdoor school programs, and livestreaming virtual presentations for youth.

“The quick response to the pandemic was a team effort which involved a lot of brainstorming, creative reimagining and some experimentation,” said Comito. “I am pleased to accept the award on behalf of all the team members. Everybody went to great lengths to ensure we were delivering the quality educational content needed by farmers, agency partners, youth and all Iowans.”

Stepping up from one webinar per month, ILF launched weekly webinars in March of 2020. Taking place every Wednesday at Noon, attendance has steadily increased over time, and opened up opportunities for more local, regional and even national speakers to participate.

“Overcoming some initial skepticism, virtual field days have not only garnered positive feedback, but the audiences have also continued to grow,” added Comito. “These virtual programs have added new dimensions to our outreach portfolio, and many will likely continue long after pandemic restrictions fall to the wayside.” (Check out ILF’s Virtual Field Day Archive to catch up on any previous events you missed.)

Water Rocks! livestreaming and recorded content is appropriate for individual and home-bound learners as well as classroom and school-wide audiences. The outdoor classroom program saw positive responses in the fall and will resume as weather improves in the springtime. The full range of Water Rocks! virtual programs are highlighted below.



Grade Level

Learn More or Request

Water Rocks! Live Streaming

Virtual presentations delivered live to classrooms, featuring water and natural resources lessons with Iowa core curriculum content


Request Virtual Visit

Water Rocks! Spoken Earth

Interactive virtual workshops that help secondary students find their voice through science, art, and spoken word poetry


Request Workshop

Water Rocks! Outdoor Classroom

Physically distanced school visits conducted outdoors (as weather permits), featuring games, music, and science-based learning


Request Outdoor Visit

Water Rocks! Simple Science

Weekly video tutorials featuring 5-minute science activity lessons for classroom or independent learning


Learn Online

Water Rocks! Unplugged

Acoustic music videos offering science information through award-winning Water Rocks! original music


Tune In

Harmony Brook Watershed

Puppet show video series where learning, laughter, adventure, and appreciation of nature meet!



Rock Your Watershed! Game

Award-winning computer game—choose how your land is used to balance economics and environmental impacts!



Congratulations to Jacqueline Comito, and the ILF and WR! teams!

County Park Adventure Series Promotes Outdoor Recreation and Exploration

Unique guides to county parks and wildlife areas across Iowa provide families and youth with a roadmap to learning and exploration outdoors and close to home

Water Rocks! has launched its County Park Adventure Series, providing activity guides and outdoor adventure suggestions at county parks and wildlife areas throughout Iowa. Covering one park in each of Iowa’s 99 counties, the adventure series guides offer detailed information about each park including amenities and suggested age-appropriate family and youth activities to aid in exploring the natural world in each location.

During 2020, Iowa’s state parks have seen record attendance due to both the centennial celebration of Iowa State Parks and the shutdown of many recreational sites and activities. This project was intentionally focused on county parks to encourage folks to learn about and explore nature’s beauty at these lesser-known, less-visited destinations while maintaining physical distancing without the crowds seen at state parks.

“After spring school closures and a summer of isolation, many families are feeling stifled and cooped up, and as winter approaches, we are excited to help them take advantage of local outdoor destinations that can be enjoyed year-round,” said Jacqueline Comito, executive director of Water Rocks!. “Every season offers adventure and natural beauty in Iowa. Whether identifying animal tracks in the snow, hunting for the first signs of spring, or enjoying fall colors, these less-traveled parks are a great resource  for all of us. With a guide to a local park in hand, visitors can explore and learn together while enjoying the outdoors – and escaping the indoors.”

Containing park-specific family friendly activities, each original activity guide offers families and youth fun ways to learn about their environment while enjoying the beauty of Iowa’s parks and recreational areas. Visit the Water Rocks! website’s County Park Adventure Series page to select a county and download an activity guide.

During the summer of 2020, the Water Rocks! summer interns imagined, created, and developed the county park adventure project. Fanning out across the state, they explored and developed unique activities for each park they visited. According to intern Riley Wilgenbusch, “While reaching all 99 counties was challenging, getting out across the state gave us all a huge opportunity to see and learn about Iowa’s different landscapes and ecosystems. And we are all very proud that the resulting series of guides are a great asset for those interested in exploring parks near and far.”

“This project came about as we responded to the sudden closures and restrictions related to COVID-19, but we are delighted with the guides and hope they can be a resource for Iowans for many years,” said Comito. “This is one of those situations where a sudden disruption to our summer plans resulted in an unexpected, yet beneficial, outcome. Our interns discovered many of Iowa’s hidden gems and we will all benefit from their adventures.”

To view or download County Park Adventure Series activity guides, visit the Water Rocks! website’s County Park Adventure Series page.

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Vote for the Fall Colors Found Art People’s Choice Winners!

There were so many beautiful entries to our Fall Colors Found Art contest and we need your help awarding People’s Choice!

You can vote for your favorite adult and youth entries on our Facebook page.

To vote, use 👍 and ❤️ for your favorites.



Voting ends at 10 am on Friday, Oct. 23—winners will be announced that afternoon!

Hilary Pierce

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! Fall Colors Found Art Contest

Water Rocks! and Artworks Studio invite everyone to get outside, enjoy the fresh autumn air, and express their creativity with what they find along the way by participating in the Fall Colors Found Art Contest!

Participants will create works of art from natural items they find in the great outdoors. The contest is open now through October 19 and features adult and youth entry groups. For complete contest rules and to upload a photo of your artistic creation, visit waterrocks.org/fall-colors.

Online voting through the Water Rocks! Facebook page for the People’s Choice winner in each age category and consideration by a judging panel will take place October 20-22. Winners will be announced October 23!

We have lots of fabulous prizes to give away, so get outside, appreciate the beauty of nature, and create your found art masterpiece today!

Hilary Pierce

Water Rocks! Debuts Outdoor Classroom Programs

Water Rocks! debuted its outdoor classroom program this week at Mayflower Heritage Christian School September 15 in Creston, Iowa and Aurora Heights Elementary in Newton, Iowa September 16. Responding to the ongoing demand for its educational programming during a pandemic, the Water Rocks! team created a turn-key program which can be delivered at school sites while complying with any ISU, government, or school policies for social distancing and safety.

Somewhat akin to bringing a field trip to the school, Water Rocks! presents grade-level targeted, high-energy, science-based lessons that augment classroom curricula. Both schools selected the Water Rocks! wetlands program and reported positive results.

Water Rocks! visit to Mayflower Heritage Christian School on September 15, 2020.

According to Sue Maitlen, third and fourth grade teacher at Mayflower Heritage, the operation could not have run more smoothly. “They did a wonderful job, setting everything up, keeping everyone socially distanced, and coordinating with the school schedule,” said Maitlen. “They had everything planned to the smallest detail and looked after important measures such as sanitizing between groups, reminding students to keep distanced, and wearing masks throughout the programs. And after the program, the students were excited to talk about what they had learned.”

The Water Rocks! educators have adapted learning materials, teaching methods, hands-on activities and games for socially distanced outdoor learning. Providing everything needed to deliver the programs, Water Rocks! brings chairs, tables, sound amplification equipment and all materials – eliminating demands on the school staff.

Students play habitat hopscotch during the Water Rocks! visit to Aurora Heights Elementary on September 16, 2020.

“Water Rocks! has been bringing science-based educational programming to Iowa schools for more than a decade, and we are committed to continuing to support schools and teachers through these flexible and slightly modified delivery methods,” said Jacqueline Comito, Water Rocks! executive director. “Inside a classroom or auditorium, or outdoors on a playground, engaging students in learning about their environment, water issues and natural resources, is a mission that is crucial to helping build a culture of conservation in Iowa and beyond. We can’t wait to get back to the great indoors, but are heartened by the interest in these programs and may even keep the option open to continue after things return to normal.”

Working outdoors helps ensure compliance with strict restrictions on school visits and field trips many schools are implementing. Water Rocks! relies on its extensive experience with outdoor programming, garnered from its Conservation Station trailer activities in public venues, to deliver a COVID-safe educational experience for all participants.

In closing, Maitlen said, “The Water Rocks! program covers a lot of ground using methods that truly engage the students. I would recommend it to any school or teacher.”

Schools can select from four education modules:

  • Natural Resources (Grades K-2)
  • Watershed (Grades 3-8)
  • Wetlands (Grades 3-8)
  • Pollinators (Grades 4-8)

During the fall 2020 semester, these Water Rocks! programs are provided to schools at no cost, thanks to the generosity of Water Rocks! donors and funding partners.

Teachers and administrators interested in scheduling  or learning more about a free Water Rocks! visit to their school should immediately contact Water Rocks! through its website https://www.waterrocks.org/school-visits

Liz Ripley

Water Rocks! TREE-mendous Iowa Tree Challenge

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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.

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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