Students Learn about Watershed

Karen Terry, U of MN Extension Educator

In early September 2015, two educators with Extension’s Water Resources Team partnered with the science teacher at Windom Area High School (Jeff Huska), the Pomme de Terre River Association (Jared House), and the Windom Chamber of Commerce (Alexandra Leland) to introduce 75 high school students to the concepts of watersheds, storm water runoff, water quality, aquatic invertebrates, surface water monitoring, and land use impacts on water resources. The all-day workshop was funded through a grant from the Toro Corporation. 

The day started with a presentation for the entire group to learn the basic terms and concepts related to watersheds and water resources and learning specifically about the West Fork of the Des Moines River Watershed that they all live in. Students used iPads to follow along and access a variety of online resources provided prior to the class. Then the students were divided into three groups. Each group played a round of the newly-released classroom version of The Watershed Game, an interactive tool to promote critical thinking about solving water resources challenges. After that, each group rotated through three learning stations, two outdoors and one indoors. 

Jared House took students to the river, where they collected invertebrates. This learning centered on the importance of diverse assemblages of invertebrates and using them as indicators of stream health, but students also learned about sampling techniques. Doug Malchow used the Team’s stream model, which recirculates water through a sand-like medium to simulate a real stream, to demonstrate a range of stream functions and processes to the students and to discuss land use impacts. Karen Terry led groups to the river’s edge to discuss channel shape, biology, hydrology, connectivity, and water quality. 

The groundwork laid through this day of learning will help the students with an on-going river project with the Prairie Ecology Bus Center, which will include water quality sampling on the West Fork of the Des Moines River. 

Near the end of the day, the students were brought back together to discuss what they had learned and to ask questions. Students were encouraged to think about ways that they could make changes at home or in their community or school to benefit the water resources in their watershed. Ideas such as installing rain gardens and keeping storm water runoff from reaching the river were considered as potential projects that students could adopt. It is safe to say that after this day of hands-on learning and discussion, none of these students will ever look at a river quite the same again.  

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