Water Cycle Leads To Learning Cycle

Fourth-graders drink in lessons in science, conservation, groundwater at Project WET water festival

Cyle Moss, left, raises his hands in jubilation as his teammate, Dominic Miller, pours the last of the water into the barrel. Their team won this particular competition during the water conservation exercise at Green Valley Park, Friday, Oct. 21. Fourth-grade students were occupied during much of the day on the Project Water Education for Teachers (WET) festival at Green Valley Park on a hot October afternoon.

Cyle Moss, left, raises his hands in jubilation as his teammate, Dominic Miller, pours the last of the water into the barrel. Their team won this particular competition during the water conservation exercise at Green Valley Park, Friday, Oct. 21. Fourth-grade students were occupied during much of the day on the Project Water Education for Teachers (WET) festival at Green Valley Park on a hot October afternoon. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Nick Pfeifle, dressed in his Boy Scout uniform and working on his service hours, darted from one group of fourth-grade students to another during the Project Water Education for Teachers (WET) festival at Green Valley Park on a hot October afternoon.

Nick, a student who is “12 going on 13,” kept track on his handy clipboard of student progress on an innovative, hands-on bundle of exhibits and games designed to get them excited about both science and water conservation.

“Me and my friends set the whole thing up,” said Nick, a local Boy Scout.

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Cailey Van Buren, left, Jasmine Olsen and Jordan Harger act as rain to graphically display the effects of water run-off in a desert climate.

He also stewarded a group of students to and from Julia Randall Elementary School.

“This (Project WET) is all part of the fourth grade (AIMS) standards,” said Sharry Lien, a longtime fourth-grade teacher.  

She and her students have studied their water unit for the past five weeks. The festival helps to solidify what they have learned, said Lien.

For these children, understanding water, where it comes from, how it’s stored and used will affect their future.

A United Nations report determined 80 million people are added to the world’s population each year increasing the need for fresh water by 64 billion cubic meters annually. Vital areas like California’s San Joaquin Valley aquifer have already used 80 percent of its underground water, the report concluded.

Virtually all of Rim Country relies on hard-to-replace groundwater, along with 78 percent of the communities in the U.S., according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Payson now has one of the lowest per-person water use rates in the Southwest. By 2015, Payson hopes to double its long-term water supply by importing water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir.

Kerry Schwartz and her team from University of Arizona of wanted to ensure students get the message about water in ways they can hear, see and feel. The program turns complex scientific phenomena into hands-on experiences.

Schwartz created the Project WET curriculum to help teachers explain to students about groundwater.

Much of the day focused on the role of the underground water table in the water cycle, in which water evaporates from the ocean, falls as rain and snow and eventually makes its way back to the ocean.

“We have four big ideas we want to get across,” said Schwartz.

The first is that groundwater is located underground and between the grains of sand and gravel. The second, groundwater moves underground. The third, groundwater is connected to surface water and lastly, groundwater is part of the water cycle including the water humans use, said Schwartz.

To prove their approach makes an impact with students, Schwartz and Program Director Holly Thomas-Hilburn collected data in 2009 from teachers, volunteers and students.

The surveys found that students learned about the water cycle and the need for conservation. They also ended up eager to learn more, said Schwartz.

The program reaches 30,000 students in 20 Arizona communities annually, according to a summary published in the Journal of Geoscience Education.

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Mr. Kirby, left, explains to Emma Hill, center, and Ciya Wilson, right, the effects of water runoff during or right after a sudden, heavy monsoon.

Statistics are one thing, watching the water festival in action is another.

Vicki Holmes from Payson’s water department has coordinated with Schwartz, WET director, for the past five years to bring the festival to all fourth-graders in the Payson school district.

Holmes and her co-worker Brenda Huff marshal a host of volunteers from Payson’s water and parks, recreation and tourism departments, to Payson High School peer counselors, science students, and teachers to the Boy Scouts, and the Kiwanis club to work with the UA on their Project WET water festival.

This gave all fourth-graders in the Payson school district hands-on experience to crystallize the information they have learned about water.

At Green Valley Park, the water festival spreads out over the grassy area in front of the band shell. Volunteers man 12 different information stations.

At the one station, the children learn that they live in a watershed, thanks to exhibits showing clay mountains with their sides cut out to show the layers of soil, sand and rock through which water percolates. After they completed the lesson, students understand how taking care of the land keeps their water safe.

The water cycle station takes the fourth-graders through a game with beads and a dice. As part of the game students pick up beads representing lakes, trees, sand or some other link in the water cycle. By the end of this lesson students learned about the life cycle of a drop of water.

At the water use and conservation table, students play another game to learn about conservation. Using gallon buckets, the children scoop water out of a 20-gallon trash can, run to their peers waiting by another 20-gallon trash can, dump the water and hand off the bucket.

They must not lose a drop. At Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Cameron Davis’ station, the kids had to do five push-ups if they spilled any.

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Isaiah Hayhurst, left, and Lexy Turlukis pump water into the container simulating the ground to test the effects of groundwater and what happens to water as it seeps into the earth.

“And not the girly kind with the rear end up in the air,” warned Davis.

The students he taught absorbed their lesson well. They promised no more water balloon fights or running the water while they brushed their teeth.

At the groundwater station, models using Plexiglas tanks held layers of dirt, rock and sand. Tubes dripped water onto the surface of the soil to illustrate how groundwater filters through to end up available for use. The models help students to see the movement and storage of water under the earth.

At the end of the festival, Nick rushed back to the group of students he brought from JRE. 

“Line up. Single file. Look at my arm ... OK, walk!”

Nick consulted his clipboard for one last box to check off. Did everyone enjoy the day? “Yeah, everybody liked it,” he said.

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