Tag Archives: watershed

Learn about watersheds at MSELA Conference

Carolyn Staudt will present information about the NSF-funded Teaching Environmental Sustainability: Model My Watershed project and share free resources at the Massachusetts Education Leadership Association (MSELA) 2017 conference.

Friday, October 20, 8:00 – 9:15 AM
Courtyard Marriott in Marlborough, MA
Marlborough Salon E

The Teaching Environmental Sustainability: Model My Watershed project is a collaborative research project at the Concord Consortium, Millersville University, and the Stroud Water Research Center.

Together, we’re teaching a systems approach to problem solving through modeling and hands-on activities based on local watershed data and issues. The curricula also integrate low-cost environmental sensors, allowing students to collect and upload their own data and compare them to data visualized on the free Model My Watershed app.

If you’re wondering what a watershed is, you’re not alone. Simply put, a watershed is “all the land area where the rain runs downhill to a certain point,” explains Carolyn Staudt, who directs the Teaching Environmental Sustainability: Model My Watershed project at the Concord Consortium. She continues, “Water is shared—there are people upstream and downstream. What you do with your local watershed impacts everyone.”

Model My Watershed models human impacts on a watershed.

Learn more

MSELA conference
Teaching Environmental Sustainability: Model My Watershed
Part I: What is a Watershed?
Part II: Part II: Students Learn about Water . . .  and Take Action
Monday’s Lesson: Can you filter your water?

Part II: Students Learn about Water . . .  and Take Action

In Part I you learned what a watershed is and its role in protecting a community from flooding. Carolyn Staudt has led NSF-funded projects that teach middle and high school students how to gather data about their water resources. She feels strongly that the science and engineering skills students learn in the process are essential.

“Elementary through secondary students need to be able to evaluate questions such as: How serious is the water challenge? In what ways do human actions affect water systems? How do we measure water quality?” Staudt wrote in the Spring 2016 @Concord newsletter. Studying water resources is also a good vehicle for learning to visualize and analyze data, make hypotheses, use both hands-on and digital instrumentation, and solve problems.

Staudt recognized water as a critical issue in 1998 after a trip to Sierra Leone, where access to clean water was a problem. “I was at UNESCO in Paris and they asked what I thought the most important resource was.” While everyone else was talking about oil and gas, she said water. “Water is shared—there are people upstream and downstream. What you do with your local watershed impacts everyone,” she says. “But nobody knows about their own watershed.”

She has developed NSF-funded projects for middle and high school students that address water issues using hands-on, real-world water quality science and engineering activities. In one project, students from California, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts learned to collect data about their own watershed using a simple water testing kit developed by the Global Rivers Environmental Education Network (GREEN). They shared their data using iSENSE, a web platform designed for students to visualize and exchange scientific data.  

Model My Watershed models human impacts on a watershed.

On another project, she worked with the Stroud Water Research Center in Pennsylvania, and schools in Pennsylvania, Iowa, California, Kansas, and Virginia, to develop a Watershed Tracker app for collecting data and a Model My Watershed app that uses real land use and soil data to analyze the environmental impact of various conservation and development scenarios, such as increasing the number of trees or replacing soil with black top, on a local watershed. Model My Watershed won a Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence, and became part of a larger WikiWatershed developed by Stroud.

Staudt and her project partners also developed a dozen video interviews with science and engineering professionals discussing their professions, so students could learn about careers in environmental conservation and engineering. A three-minute video about the project won an NSF Video Showcase Award.

 

The first time Staudt viewed how a large land cover database could be used to digitally visualize a watershed, “It was like SimCity on steroids,” she says. “You could see the result of conservation practices. With 100% forest cover there was almost no runoff. We wanted to let kids see what would happen if they made changes.”

Kids took notice and took action. “Fifth grade students started turning up at local zoning commissions and school board meetings,” says Staudt. With real data in hand, they demonstrated why a parking lot shouldn’t be built on a field.

“Often what you teach in school stays in school,” Staudt says. “We need more environmentally prepared citizens.”

If you have students who are using environmental data to influence their school or town, or they have higher aspirations to statewide or national impact, share your experiences. What data did students collect and how did they use it? Leave a comment here, or tweet @concorddotorg

For more information:

Water SCIENCE Teaching Environmental Sustainability: Model My Watershed USGS: Water

Part I: What is a watershed?

Houston’s downtown flooded after Hurricane Harvey. Florida neighborhoods have struggled with murky standing water after Hurricane Irma. Catastrophe can overwhelm any system, but why doesn’t the ground just absorb the extra water?

In some cases, the answer is a damaged watershed, a concept most people don’t understand, even though we all live in one.

A watershed is the land area where all rain runs downhill to a certain point.

Simply put, a watershed is “all the land area where the rain runs downhill to a certain point,” explains Carolyn Staudt, who leads NSF-funded science projects at the Concord Consortium on land use and its effects on water resources.

Credit: Tony Webster original. CC BY-NC 2.0

A watershed could be described as a naturally occurring traffic cop, efficiently directing water that’s converging from all around to a common location, maybe a lake or the ocean. The water might also be funneled into a deep underground aquifer or be soaked up by trees.

But when the watershed is damaged, gridlock results, water backs up, and flooding occurs.

A wetland or a forest is a good traffic cop. A parking lot or a housing development is not. Once rain hits a paved surface, it has nowhere to go because it can’t be absorbed. Standing water on a sidewalk or a highway is trapped.

Credit: Addison Berry original. CC BY-NC 2.0

Explains Staudt, “Cities have been paving their wetlands,” the very places that naturally absorb water in a flood—or a hurricane. Even a small amount of rain can become a drainage problem where there’s widespread development of wetlands and prairies, which has been the case in Houston,  for example.  

Why is the connection between land use and water resources important to education?

Read “Part II: Students Learn about Water” to answer that question and find out how some students used the information they learned.  

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