“The world needs people who can lead others to make a change for the better if anything is gonna change for the better.”
This reflection is from a Davenport North High School junior, one of the first students to experience environmental science education through The Watershed Project, a flexible framework created by Iowa educators with the objective of addressing the intersection of science, government, sociology, economics and art as they relate to decision making regarding water and land use at local levels.
In 2016, three high school teachers teamed up with staff from the Iowa Water Center and Iowa Stormwater Education Partnership to mobilize a unique project-based learning model for use in any high school in the state. Conversations with the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture uncovered a mutual interest in youth education about the environment, fostered in part by a bequest to the Leopold Center from the estate of Iowan Robert Margroff. This gift funded the development and pilot of The Watershed Project, implemented at Davenport North High School in 2017-2018 and Storm Lake High School in 2018-2019.
This framework promotes project-based learning as a fundamentally different teaching method than the traditional model that focuses on transferring concepts to students before they can begin to think about what to do with the information. In our pilot project phase, high school instructors in the program receive intensive training in project-based learning instruction and then transform their classroom using project-based learning as their primary teaching method. The instructor and students define a real water issue within their watershed and work to solve that issue, using community members as both their main resource and their audience.
Our vision for The Watershed Project is to build engaged, resilient communities that proactively and collaboratively address soil and water conservation issues. By designing a program that meets state curriculum needs while also giving students the chance to engage in their communities, we are simultaneously building youth leadership capacity, teaching communities about local water issues, and connecting Iowans with their watersheds.