Tag Archives: Water Educator Network

Watersheds are for Learning

By Sarah Johnson, MAEd, Water Educator Network Coordinator, Colorado Foundation for Water Education


I love to teach. I am a connector. Thinking like a watershed is my nature, not my job. Rivers connect us to each other across communities, landscapes and time. We are part of our watersheds and influence our rivers; not separate. It is our profound responsibility to live and model stewardship of our waters ensuring their healthy existence for time to come. Now more than ever, it is critical that we work collectively to increase understanding of watershed systems, river science, water conservation, and climate literacy, and encourage participation in public life. And so, I am a watershed educator.

Fostering relationships with colleagues: veteran educators, emerging professionals, university students, water resource managers, urban leaders, rural experts and others across Colorado and beyond for the past two years has been a tremendous joy. Celebrating the success stories, listening to the learnings, and together sourcing and implementing proven resources and tools to increase effectiveness in meeting water education and outreach goals of organizations and agencies across the state has been energizing.

Learning from these experiences of offering workshops, building a network of educators, and sharing proven resources a few strong themes have emerged that may guide the future of water education across Colorado.IMG_3120

  1. Educators are Experts – Educators are experts at teaching, connecting with learners, and making content relevant to various audiences. Educators are professionals who have committed their lives to life-long-learning and are always seeking new ways to teach and reach their students of all ages. Learn from them how to turn our libraries of water information into relevant and accessible knowledge for communities. Leverage educators’ expertise often.
  2. An Abundance of Water Information and Content—Water Resource Managers and policy experts have oodles of water related data, information and content. These professionals need strategies, mechanisms and tools to share their data and content appropriately with their audiences and methods for making the content relevant to their learners. Share information effectively.
  3. Building Long Lasting Communities of Practice—To successfully transform educators’ and outreach professionals’ practice, continual support from colleagues and resource experts is necessary. Building collegial communities of practice among mixed groups of master educators, less experienced educators, water resource managers, and professional development coordinators can be powerful mechanisms to support increasing effectiveness of water education across Colorado. Foster strong learning communities.
  4. Direct Water and Snow Experiences—I came to love rivers, lakes and snow because I experienced them directly going fishing, floating, swimming, picnicking, spending time streamside pondering life’s biggest questions, cross country skiing, shoveling the drive, and embarking on backcountry hut trips. Always conduct water education experiences near a body of water (frozen or liquid) and include a quality direct experience during your program no matter how long or short. It is the direct experiences that typically have the strongest memorable impact while offering a bit of inspiration and fun. Get outside.

Coordinating the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Water Educator Network has significantly impacted my career trajectory and for this I am forever grateful. I will continue to connect people to people and people to projects across Colorado and beyond. I am committed to life-long learning and am addicted to exploring and implementing the newest best practices. Creating programs and opportunities based in places, and sharing watershed stories with learners and colleagues energizes me. There is currently great momentum and opportunity to prioritize working collectively to increase watershed literacy in the headwaters state and across basins. Let’s work together to see what more we can create to increase our collective effectiveness.

I will continue to reside in the Crystal River Watershed on Colorado’s Western Slope. Follow my latest projects and endeavors with Wild Rose Consulting as you may find yourself attending (or supporting) the 2nd Annual Educator River Institute at Western State or the Grand County River Workshop in 2018 among other projects that are to come.

IMG_4126Sarah R. Johnson coordinated CFWE’s Water Educator Network February 2016 – June 2017. Learn more about her current projects at www.wildroseconsult.com and reach her at wildrosewatereducation@gmail.com.


In a June letter to CFWE’s Water Educator Network members, Stephanie Scott, CFWE’s program manager, wishes Sarah the best:
The Water Educator Network would not be what it is today without the amazing Sarah Johnson. I am so thankful that she has been on board with us to help get the program started. It is no secret to anyone who has attended one of Sarah’s workshops that she gets a little more than excited about water education!! Sarah will continue to share her passion for water education here in Colorado and across the country as she has done with us. Thank You Sarah, for all the guidance for the Water Educator Network!!



Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Staff, Water Education and Resources

Putting the thinking into water education with ThinkWater

By Jeremy Solin

I’ve worked as an educator in both formal and informal settings for nearly 20 years. Throughout those years, I asked my students (adults and youth) to think critically about the topics I presented. Not too long ago, though, I realized that I really had no idea what I was asking them to do. What does it mean to think critically about something?

I was reminded of this realization this past Easter when my 10-year-old daughter was doing an Easter egg hunt. She knew how many eggs were hidden for her. After about 15 minutes of hunting, she came up to me and said “I can’t find half of my eggs!” I responded, “you need to look harder.” She stopped, looked at me and asked “What does that mean? How do I look harder? Do I scrunch up my eyes and stare at things?” I was amused by this, and also realized I had just asked her to look harder without providing any support or skills for her to accomplish this. This was the same thing I had been doing to my students when asking them to think critically.

Fortunately, scientists have been exploring the process of thinking and offer some effective strategies for how to think about something. One of these cognitive scientists, Dr. Derek Cabrera, has developed a framework for thinking that we use in ThinkWater. (We explain ThinkWater below.) DSRP-making Distinctions, understanding parts and wholes of Systems, identifying Relationships, and taking different Perspectives-provides the four simple rules of systems thinking/metacognition that are the basis for the work that ThinkWater does. For a bit more of an introduction to systems thinking, check out this short article and a 12-minute video.Copy of DSRPPosters


ThinkWater is a national movement of educators, students, managers, stewards, scientists, and citizens who think and care deeply about water. They know that future water security and sustainability starts with deeper learning, understanding, and caring, and that true understanding and behavior change requires more than new information. That’s where systems thinking comes in. For a short, 2-minute introduction, check out this video.



Educators in an Arizona Project WET workshop practice DSRP.

ThinkWater has generated a host of resources including online trainings, concepts and paradigms, instructional materials, software, and a community forum for water thinkers.

As water educators, integrating systems thinking into our program design and delivery will improve our efforts to engage our audiences in water topics. Too often, we provide information expecting our audiences to make meaning of it (through thinking) without providing the structure or skills to do so. That’s what ThinkWater resources can help us do better—put the thinking into water education.

ThinkWater will be offering a half day, pre-conference workshop at the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference on October 11th. If, like me, you’re interested in integrating thinking into water education, I hope you’ll join me there. For more information about the workshop and to register, visit CFWE’s Water Educator Network website.

jeremy_solin_headshotJeremy Solin has worked in the environmental and sustainability education fields for nearly 20 years in programs across the country. Currently, Jeremy is the Wisconsin Coordinator and National Program Manager of ThinkWater.  He has a bachelor’s degree in water resources (UW-Stevens Point), a master’s degree in environmental education (University of Minnesota, Duluth) and a doctorate degree in sustainability education (Prescott College).


Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Events, Water Education and Resources

Stormwater Education Roadshow

By Donny Roush, Urban Waters Program Director, Earth Force

I contend there’s a sweet spot of overlap between stormwater management and STEM education. How’s that?

Consider these two objectives: “education and outreach” is the first required control measure of a stormwater system and new national education standards contain heightened calls for more hands-on application of science and engineering by students. See that?

kic-net-2Students investigating stormwater, and—with guidance from educators and engineers—devising novel solutions to runoff issues hits both of those targets. The guiding question is “How does water move around our city?”

Stormwater presents a compelling topic for local, relevant and meaningful investigations by students and their teachers. Denver Public Works and Earth Force have spent the last five years reimagining stormwater education. Our revised program rests on these axioms:

  • Stormwater is a resource.
  • Watersheds are infrastructure.
  • Engineering is problem-solving.
  • Youth are stakeholders.

Upon these concepts, we’ve built “Keep It Clean – Neighborhood Environmental Trios,” to facilitate watershed investigations, engage youth in improving urban waterways, and deeply explore root causes of runoff pollution. The program’s acronym is “KIC-NET,” which happens to be a play on words, since a kick-net is a favorite tool of environmental educators, hooking kids by catching critters from creeks (read more about KIC-NET in this blog post).

There’s lots more to share about KIC-NET. Which is why I’m inviting you to participate in one of these workshops.

Thanks to the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Water Educator Network for convening these stops on a statewide roadshow for KIC-NET.

And, if you need a final straw to tilt your IMG_1687decision, we will be bringing a giant one with us to each city, to be placed in a wet and visible location (see photo)….

1 Comment

Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Events, Water Education and Resources, Water Quality

Colorado water education pilot project expands nationally

By Lydia Hooper

What does it take to empower today’s youth to change their watershed? An entire community, says Donny Roush, Director of Uncommon Collaboratives and Program Director for Keep It Clean – Neighborhood Environmental Trios (KIC-NET) at the non-profit Earth Force.

“Young people are natural problem-solvers,” he said. “To better support them, KIC-NET seeks to bridge and address the needs of both urban stormwater and STEM education. The kids do the rest.”

For the past four years, Roush has leveraged funding from the EPA’s Urban Waters program and partnered with Denver Public Works to develop this transferable urban watershed education program.

KIC-NET aims to fulfill the city’s water quality requirements while also engaging students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning and supporting them to become life-long stewards of the South Platte River and other local bodies of water.

Truman Middle School students begin a day of water quality testing at the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge by carrying waders into the Rio Grande bosque.

Truman Middle School students begin a day of water quality testing at the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge by carrying waders into the Rio Grande bosque.

KIC-NET has been so successful in Denver that the program is now expanding from 10 to 25 schools in the metro area – and it’s going national (read about the program’s beginnings in this 2012 post) . Last fall, KIC-NET was adopted in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where partners have empowered 300 students at five schools to take ownership of the Middle Rio Grande watershed.

From river conservation organization Amigos Bravos and the Valle del Oro Wildlife Refuge to the City of Albuquerque and Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District, partners are collaborating to achieve the common goal of healthier waters and communities.

“The Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge strives to maintain the reputation of being an outdoor classroom for Albuquerque’s youth and the KIC-NET program is doing just that,” says Julia Bernal of the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge. “We love hosting Albuquerque’s young students and educators to promote environmental education and awareness.”

MSLA students by finished construction at Denver’s Huston Lake Park.

MSLA students by finished construction at Denver’s Huston Lake Park.

KIC-NET schools use nearby waterways and parks as outdoor teaching opportunities to both investigate and make plans to improve their neighborhood waters themselves. For example, last year fifth-graders at Math and Science Leadership Academy (MSLA), in Denver, CO, created and distributed brochures about a city water quality improvement project to neighbors in the watershed of their Huston Lake.

KIC-NET schools also benefit from utilizing the experts and resources provided by partnership. Educators receive training and an activity guide that provides 32 place-based lessons aligned to the Earth Force Process, a six-step instructional model that combines the best of action civics, service-learning, and STEM learning. Using the Process, students work together to design and implement a project that addresses an issue that they care about in their school or community.

Through KIC-NET, students begin to understand the importance of their role as a leader in their community. “I think [our KIC-NET project] was [important] because if we didn’t go door-to-door then maybe Huston Lake would have even more trash,” said Eric Montez, a student at MSLA.

KIC-NET is not only expanding beyond urban Denver to the suburban areas surrounding Cherry Creek and Bear Creek, but cities as far away as Youngstown, Ohio are interested in reaping the mutual benefits of this model.

“For the past three years, we have been sharing the concepts behind the KIC-NET model with the Colorado Stormwater Council and surrounding communities,” says Darren Mollendor, KIC-NET co-creator and engineer at Denver Public Works. “We are encouraging cities across the state to capitalize on existing assets and infrastructure to use them not just as a feature in the environment but as an environmental learning tool.”

Earth Force is hosting a free KIC-NET workshop for educators on March 11, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. Those interested can contact Program Coordinator Erika Rodriguez at erodriguez@earthforce.org. You can find more information on KIC-NET here.

lydiahooperLydia Hooper has been a “Keep It Clean” communications consultant for Earth Force in partnership with Denver Public Works since 2012. As a freelance creative strategist, she helps mission-driven organizations connect and engage by creating strategic, meaning-rich content. With a multidisciplinary background and versatile skills, she specializes in presenting complex ideas and information in ways that create real impact.


Interested in water education? Check out the Winter 2014 issue of Headwaters magazine “The Fine (and Fun!) Art of Engaging People Around Water” and register for the Water Educator Symposium the afternoon of March 11, 2015 for more examples of successful educational programs and opportunities to collaborate with water educators around the state. If you aren’t a member already, look at the resources available and join the Water Educator Network here.



Filed under Events, Water Education and Resources