By Elizabeth Juchems
The Water Rocks! program of Iowa Learning Farms continued its Teacher Summit in 2019 with an outstanding response from K-12 teachers participating across the state. As such, two summit sessions were required to accommodate everyone.
Taking place in June, each summit hosted teams of educators from various schools and districts for two days of intensive activity and exposure to best practices in conservation and water quality education for youth.
Since 2014, Water Rocks has conducted some 13 summits, reaching 263 teachers, 14 high school peer mentors, and 62 ISU Extension and environmental educators.
“The summits are definitely not a series of long, dry lectures imparting the wisdom of years of research findings,” says Ann Staudt, Water Rocks director. “Participants are on their feet experiencing the educational activities and games, learning the way their students will learn when they are back in the classroom.”
Innovative ways to teach
The team from Erskine Elementary in Cedar Rapids noted that seeing and experiencing the activities facilitates their ability to implement them in the classroom. After the first day of the summit, the team immediately brainstormed how the materials and activities would fit in the existing science curriculum.
Furthering the impact of the summits, Water Rocks provides each team with a full set of original teaching materials, games and hands-on activities to simplify implementation.
“The materials and summit expenses are funded by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act, as well as the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture,” Staudt says. “Through our funding partners, we are able to bring these teachers to Ames, equip them with knowledge and materials, and send them home to help their peers and students learn about conservation and water quality, at no cost to the school.”
A pair of teachers from Fort Dodge mentioned the value of the materials as a real bonus to everything they were learning. They also noted the applicability of the lessons beyond the classroom, hoping that early exposure to and excitement about the environment around them will inspire students to explore their surroundings and better understand how they can make a difference.
Helping teachers reach students
Teachers from Adams Elementary in Carroll said they gained firsthand experience with the Water Rocks curriculum materials. And they would build upon the lessons from Anjanette Treadway, human services program coordinator in the Carroll County Extension office, who regularly uses Water Rocks materials as a part of her school programming.
“Some of the elementary classroom teachers we’ve worked with at schools and at the summit feel underprepared or timid about teaching science,” says Emma Flemming, a 2019 Water Rocks intern. “After they see, touch and experience the ILF curriculum materials, we’ve seen new excitement and confidence from these very same teachers. It’s exciting to see the switch flip on and see them go from fear to wanting to share what they’ve learned with peers and their students.”
For one teacher, who is soon shifting gears from third grade science to fifth grade social studies, participation in the ILF summit was a tremendous help. She says the elements of social responsibility and understanding the impacts each person has on the community will easily integrate with the social studies curriculum at her school.
Follow up and evaluate training
“One key component of the Water Rocks program is the follow up and evaluation process we do,” Staudt says. “We don’t just send the teachers out the door and wish them the best. We ask them for feedback on our program, the materials, and we assign them homework. Each teacher is required to write a reflection about the ILF training, what they learned, and how they will apply those lessons. We also maintain contact with the teachers to answer questions and help them make the most of our program.”
The Water Rocks mission is to bring to youth conservation and water quality education, and to bring awareness of these issues to all Iowans. This is greatly magnified through the ILF Teacher Summit program. Teachers are encouraged to share the materials, games and hands-on activities with their peers and team with teachers in other subject areas such as math, music, social studies and more. Through this sharing process, each year more teachers and students are drawn to the conservation community through science-based learning, all of which is good for Iowa and Iowans.
Staudt concludes, “Like ripples on a pond, the participants leave our summit energized and equipped to carry the conservation and education messages back to their respective schools and communities, greatly expanding the impact and reach of the Water Rocks program.”
Juchems is an Iowa Learning Farms conservation outreach specialist.