Despite gusty winds and a serious downpour at the end of the event, more than 750 Marana Unified School District fourth graders took part in the first-ever Marana Water Festival to learn more about Arizona’s water resources and water in the earth system.
The festival, held at the Crossroads at Silverbell District Park, is part of a larger Arizona Water Festival, which has been put on by Arizona Project WET for 16 years and has engaged over 100,000 Arizona fourth graders in the program’s history. The goal of the Arizona Water Festivals is to instill a deeper understanding of water in the earth system and Arizona’s water resources through a hands-on community festival. It also featured a professional development workshop for teachers and extensive volunteer and community involvement.
The festival itself is part of a larger curriculum unit focused on water stewardship and STEM education. Teachers implement a water STEM unit and go through additional education to help better teach the unit, which is then built upon at the festival. Educators receive seven hours of additional instruction where they learn to do pre- and post-instruction for the festival day.
“The Arizona Water Festival program combines effective teacher professional development, direct student outreach that extends classroom learning and community engagement,” said program Director Kerry Schwartz. “Bringing these components together is the art work that APW does to achieve STEM literacy and water stewardship education in Arizona’s communities.”
The festivals include instruction from local water professionals.
“Arizona Water Festivals are designed to be delivered by people from the communities in which they are held,” Schwartz said. “Arizona Project WET takes the time to train professionals to engage students in learning by allowing them to explore and giving them time to think. The professionals teach the lessons that we provide so that a strong foundation for learning can be established for each student. The professionals only need to be willing to learn the art of instruction, they enjoy watching the light bulbs go on when students get the big ideas.”
Early winds wreaked havoc with tents set up at the festival, but they were able to set up all of the stations and displays and things went off without a hitch until early afternoon, when a downpour forced an early end to the the second session.
The festival was broken up into four lessons with a variety of stations to reinforce the lessons.
The first lesson, centered on groundwater, was important one because of the critical nature of the water cycle in the Southwest. Schwartz said this was an important lesson for students because most primary grad teachers don’t “have the background or teaching tools to teach about it.”
“Since 44 percent of the water that Arizonans use is groundwater and we, more and more, are beginning to use the groundwater system as a storage reservoir, this is extremely important,” Schwartz added.
The second less centers around expanding students’ knowledge of the water cycle and how they fit into it.
“Students think they know about the water cycle but do they see themselves within it and part of it?” Schwartz said. “The lesson we do broadens and deepens students understanding of this cycle that our lives depend on.”
An expansion of the water cycle lesson is a lesson on the watershed. Students learn that a watershed is the land area that drains to a low point and by exploring models they learn to understand that they live in a watershed and that they need to be water managers, helping to ensure that there in not only enough water, but that it is of the right quality.
Water conservation is something students learn at a young age, but the Arizona Water Festival hopes to expand what the students already know.
“Most students in Arizona know to turn off the water when they brush their teeth but this lesson engages them in learning to save water in a new way,” Schwartz said. “By using simple water-saving technology, by tactilely exploring water-saving devices, they get new ideas and bring them home to their families.”