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.

Friday, April 7, 2017

BLOG: BMPs - An Industry's Response

by William Bieck, Heritage Hills Golf Course

“When disagreement or conflict is imminent, it’s better to be proactive than reactive.” 

This is an often used statement that recognizes it is better to correct problems before they exacerbate into a more difficult dilemma. It is easy for Golf Course Superintendents in the turf industry to discuss, debate, and share stories of new regulatory policies and the difficulties and costs to achieve compliance. But, when we “speak to the choir” amongst ourselves, we are not communicating to those who really decide our fate. Superintendents and the golf industry do not legislate...the government does.

This fact alone should compel those dependent on the golf industry or other industry that is under heightened scrutiny to share their strategies and positive environmental stories to those outside their circle of influence. I have been a golf superintendent for over 42 years and consider myself a strong advocate for environmental stewardship. As an industry, I have seen the Golf Course Superintendent’s Association of America (GCSAA) support its members with unlimited access to educational resources pertaining to environmental protection, conservation, and research. The golf industry has responded very positively to water issues. Over the past several decades, turfgrasses have been developed that can tolerate drought or poor-quality water. Technology advancements in irrigation equipment have greatly improved irrigation efficiency and uniformity resulting in less water use. Still, even with all these efforts to protect and sustain our environment, the golf course industry is commonly perceived to be a significant source of pollution and bad for the environment. These comments are simply not true and this perception needs to change in order to improve golf’s image.

In response, the GCSAA is increasing their emphasis not only to educate its members to the importance of responsible and sustainable stewardship, but to also share golf’s positive environmental stories with everyone, including detractors. 

BMPs, Best Management Practices, are the adoption of science-based agronomic practices that support proactive environmental stewardship. BMPs are a tool that will demonstrate to legislators, regulators and consumers the environmental policies that will augment trust and credibility into our management programs. BMP programs help superintendents manage golf facilities in an efficient manner while providing quality playing surfaces and protecting the environment. They also enable the golf course facility to operate where regulatory pressures exist, and they offer the industry a significant platform for advocacy, education, recognition, and demonstration of professional land management.

GCSAA has also recently launched an aggressive initiative of offering a BMP Planning Guide and Template to its state chapters to help develop and customize fundamental BMPs according to each state’s needs and requirements. It is the goal of the GCSAA to establish BMPs in all 50 states by 2020, a lofty goal that illustrates a sincere commitment to environmental improvement.

Credit: GCSAA

BMPs will address the many facets of golf course management. They are the method or techniques found to be the most effective and practical means of achieving an objective, such as preventing water pollution or reducing pesticide usage. Topics will include wellhead protection, irrigation efficiency, wetland protection, nutrient management, pesticide management, and surface and groundwater monitoring, conservation and protection.

Credit: GCSAA

Why use BMPs as a format to persuade golf’s detractors, environmental activists, and policy makers?  BMPs are the shared language recognized by regulators, conservationists, engineers and others as a means to driving improvements. It is important to note that BMPs are recognized in federal and state TMDL (total maximum daily load) policy as a major component of water quality improvement plans.

Credit: GCSAA

By implementing these practices, each facility will demonstrate to state regulatory agencies that their management practices are science-based and environmentally sound. By allowing governmental regulatory and compliance agencies to be involved in drafting these BMPs the industry has encouraged an open dialogue leading to positive changes that can have a significant impact on TMDLs and other measurable components. The end result of a successful BMP will be a healthy golf facility and a management plan that supports environmental improvement.

BMPs are the response of the golf industry to achieve a greater legitimacy and credibility. Many facilities will implement BMP approaches not just in reaction to mandated regulations, but as a proactive environmental stewardship business policy, that is, the best operations strategy for sustainability of the environment and the golf business.

William K. Bieck, CGCS, is the Course Operations Manager for Heritage Hills Golf Course in McCook, Nebraska. Heritage Hills was one of the pilot sites participating in the Groundwater Guardian Green Site program, and has been designated every year since. Reach Bill at maint1@heritagehillsgolf.net.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

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

This week in Frannie’s exploration of the Awesome Aquifer Kit is all about discovering the key concept of porosity.
For this activity, you 'll need sand, gravel, a syringe, a small cup, water,
 and a towel.  Frannie predicts that gravel is more porous than sand.

Porosity, in hydrogeology, is the capacity of rock, sand, soil, or other sediments to hold water.  We can measure it through the ratio of the volume of empty space in a particular sentiment to the total volume of the sediment.

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

First, we’re going to find out the volume of an empty plastic cup by filling up our syringe to the 35 cubic centimeter (cc) line.  Dispense the water from the syringe into the cup until it’s full to the rim.  Subtract the amount of water left in the syringe from the starting amount of 35cc and record this value.  Frannie found that her cup holds 30 cc.

Empty and dry the cup and then fill it with dry gravel. Fill the syringe again with 35 cc and dispense that water into the cup with gravel.  Subtract the amount left in the syringe from the starting amount of 35cc and record this value.  Frannie found that the cup with gravel holds 17 cc of water.

Empty and dry your cup before filling it with sand. Next fill the syringe with 35 ccs and dispense that water into the cup.  Subtract the amount left in the syringe from the starting amount of 35cc and record this value.   Frannie’s cup with sand holds 12 cc of water.

Fannie discovered that the gravel is able to hold more water and is more porous than sand.

To find the porosity of each material, we first have to determine the volume of material in each cup.  The volume of the sand or gravel in the cup will be equal to the volume of the water the cup can hold when full.  So the volume of our gravel and sand is 30 cc.

Remember that porosity is just the ratio of empty space over sediment so our porosity for gravel is p=17 cc/35 cc = .48 = 48%

Our experimentally determined porosity for sand is p=12 cc/35 cc = .34 = 34%
Frannie was right! Gravel is more
porous than sand!