March 29, 2013
Woman with science items
Beth Cable, education, outreach and diversity project coordinator for Wyoming’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR Office, poses with field equipment and materials that make up the water science toolboxes.

Wyoming’s K-12 students and their teachers will soon have access to their own water world.

The CI-Water Project (in which the University of Wyoming is involved) and the Natural History Museum of Utah have created water science toolboxes designed to foster and encourage a better understanding of how the quality and availability of water resources are affected by climate, population and land use. The toolboxes, of which four will be used in Utah public schools, include everything from field measuring equipment to monitor water quality to a water resource board game based on the concepts used in Monopoly.

“Mostly, we want students to learn that water is a limited resource and understand the effects and impacts of water and water availability in Wyoming, and for Utah students in Utah,” says Beth Cable, education, outreach and diversity project coordinator for Wyoming’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) Office.

The toolboxes were developed as part of a $6 million, three-year award from the NSF to a regional research project. The CI-WATER project, which focuses on the hydrology of the Colorado River Basin, is a joint collaboration among UW, the University of Utah, Utah State University and Brigham Young University. Cooperators include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

That grant, announced in November 2011, is intended to develop a better understanding of the interconnectivity of natural and human water resources systems -- a critical environmental sustainability problem facing the West. The award will allow the team of researchers to develop high-performance computer modeling and computational resources (known as cyber-infrastructure or CI for short).

The CI-WATER project will help assess long-term impacts of water resources management decisions, natural and man-made land-use changes, and climate variability -- with an emphasis on the Rocky Mountain West. Educational outreach is a major component of the program.

EPSCoR provides research funding to states (including Wyoming) that typically receive lesser amounts of NSF research and development funding.

A look inside

The entire toolbox kit includes two hard-plastic, wheeled tubs that house a plethora of field equipment and classroom resources. Equipment includes water quality testing kits, 3-D molecular water kits, petri dishes, various collection jars and vials, a groundwater model, a soil/sediment collector, GPS, a pH kit, a thermometer, various calorimeters for measuring nitrates and phosphates, and other tools. In addition, the toolbox includes the Hydropoly game and supplies, role-playing equipment, a DVD, flashcards, and various field guides and books.

“It’s really good equipment,” Cable says. “The students will be able to measure water quality very accurately.”

The toolboxes are based on four main ideas: property of water; water in the environment; human use and impact; and “What do I do now?” Cable says. The toolboxes are designed to promote problem solving, creativity, critical thinking and communication skills.

Using the toolboxes, students and teachers will be able to examine their own personal water use; create water conservation plans for their schools; learn scientific concepts in the classroom and in the field; and create art and advocacy projects -- such as water education fairs and Art for Water shows -- in their communities.

Students can even perform a role-playing exercise centered on a community water issue. For example, students could play interested parties -- rancher, farmer, business owner, homeowner, environmentalist, etc. -- with their own particular concerns.

“Students take a role, and conduct some research on the issue and their position within it,” Cable says. “They then come together for a town meeting and role-play, with the goal of creating a solution that everyone can work with.”

Initially, Wyoming K-12 schools will have access to two water science toolboxes -- one based at UW and the other at the Science Zone in Casper. Schools can check out the toolboxes, and the materials will be shipped directly to the school. If there is high demand from schools, Cable says there may be remaining grant funds to put together additional toolboxes. Cable plans to create a formalized checkout plan for the materials. Initially, Cable says she likely will go to the schools to assist teachers with the use of the toolbox equipment and materials.

A toolbox web page is being developed, she says.

For more information or to check out a water science toolbox, contact Cable at (307) 766-3544 or email her at bcable@uwyo.edu

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