Educate with These Projects

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Educate with These Projects

© Richard Grossman MD, 2008


            This month the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) publicized their report “Climate Change and Water”. It says that there is “…abundant evidence that freshwater resources are vulnerable and have the potential to be strongly impacted by climate change, with wide-ranging consequences on human societies and ecosystems.”

            The report goes on to state that our current freshwater control technology is likely to be inadequate to deal with events in the future. The intersection of decreasing supplies of petroleum, increasing human population and climate change is liable to be calamitous. “Climate change challenges the traditional assumption that past hydrological experience provides a good guide to future conditions.”

            Life is impossible without water! How can we prepare the next generation to deal with this huge problem? What can we do to help our kids and grandkids get ready for their future?

            A series of programs teaches students not what to think about water and other environmental issues, but how to think about them. They have been carefully developed by teams of educators and scientists from all over the country. The projects succeed in helping kids from kindergarten to twelfth grade learn about the world they live in.

            Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) is taught all over the country, and in many other countries, too. Project WET promotes appreciation, knowledge and stewardship of water resources by making classroom-ready teaching aids available to teachers.

            The WET guidebook includes over ninety activities. Each is labeled for an age range, if it is best indoors or outside, for a large or small group, etc. Each has a teacher-friendly introduction as well as a detailed description of how to guide the activity.

            “Dust Bowls and Failed Levees” is an example of one of these activities. Designed for high school students, its subtitle is “Witness, through literature, the effects of droughts and floods on human populations.” Students read passages from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, and try to imagine how a modern author might document the tragedy of Katrina.

            The activity “Where Are the Frogs?” is aimed at middle school students. It shows the effect of acid rain on the growth of plants such as marigolds or beans. (Frogs are also affected by acid rain but it is better to observe the effects on plants in the classroom). First, the lesson explains what an acid is. Students then prepare solutions of weak and stronger acid that are used to water the plants. They observe growth over a month. The experimental procedure is given in an activity sheet that includes a data collection page. (These activity sheets, but not complete lessons, may be found on internet at:

            The water cycle is illustrated for younger kids by “The Incredible Journey,” an activity for a large room or playing field. Skills involved include organizing (mapping); analyzing (identifying components and relationships) and interpreting (describing). Students (or chance) determine the movement of water within the hydrosphere.

            What about other environmental issues? They are dealt with in the other Projects: Learning Tree (, dealing with plants, trees and forests), WILD (, concerning wildlife) and Project Food, Land & People (, focusing on the interdependence of agriculture, human needs and the environment). Although similar in basic structure, each has its own history, literature and website.

            Too many kids in the USA spend too little time outside nowadays. They grow up neither understanding nor respecting the great web of nature. As adults they will be much more likely to destroy our planet than people who appreciate its intricate workings. This is why I feel that quality nature education is so important. The Projects offer superior learning opportunities.

            Recently I was one of several people from Durango who attended a facilitator training. Our goal is to prepare teachers all over the state so they will be comfortable teaching the Projects. Most of the others at the training are professional educators, including two professors from Fort Lewis College, so it took intensive concentration (and my wife’s help) to get me up to speed.

            Here in southwestern Colorado we are lucky to have an employee of the Colorado Division of Wildlife who oversees these Projects. As Southwest Regional education coordinator, Leigh Gillette added a big spark of enthusiasm to our training. If you would like to learn more or to teach from these resources, call her at 375-6709.

          Unless kids learn to value the natural world, they will not be willing to protect it when they are adults. These four Projects help children understand the complexities of nature.

By Richard

I am a retired obstetrician-gynecologist who has been fortunate to live and work in the wonderful community of Durango, Colorado for 40 years.

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