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.
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!
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.
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.
“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.”
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
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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