The subject of water is as deep as the ocean itself. You can skim the surface, or dive deep on the subject, look at it from different directions, investigate it through science, mathematics, economics, art, history and more.
Water, quite literally, is life. So it’s critical that students learn about water in a way that brings the learning home. But how do you approach teaching such a vast and varied subject?
For Wildsight educator Patty Kolesnichenko, the plan was to give students at Kimberley Independent School a rich and immersive education in their local watershed, hooking them in with learning in their own backyard through a Know Your Watershed program.
Know Your Watershed is a regionally-based Columbia Basin Trust education program, administered and delivered by Wildsight educators across the Columbia Basin. While Know Your Watershed is designed for Grade 9, Deep Learning projects give students in other grades the opportunity to dive deep on water-related concepts. So Grade 6/7 students in Ms. Ronalea’s class soaked in learning on their local watershed through a series of interactive projects.
The main focus for this class was on storm drains, those unassuming metal grates found along every street in any old city. No one really pays attention to them, including students at Kimberley Independent School who would walk by them every day, surely giving them no thought as they went about their days.
“I wanted to help give these students some awareness of what’s going on in their community in terms of water,” explains Patty. “We looked at our watershed; we looked at what impacts in our community affect our watershed, and storm water is a big one. All the other water that moves through our system gets treated somehow. Storm drains don’t, and they can really have an impact on our ecosystem health.”
Students explored how water enters the storm drains, including drawing maps of the school and envisioning if a water droplet falls, where it would land. They did a rainy day survey of their school neighbourhood to see where water flows off of buildings and roads. They looked at the area storm drains, and investigated the nearby creek to see where collected water from drains then enters the creek.
The project showed amazing collaboration between Wildsight and the City of Kimberley, as the municipality allowed students to paint bright yellow fish on storm drains near the school to further public education efforts. Now, any time someone walks by a storm drain painted with the yellow fish, they will hopefully consider how they can ensure they are keeping that water clean and clear of cigarette butts, dog feces, car oil, litter and more.
Taking the knowledge they learned even further, Patty also got students thinking about what they could do to improve water management practices in their own backyards such as installing rain barrels, promoting rain-absorbing materials like grass instead of all concrete, and encouraging ditches with more natural features to increase drainage. They designed their own ‘home of the future’, with water-friendly features like sod roofs, rain barrels, and parking lots with grass instead of pavement.
The children also learned about water filters, investigating things like sediment sizes and what makes a filter work. The Great Water Filter challenge saw students using plastic water bottles and making their own filters. Through trial and error, they competed to see who made the best filter using materials such as grass, pebbles, charcoal, even cotton balls.
Through this Know Your Watershed program, reflects Patty, “students began to understand the bigger picture of water in our community: where it flows, where it’s stored, and what the impacts are if we don’t take care of this place.”
Grade 6/7 teacher Ms. Ronalea says her students loved the amazing, interactive program Patty put together. Doing this kind of hands-on learning helps the material to sink in, she reflects.
“It’s really teaching to their natural curiosity, and still having that element of incorporating movement into it, and trying different ways to do things, and having a connection with being outdoors and actually seeing it for themselves,” says Ms. Ronalea. “They take so much more from it.”
Want to learn more about Know Your Watershed? Visit our website today.