Something unexpected has been showing up in Iowa waterways: students!
Since 1998, IOWATER has been raising citizen awareness of Iowa’s watershed’s and connecting Iowa’s citizens with their waterways through volunteering and water sampling. Over the last ten years, IOWATER has also been connecting with schools to create unique opportunities for unforgettable learning experiences.
“Exploring the river is such a natural experience - I'm convinced it must be wired in our DNA,” says Mike Todd, a high school biology teacher in Ames, Iowa, who has been working with IOWATER for ten years.
Todd is amazed at the interest students display in his IOWATER experiments.
“There aren't many students who aren't willing to put on a pair of waders or boots or go bare foot into the river - and these are students who are usually freaking out about getting a little scuff on their pair of shoes or worried about sweating because they might smell a little funny later in the day,” Todd explains. “When we come back from the river they all look so wet, scraggly, and sandy, but I don't hear any complaints.”
Mary Skopec, Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ IOWATER Coordinator, says water monitoring is not only fun, but also prepares students for the challenges of the 21st century.
“Kids have become pretty adept at knowing how to find the answers that are expected,” suggests Skopec. “The fun part of IOWATER is that they don’t know what the answer is going to be until they actually run the tests. It challenges them to think creatively as they process the data coming in from the class.”
Janet Dixon, an Extended Learning Program teacher in Ames and IOWATER volunteer agrees, “One of the most important things science education can do is communicate to learners how scientists figure out what they know. You really want to make sure that your students come away realizing that scientists don’t just get their information by ready text books and memorizing facts.”
According to Skopec, Todd and Dixon, conducting experiments in Iowa’s waterways has a lasting impact.
“We have seen many, many students continue with IOWATER from K-12 education into college and on to scientific careers,” says Skopec. “I’m amazed at the number of times I meet a new employee or hire an intern and they say ‘I did IOWATER in school and it made a big impression on me’.”
Interested in IOWATER in your classroom? IOWATER is built on being flexible and fitting the needs of the volunteer. Some school districts do regular, continual testing, while others do the testing as a single event for the class. Teachers can connect through IOWATER during one of the Introductory Workshops that are offered during the spring, summer and fall months. The workshop is 8 hours in length and participants learn how to conduct basic water chemistry, document habitat, and take physical measurements of streams, lakes and ponds.
IOWATER is a program is part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.