Friday, February 28, 2020

BLOG: Groundwater Education that Works

by Jennifer Wemhoff, Groundwater Foundation

Groundwater can be a tricky subject to teach. After all, you can't go outside and look at groundwater the way you can a lake or river. It's hard to visualize something so abstract, let alone understand and appreciate it.

That challenge has driven the Groundwater Foundation for 35 years to find innovative, hands-on, brains-on ways to teach kids - and adults - about groundwater.

Over the past couple years, the Groundwater Foundation has implemented a wide-ranging project, Recharging Groundwater Education: Tools for Engagement and Action. Through the project's pilot in Nebraska, over 300 educators learned how to use various teaching tools in their classroom, including:

Both the Awesome Aquifer Kit and Hydrogeology Challenge enable students to investigate groundwater, a vital natural resource that plays a critical role in sustaining life but cannot be experienced directly. The tools also allow educators to point out issues specific to their local community (i.e. lithology from local well logs, existing contamination threats, etc.), which is an important feature to making the lessons pertinent to students' lives.

These tools have been used with great success in elementary, middle, and high schools across the state, and thanks to online training and resources, throughout the country and world. Educators told us: "I now feel prepared and motivated to teach about groundwater and its role in life and our role in protecting it to my students."

Some educators first utilized the groundwater education activities in the classroom, but then moved beyond into local action. "In-classroom learning went great, and it became a three-week unit including an onsite field trip based on the reported hydrogeology of the area. The students were engaged the majority of the time and were challenged to determine outcomes from the classroom learning."

The Awesome Aquifer Kit is a hands-on model-building kit that promotes cooperative learning through inquiry. Because groundwater is hidden in aquifers below the earth’s surface, the unique format of the Kit allows students to “see” groundwater and how it moves. As students build their aquifer model, they increase their environmental literacy and understanding of groundwater’s role in their lives. The versatility of the Awesome Aquifer Kit enables educators to challenge students of different grade levels with varying levels of complexity. 

A high school teacher who used the Kit in the classroom told us: "The activities are fun and easy to follow. They explained groundwater and how to translate it to the classroom."

The Hydrogeology Challenge is a data-driven computer-based groundwater simulation tool that challenges students to investigate groundwater flow, contemplate the difference between modeling and reality, and apply the calculations to identify solutions to real-life threats to groundwater. The Hydrogeology Challenge is a highly regarded teaching tool by educational and water industry professionals and can be adapted to many grade levels. An assistant professor in Geology and Geological Engineering at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology stated: “It is a great tool for introducing groundwater modeling.” And a student who used Hydrogeology said: “Hydrogeology is my favorite part of science and using it in conjunction with computer modeling is an interesting new way to study it.”  

Groundwater education is necessary to foster the next generation of groundwater industry professionals, managers, and stewards. Get started in your classroom or community: or get in touch at 

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