By Liz Juchems
In its 2018-19 School Visits Evaluation Report, Water Rocks! reveals the details of its trips across Iowa to bring science-based programming to elementary, middle and high school students through education on watersheds, water quality and ways to protect water, land and wildlife.
Water Rocks is a youth conservation and water-quality education program that uses a creative mix of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), music and the arts to connect with students in grades K-12 with science-based information about Iowa’s natural resources and ecosystems.
During the 2018-19 school 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. The program delivered lessons to and energized some 32,800 young people across Iowa. And with nearly 65% of the visits taking place in the spring semester, the teams logged a lot of miles in a few short months.
Making education interesting
Ann Staudt, Water Rocks director, says the program is constantly evolving and improving, and the results highlighted in this year’s report showing more comprehension among students bears out the impact of the introspection and improvement process. And from the perspective of the audience, teachers, administrators and students can’t seem to get enough of the music, art, hands-on learning and high-energy sessions.
Delivering education through three unique approaches, Water Rocks works with teachers and administrators to maximize impact through classroom presentations, school assemblies and outdoor classroom programs. Water Rocks provides additional support through pre-visit discussion guides, classroom activity suggestions and materials, and follow-up to address questions post-visit.
Common to all Water Rocks programs are grade-level appropriate activities, music, videos and live demonstrations that convey science-based lessons about conservation, wildlife and water quality.
“We offer five primary topics through the Water Rocks school outreach program: watersheds, wetlands, soil, biodiversity and pollinators,” Staudt says. “Schools can request a specific topic which aligns with their curriculum or community interest.”
“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,” Staudt says. “Conservation is so important to Iowa and our future that we would love to be able to engage with twice as many students every year, if staffing and funding were available.”
While the program has been invited back to many schools, the Water Rocks team identified 11 priority counties that had not been well exposed to its programming. The team set a goal to step up efforts to engage with schools in those underserved areas during the school year.
“We didn’t get to them all; however, we did succeed in visiting schools in eight of the 11 priority counties, and we will get the rest of them this year,” Staudt says. “Water Rocks also visited a significant number of school districts statewide that had not previously been served by our teams.”
The annual report includes a detailed assessment of all Water Rocks programs including demographic data for audiences, pre- and post-lesson comprehension scores, grade-level statistics, and teacher evaluations. Water Rocks uses these 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!”
Key findings in the report include:
- Programs were presented in 197 schools and 13 outdoor classrooms, reaching 32,800 students.
- Key topic comprehension levels increased 40% 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.
Juchems is a Water Rocks conservation outreach specialist