An award-winning program, Water Rocks! provides conservation educational opportunities to Iowa’s youth. Unique to Iowa, Water Rocks uses current research and science about water quality and conservation in creating content relevant to what Iowans see when they look out their window or drive throughout the state.
Focusing on youth, the multifaceted program uses a creative mix of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), music and the arts to connect with students in grades K-12 with information about Iowa’s natural resources and ecosystems. All programming is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards that have been adopted by most Iowa schools.
Based at Iowa State University, Water Rocks serves a statewide audience. Since starting up in 2013, it has worked with nearly 140,000 youth in private and public schools across the state. In recent years, the program has reached about 5% of Iowa’s school-age children each year. With a relatively small team of dedicated educators and researchers, Water Rocks delivered programming to some 210 youth events, including 197 schools and a handful of outdoor classrooms, comprising some 33,000 people, during the 2018-19 school year.
Solid, science-based education
“As educators, our primary goal is to provide students with the information and tools that will energize them to participate in their environment and understand that each can make a difference through their personal choices and actions,” says Jacqueline Comito, Water Rocks executive director. “We connect with the students through things like music and games that are fun and important to them, while providing solid science-based education.”
Water Rocks programming is delivered primarily through classroom visits and school assemblies. Program resources include a robust set of music videos, original music, award-winning online and hands-on games, and grade-level classroom activities. The major elements of Water Rocks can be found on its website, waterrocks.org. These include:
- classroom visits
- school assemblies
- videos and songs
- Conservation Pack
- teacher resources, including the Water Rocks Teacher Summit
Classroom visits are hands-on intensive learning sessions designed to focus on a specific topic selected by the teacher. Available modules include “The Power of Pollinators,” “The Wonderful World of Wetlands,” “We All Live in a Watershed,” “Biodiversity Bonanza” and “Dig into Soil.” Water Rocks recently introduced a soil and water conservation module for high school students as well. Teachers can access pre-visit learning materials, assessment tools and post-visit evaluation and reinforcing lessons through the Water Rocks website.
Tailored to various age groups
School assemblies are produced on a larger scale than the classroom visits, and bring out the creative side of the program and the students participating. One unique element of assemblies is the recruitment of student helpers to be a part of the team. Full of live music and skits, the assembly programs teach and reinforce the language of water quality, conservation and the importance of action by everyone.
Designed for K-3 students, the Conservation Pack introduces conservation language and concepts for young people. Through classroom programs, as well as videos and online resources, the program builds on the natural affinity between children and animals with stories and songs that are guided by Water Rocks’ mascots, the Conservation Dogs. The workbooks, music and programming offer information about Iowa’s natural resources, and stress the importance of understanding and working together to protect the shared environment.
Music provides link to learning
At the heart of the program are the music videos and songs written and produced by Water Rocks and the local musical group Smiling Stone Soup. The Water Rocks website hosts 43 music videos and 51 songs that are free to view and hear for learning and enjoyment. With original music and lyrics, as well as parodies of popular tunes, the catalog covers many genres and has something to appeal to most age groups and musical tastes.
“Music is an excellent tool to get in the students’ heads with ideas and concepts while they are having fun, and it appeals to every age group,” Comito says. “There is an absolute link between music, math, science and learning that we leverage to make long-lasting impressions on these students. It is not uncommon for Water Rocks to return to a school after several years, only to be greeted by students spontaneously singing one of our songs.”
In addition to music, Water Rocks uses games and activities to reinforce the key language and lessons. The award-winning online Rock Your Watershed Game lets students manage land use and learn about the trade-offs landowners must make to balance financial and environmental needs. Other hands-on games used in the classroom include Biodiversity Jenga, Creature Cache, Habitat Hopscotch, Wetlands Bingo, Monarch Migration Madness and the Poo Relay.
Resources for teachers
Water Rocks also provides teachers with a broad range of resources and information to reinforce the lessons showcased in the classroom visits and assemblies. On the Water Rocks website, teachers can find discussion resources and guides for topics including water issues, climate change, pollinators, wetlands and prairies.
In addition to the online resources, Water Rocks hosts the Teacher Summit at Iowa State University to provide teachers from across the state with focused education and teaching support that can help to integrate water quality and conservation concepts into classroom curricula throughout the year.
“Our teams are only in a school for one day, and we strive to make an impact and strike a spark within the students. However, teachers are key partners in fanning that spark through reinforcing lessons to maximize the interest and benefits,” Comito says.
Staudt is director of Water Rocks! and program manager for Iowa Learning Farms.