Tuesday, April 25, 2017

BLOG: Developing Science Literacy Through Environmental Education

by the WELS2 Project Team (Tina Vo, Cory Forbes, Nick Brozovic, and Jane Griffin)

Around the globe, humans face an array of contemporary challenges associated with food, energy, and water systems. To prepare future generations of problem-solvers equipped to address these challenges, education must go beyond merely disseminating information. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for example, has identified important components of environmental education that include an emphasis on awareness, knowledge and understanding, attitudes, skills, and participation in environmental challenges. When focused on these challenging issues of today, science literacy can involve:
  • Explaining, describing, predicting natural phenomena  
  • Considering multiple viewpoints and different stakeholders invested in the system
  • Identifying issues, biases, or limitations within research
  • Accounting for various mechanisms and their effects within a system 
  • Evaluating the validity of data collection methods
  • Creating and evaluating arguments around environmental topics
  • And a myriad of other science-oriented tasks and practices 
This knowledge and the associated skills define scientific literacy about interactions between humans and the environment. Supporting audiences to become more scientifically literate requires cultivating a culture and perspective that values critical thinking, problem-solving, and informed decision-making.


For example, decisions about water resources are complicated and involve human and environmental concerns.  A scientifically-literate person is one who’s prepared to ask questions such as: Who/what benefits from resource allocation? Who/what might be hurt by these decisions? What evidence do we have to support these claims and how did we obtain that evidence? How will this impact the water availability for others? Have we considered the natural and economic factors will be influenced? And these are only a few aspects to consider. While issues like this are complicated, frameworks like the ones developed at the University of Nebraska help untangle them by providing guidance such as where to start, who to ask for help, and how to educate ourselves.

Another way these key components of environmental education are highlighted and science literacy is supported is through the adaptation of state and national standards that acknowledge the role of ‘science practice’ as a way of doing and knowing science and requesting these practices be taught in the classroom. Teachers can support students through meaningful and directed educational experiences by providing opportunities to develop knowledge about food, energy, and water issues (e.g. water resource management) and scientific practices (e.g. scientific modeling). 

One aspect of environmental education that can prove challenging for learners of all ages centers on the complexity of hydrological phenomena. Complicated environmental issues develop around balancing humans’ use of groundwater against depletion and recharge rates. Supporting and fostering critical thinkers who can find solutions for these multifaceted issues will take dedicated educators who are well versed in science practices and environmental education. 

A program targeted to support these dedicated teachers to provide quality classroom instruction is the WELS2 project. Based at UNL, this project is a collaboration between the UNL Science Literacy Program, Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute, and The Groundwater Foundation

The WELS2 project (Water Education Leaders for Secondary Science) is committed to providing high school and middle school teachers in Nebraska with the training, supplemental educational materials, and experiences around hydrological phenomena, to support their food, energy, and water education efforts in the classroom. Through this professional development program, teachers can earn up to 9 hours of graduate course credit through the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, as well as a stipend, to support their ongoing professional learning. WELS2 introduces teachers to various resources including computer-based water modeling tools, pedagogical strategies for encouraging students' model-based reasoning about water, and strategies for grounding these experiences in real-world, issues-based contexts. Teachers will learn to use these resources to develop their professional skill sets, as well as how to use them in their classrooms to enhance their students’ learning about water systems. Participating teachers use part of this experience to collaborate with educational specialists and scientists and tailor resources suited to their students’ needs. This collaboration is an important facet of the project which highlights the expertise of the participating teachers to assess and develop materials specifically for their use. If you are interested in joining this program or would like to learn more, please inquire here.

Environmental education is an important part of supporting and developing science literacy in audiences of all ages. Educators who wish to help students develop these tools for critical thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving need to be supported and provided opportunities to do so. By partnering with institutions and organizations like the UNL Science Literacy Program, Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute, and The Groundwater Foundation, educators can leverage additional tools and resources delving deeper into environmental challenges and supporting their students in building critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills. 

The WELS2 Project Team includes Cory Forbes, Associate Professor of Science Education, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources Science Literacy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, cory.forbes@unl.edu; Tina Vo, PhD Candidate, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, ms.tinavo@gmail.com; Nick Brozovic, Director of Policy, Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute, nbrozovic2@unl.edu; and Jane Griffin, President, The Groundwater Foundation, jgriffin@groundwater.org.

Friday, April 21, 2017

BLOG: Groundwater Guardians Go Big on Earth Day

by Sara Brock, The Groundwater Foundation

The Groundwater Foundation’s Groundwater Guardian Program, launched in 1994, has teams across the United States from California to the Carolinas.  Year round, the teams work to increase awareness and education on groundwater issues and on special occasions, like this Saturday’s Earth Day, they get to go big.  Here are 5 communities using Earth Day to bring a little light to this underground resource.

Hamilton to New Baltimore’s Groundwater Consortium plans and implements an entire Earth Day Celebration Butler County aimed at increasing public awareness of local groundwater protection efforts.  By collaborating with local environmental groups and educators, they are able to provide over 25 exhibits and demonstrations of the area’s groundwater and surface water protection programs.

Lincoln’s Groundwater Guardian team is one of 73 sponsors of the Lincoln Earth Day event.  Schools, private businesses, government offices, and scientists are represented at various booths at this event with local food, music, and speakers. Check out the line-up here: http://www.lincolnearthday.org/ 

The team in Valparaiso is hosting an informational booth at the Northwest Indiana Earth Day Celebration.  As regular presenters at this fair, they are prepared with educational materials and reusable water bottles for the over 2500 people expected to attend this year. If you live in the area, you can even stop by and pick up a rain barrel or compost bin for your home!  Find out more here: http://portercountyrecycling.org/

Moving away from the fairs and festivals, the Chippewa Falls Groundwater Guardian team puts on a targeted program that, while is still associated with the city’s Earth Day Festivities, provides volunteers with a deeper understanding of and chance to experience groundwater protection in their area.  They do this by attaching “Dump No Waste, Drains to River” buttons on catch basins and illuminating the issue of contamination and drainage in informational sessions before and after. 

The Groundwater Guardian team at the Central Regional Groundwater Protection Planning Committee keeps things running through the weekend with their Clean Water Celebration. Celebrating their 25th anniversary as one of the largest clean water festivals in the world, this year is made extra special by keynote speaker Dr. Jacqueline Quinn, an engineer, inventor, and payload manager for NASA.  Check out the schedule and the speakers here: http://sunfoundation.org/

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

It’s Water-Wise Wednesday with Frannie the Fish! {Awesome Aquifer Kit: Exploring Permeability}

This week in Frannie’s exploration of the Awesome Aquifer Kit is all about exploring the key concept of permeability.
For this experiment, you will need water,
a syringe, a timer, sand, and gravel.
Permeability is the ability of a sediment to transmit water.  In other words, permeable materials allow water to easily pass through it and impermeable materials do not let the water move through them.



We’re going to test the permeability of sand and gravel to discover which one is more permeable.

First, we will make a hypothesis about which material water will travel through the fastest.  Frannie thinks water will travel through gravel more quickly than sand.

Now we’re going to take apart the syringe and fill up the inside with gravel.  We’ll measure out one ounce (oz) of water with a small measuring cup and pour the water into the syringe, careful to hold it over a cup so it doesn’t spill everywhere.  For extra fun, we can time it with a stopwatch and see how long the water takes to go through the gravel.

Water flows quickly through the empty syringe on the left, a little more slowly
through the gravel in the middle, and very slowly through the sand on the right.
Next, we’ll empty and dry the syringe before filling it with sand and, again, watching how long it takes 1 oz of water to move through it into our cup.  Does the water move faster or slower than the gravel?

Frannie has found that the water moves faster through the gravel than it does the sand which means that the gravel is more permeable. She was right!

Permeability and porosity are related.  Materials with more open space can hold more water.  More space also provides a quicker flow of water through the material. Materials that have a higher porosity also tend to have higher permeability.  Clays, however, have a very low permeability but are very porous which means they can hold a lot of water but they won’t release it very quickly.  Clay and harder materials that also can’t transmit water very quickly, like shale and granite, are called impermeable layers.