E-STEM in Action: Hands-On with Hydrology


E-STEM in Action: Hands-On with Hydrology

It all started with a casual offer from a volunteer, Sharon Schaver one day after assisting with a homeschool class. “If you ever need any help running a class on watersheds, let me know”, she said. Sharon is a retired hydrogeologist and carries with her a wide variety of knowledge and experiences related to watersheds and groundwater. Knowing this, in conjunction with just having participated in several sessions at NAAEE 2018 around watershed education, I eagerly replied, “actually…I might just have something in mind.” With a mostly open winter schedule upon us, the opportunity was ripe for experimentation, creativity, and collaboration. A week later with the help of some new educator recruits, we hit the ground running planning our first-ever Hydrology STEM Series, implemented in December 2018.

This article shines a brief look at how we did it, how you might borrow from our program model, and hopefully how we can learn from you!

Audience Poll: To be sure our energy developing a new program would be well-spent, we ran the idea past families of the Riveredge Nature Center Homeschool EdVentures via a closed Facebook page. The results of the poll were encouraging so we forged ahead with lesson planning.

Format: We knew we wanted to include elements of STEM-education because it matched well with our education goals which we hoped would encourage critical thinking, collaboration, and innovation around watershed issues. Our driving question was: How do humans impact water in Wisconsin? This was the basis for all of the activities moving forward.

Audience: We opened the class up to all middle and high school homeschool students.

  • Seventeen students enrolled and all but one were middle school age. By opening it up to such a wide age range (10 - 17 y.o.), it provided a diversity of knowledge and experience among our group. Students felt safe to share ideas, but were also held to a higher standard as they worked together and learned among peers.

Details: The classes were hosted over two dates about a week apart from 10-1 p.m. Students brought their own bagged lunches. The cost to participate was $35 for members of Riveredge Nature Center or $45 for non-members.

  • Of the twelve families who were members, three were non-members which was a great way to expose those outside of our Homeschool EdVentures program to connect with Riveredge in a learning setting.
  • The pricing structure was affordable for participants (~$6/hour) and allowed for approximately $680 in earned revenue during a slower period for program schedule.

Part One: The first class laid a foundation for hydrology basics. Following a set of water-themed icebreakers, students jotted down their ideas about water on a Know, Want to Know, Learned (KWL) chart. With curiosities in mind, we split the class in two and experimented with a series of human impact scenarios surrounding groundwater (groundwater model) and at the surface (surface, or enviroscape model). We ended the day with a brief discussion on what we learned while engaging with each of the models.

Part Two: With the scientific background knowledge and concepts understood, the second class applied the student’s knowledge through a water pollution engineering design lab and digital watershed modelling exercise. During the first part, students worked in small teams to design a small neighbourhood with the goal of drawing clean water from the nearby lake despite several “roadblocks” (e.g. overuse of pesticides/fertilizers) and varying lake levels. Only one team was able to successfully draw clean water from their system but all groups learned about percolation/infiltration and the behaviour of water and pollutants from the process. During the second part, students took what they learned and applied land management changes to their own backyards using the Model My Watershed mapping tool created by the Stroud Water Research Center. Students were able to locate their neighbourhoods and experiment with different scenarios that impact water runoff versus infiltration or water chemistry. The workshop wrapped up with a closing discussion about human impacts and a brief student survey.  

Although we couldn’t have known it at the time, we owe Sharon’s simple little offer a great deal of credit for inspiring this workshop series and giving us the opportunity as educators to experiment with new tools and new ways of integrating STEM into our teaching. Though seemingly small, this series prompted several “firsts” for the Riveredge education team:

  • First uniquely offered workshop focused on hydrology specifically for middle and high school homeschool students;
  • First time incorporating Model My Watershed technology tool during an in-class experience;
  • First time selling out of space for a homeschool spin-off class.

We hope this series inspires your next program idea! And, if you’ve done something similar at your site we want you to tell us about it. Comment below or contact Carly Hintz (cjhintz@riveredge.us).  


Thanks so much for sharing your work and the online resources. Seems like it was a great program.

What a great program Carly! I have a couple of questions. What groundwater model did you use, and wht pump did you use in the water pollution lab?