Thursday, December 6, 2012

CI-WATER K-12 Toolboxes will bring the science of water to Utah and Wyoming classrooms

Wyoming EPSCoR, in association with Utah EPSCoR, Utah Universities and the Natural History Museum of Utah, is part of a grant called CI-WATER. Like all EPSCoR grants, education, outreach and diversity are key elements of CI-WATER. As part of the education work, CI-WATER is aiming to bring water research and awareness to K-12 classrooms in Wyoming and Utah. This week, Wyoming EPSCoR’s Beth Cable is in Utah working on the construction of toolboxes which will do just that. 
“I see the most valuable aspect of the toolboxes is that they offer a huge variety of ideas, curriculum and tools,” says Cable. “My hope is that any individual teacher can find his or her comfort level in working with them, and take them away - for a day, a week or (hopefully) a year.”
Cable is the Education, Outreach and Diversity project director for Wyoming EPSCoR. Along with Heather Paulsen of the Natural History Museum of Utah, she has been working on these toolboxes designed to stimulate interest and thought about water. By studying local water resources and utilizing a variety of tools, students will address the effects of climate, population and land use changes on water systems.  The toolboxes are based on four main ideas which build on one another:  1. Properties of water, 2. Water in the environment, 3. Human use and impact, and 4. What do I do now?
“We designed the box to be flexible enough for teachers to use as an entire unit, building on itself to deepen and broaden understanding, but also where each lesson or tool could be used independently to explore one topic,” says Paulsen. “We also hope that it enables and inspires teachers to go outside and engage students in authentic research in their own environment. That connectedness to place is necessary for people.”
Along with field tools and reading materials, the toolboxes provide hands-on activity ideas, games and research project materials. These types of activities aim to encourage students and teachers to examine water use in their own lives, schools and communities.  From these explorations, students and teachers will be encouraged to share their discoveries and extend their interest into their communities through art and advocacy projects. Cable and Paulsen are hoping that through the toolboxes, students will become interested in, and actively engaged with, the world of water around them.
“If I can imagine anything, I imagine a classroom community of scientists studying water,” says Cable. “Activities done indoors, outdoors, individually and in groups.  I love to imagine a classroom learning and growing together, walking and reflecting along a stream, and fostering a love of science.”
In addition to the scientific content and activities, the toolboxes are prefaced with inclusive background information.  This information is designed to help teachers by bringing new resources into their classrooms and providing new avenues for scientific exploration.
“I think the most valuable aspect is being able to supply resources to teachers that they don’t have the ability to acquire because they don’t have the time, resources, or both,” says Paulsen. “I think the toolboxes provide an authentic experience for both the teacher and students, enabling a community of learners in the classroom. Also, I think that water issues are among the most important that face us as people, and are only going to become more important. Being able to help teachers raise awareness, understanding, and engagement in this topic is imperative.” 
The provided materials will not only supplement teachers with additional contextual content, but also suggested techniques for effectively implementing the toolboxes in their classroom and facilitating outdoor activities with students.  All toolbox instruction is based around an initial brainstorm of how we use water, what uses water, and how water affects the Earth.
As the initial toolboxes near completion, they will be piloted at local Utah and Wyoming K-12 schools.  Following the testing and adjusting, two toolboxes will live and be outsourced in Wyoming, and three in Utah. 
We will share more information about requesting a toolbox for classroom use as the toolboxes are completed and ready for use.

By Beth Cable and Kali S. McCrackin

No comments:

Post a Comment