By Brandon Friederich
Water Rocks!, an Iowa State University-based outreach organization, took a huge step in expanding its audience and spreading its message. Water Rocks! hosted its first teacher Summit on June 11 and 12, where 28 Iowa K-12 teachers and high school students from nine school districts congregated in Ames. The group received the information they needed to be more informed about some of the greatest environmental challenges faced today. Water Rocks! strives to educate youth about water issues in Iowa that they may be facing in the future.
The summit included expert presenters on topics such as watersheds, water quality, climate change, soil management and biodiversity as they pertain to Iowa. The Water Rocks! team also demonstrated the unique learning modules they developed for teachers to use in the classroom.
Summit gathered diverse disciplines
The teachers were diverse in their respective disciplines and background knowledge. Several schools brought high school students with them so the students could become peer mentors in their district. Katie Stoll, a 4th grade teacher from Sacred Heart Elementary in Monticello, attended the summit to enhance her school's program. "We already have a unit on water conservation and when I heard about the summit, I thought it could tie into our curriculum," says Stoll.
Many of the attendees were science teachers and shared a goal of improving their school's science program by strengthening their own knowledge of water issues. Other attendees, like Gina Hemmer, a 6th grade reading and language teacher from Cascade, traveled to the summit because of her community's interest in spreading the message of water conservation. "Every year we do a walk-a-thon to raise money for third world countries with water shortages," says Hemmer. "We are always talking to our kids about water conservation."
New ways to teach kids about water and environment
Everyone in attendance discovered new ways to teach kids about water quality issues. The "learning by doing" approach was applied in full-force, as the teachers participated in the same activities their students will be doing in the classroom; running a relay race to pick up fake dog poop to prevent it from mixing with rain water, learning new songs and playing Wetland Bingo.
Interactive activities like these are integrated into the Water Rocks! learning modules and the teachers agreed they were one of the best components of the summit. Each school received a set of supplies for several of the modules, which was especially important says Jody Barr, an instructor from Newton elementary school's special education program. "The games are great because they add interactivity," says Barr. "And the modules were complete so they're ready for us to show the kids."
Both days were packed with informative lectures and learning activities, one message prevailed: educating today's youth about the importance of water will give them the knowledge they need to influence change when they become adult members of their communities.
Summits will help youth make change
Rick Cruse, ISU agronomy professor and Iowa Water Center director, was one of the summit presenters. "Water Rocks! is great because it communicates the message in a way kids can understand and want to listen to," says Cruse. "It's all about planting seeds of information, and if we can get these seeds to grow in children's minds, it will change the future for the better."
Water Rocks! plans to host one or two summits each summer, creating a network of educators who are knowledgeable about water issues in Iowa and can teach students in innovative ways. To support this educational effort, contributions to Water Rocks! are accepted through the ISU Foundation.
For more information, go to www.waterrocks.org. Follow Water Rocks! on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Partners of Water Rocks! are Iowa Department of Natural Resources, ISU Extension and Outreach, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Water Center and Iowa Learning Farms.
Friederich is a student intern with Water Rocks! and wrote this article for Wallaces Farmer magazine.