By: Anna Miller
This past Autumn, Missouri River Relief hosted nearly 50 students between 4th and 12th grade in the exploration of their local watershed. Fall 2020 Watershed Expeditions at Home was a month-long adventure exploring seasonal changes in students’ watersheds as well as what constitutes the health of said watershed. The primary focus of the program was to encourage environmental awareness and stewardship in its young participants through the combination of exciting science focused and art-based activities. By the conclusion of the program, students were given the tools and resources to participate in further conservation efforts.
Students explored the physical, conceptual and creative aspects of their watershed through a ten activity Discovery Box delivered to their doorsteps. The Discovery Box, which contained the materials and instructions for the ten activities, was paired with an optional weekly Virtual Session meeting. During the Virtual Sessions, students were able to participate in further watershed activities, discussions with guest speakers and time to get to know their peers.
The first week beginning October 26th focused on exploring seasonal changes in the local watershed of students. These changes included the colorful Autumn shift across the Midwestern watersheds. Activities from the Discovery Box included a scavenger hunt, watercolor, and building a birdfeeder. The first two weeks of Watershed Expeditions at Home were unfortunately dreary; however, some students were able to get outside and paint watercolors of the trees, streams and even snow!
During the Virtual Experience, students were a little shy before introductions were had. It was an amazing experience to watch them break out of their shells over the course of the month. Week One was centered around a Show & Tell activity where pets seemed to steal the show.
Week Two was focused on understanding the forces that shape the quality of the watershed. Students explored what constitutes a clean, healthy watersheds needed to sustain life. This week’s Discovery Box included several activities that will teach the students how to be a steward for their watershed. These activities included a local neighborhood or creek clean-up, a comic strip drawing and a water quality test.
Week Two was also the first week where Watershed Expeditions at Home had guest speakers to share their experiences fighting pollution in our oceans. Morning sessions met with Anika Ballent of Algalita while afternoon sessions met with Rebecca Matts from the non-profit Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii. Both guests presented on how their organizations fight back against the growing problem of plastic pollution. During the Virtual Sessions, students also got to explore the Missouri River Relief “Message in a Bottle Collection” and played I Spy through Zoom.
During the third week of Watershed Expeditions at Home, students progressed to learning how to think like a scientist in order to improve the quality of their watershed. They discovered and used “science practices” that are helpful in problem solving situations. By the end of the week, students had learned what it takes to become a community scientist. They learned these practices through their Discovery Box activities which involved questioning a mystery object like a scientist, building a water filtration system and creating a prototype to share with a pen pal. There were a few spills when it came to the water filtration systems, which were composed of mostly sand and gravel, but it was certainly a favorite activity among the students.
The special guest speaker for the Week Three Virtual Sessions was Tiffany Kim, who works as the program manager for the Healthy Harbor Initiative in Baltimore, Maryland. Tiffany spoke to us about Mr. Trash Wheel who is a sustainably powered trash interceptor located in the Inner Harbor. Students were especially fascinated with Mr. Trash Wheel’s cult-like following a plushy merchandise. Following the Mr. Trash Wheel presentation, everyone mustered their best improve acting skills for a game of group Charades.
In the fourth and final week of Watershed Expeditions at Home, students were tasked with designing a solution for a pollution problem in their local watershed. This project was referred to as the Watershed Challenge Project. Students had the choice to focus on creating posters or advertisements advocating for change or a prototype machine of their own making or they could focus on bringing a prototype to life through schematics and crafting.
During the Virtual Sessions, students first got to participate in a round of Mad Libs. Favorite adjectives across the sessions were “purple” and “stinky” and one particular sentence ended up implying that parents are paid for their hard work in butterflies and badgers. The rest of the Virtual Sessions were spent exploring each student’s final Watershed Challenge Project. Several of the students built impressive models for their projects while others designed campaigns to bring awareness to relevant watershed issues in their area.
The response to the program was overwhelmingly positive. Students shared their enthusiasm during the final Virtual Session and had the opportunity to discuss their favorite activities as well as make suggestions for future watershed activities. One grandmother who ordered a Discovery Box for her grandchildren commented that they have “been using the activities when they come to [her] house on days there is no school… [She] worked for the MO Department of Natural Resources before retiring, so this Discovery Box and activities was wonderful! It was probably more for [her] than for the students! Ha.”
We would also like to extend a Big Muddy thank you to our wonderful sponsors who made it possible for Missouri River Relief to host another round of Watershed Expeditions at Home.