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PROMOTING COOL BLUES AND HOT DATA: USING WATER FESTIVALS TO ADVANCE WATERSHED EDUCATION

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Abstract:

“Saw Lots of Cool Stuff!”

Fifth Grade Student commenting on a pond study presentation at the 2001 Rouge River Water Festival

There's no better way to form partnerships, show kids how “cool” water is and advance watershed education than exposing students and their teachers to a Water Festival. In a series of hands-on presentations, fifth-grade students learn about bugs in the water, what frogs and toads can tell us, and what happens when they flush the toilet. They try fly-fishing, bird-watching and walking a nature trail. At the end of the day, they know about the daily impact water has on their lives.

Since 1997, Wayne County Department of Environment and University of Michigan-Dearborn have presented the Rouge River Water Festival to thousands of fifth-grade students in the Rouge River Watershed, located in southeastern Michigan. This year's festival, held in May, hosted nearly 3,000 students; featured 57 presenters and 16 exhibitors and depended on scores of volunteers. The festival has been so successful, in fact, that a second water festival was presented at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Oakland County for another 1,500 fifth-grade students from Oakland County for two days in September, 2003.

There are 48 communities and portions of three counties in the Rouge River Watershed, which is a tributary to the Detroit River, a nationally designated American Heritage River. This diverse watershed is home to 1.5 million people and includes urban, suburban and rural areas. It spans approximately 438 square miles, is 127 miles in length, and, has four main branches and many minor tributaries. It is a highly urban river with little undeveloped land and extensive public access. It is one of the State of Michigan's most accessible rivers.

The Rouge River Water Festivals are modeled after pioneering efforts of the Nebraska Groundwater Foundation which began using the water festival as an educational event for upper level elementary school students in 1989. The objective of the water festival is to 1) show students the importance of water and the myriad ways it is used in our daily lives, 2) provide students with a broad spectrum view of water resources including municipal, agricultural and industrial uses, and, 3) connect the hydrologic cycle to weather, wastewater treatment, soil erosion, wetlands and wildlife.

Since its inception in Wayne County in 1997, the day-long Rouge River Water Festival has become a hugely popular event and typically has a waiting list of schools that would like to attend. The Rouge River Water Festival at Cranbrook Institute of Science in Oakland County is modeled after the Wayne County festival and was added primarily to reach out to schools in the northern part of the watershed that had difficulty getting to the festival at the University of Michigan-Dearborn which is located in the southern end of the watershed. Throughout the process, the educational institutions and county governments have worked together to make sure the festivals are consistent. Most classes attend four 25-minute sessions and an exhibit hall with a wide range of displays and environmental professionals to interact informally with the students and teachers. All sessions and exhibits are interactive. In addition, teachers attending the Wayne County water festival are given a package of curriculum materials for use throughout the year, including the Water Source Book, published by Legacy, Inc.

In order to enhance the learning experience at the water festivals, one objective of the Rouge River Water Festival at Cranbrook was to develop a science curriculum for the teachers who attended the water festival so that water education could continue throughout the year. A curriculum committee was formed to review the plethora of water resources education available and to choose some lesson plans that would advance watershed education. The curriculum was

In order to enhance the learning experience at the water festivals for teachers, one objective of the Rouge River Water Festival at Cranbrook was to develop a science curriculum for the teachers who attended the water festival so that water education could continue throughout the year. A curriculum committee was formed to review the plethora of water resources education available and to choose some lesson plans that would advance watershed education. The goal was to structure the proposed curriculum to meet some of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program science requirements for fifth-grade students. Wayne County and the University of Michigan-Dearborn are currently reviewing the curriculum and have received grant money to continue to enhance curriculum materials for teachers.

Water Festivals can be instrumental in watershed planning in a number of ways:



They reinforce collaborative efforts and partnerships among watershed stakeholder groups such as: Government, educational institutions, business, the regulatory community, environmental stewardship groups and environmental consultants who share in the mission of educating children about water, storm water pollution and watershed planning.


They further public education goals of community watershed plans under federal Phase II requirements.


Children and their teachers are able to focus on the ways water affects them through interactive and educational activities that happen to be fun.


Teachers receive materials that they can use throughout the school year to teach students about water.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2175/193864704784148141

Publication date: January 1, 2004

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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