Teaching Elementary Students About Water

Concordia professors and students get involved in this yearly project.

Concordia students and professors got out of the classroom to teach hundreds of elementary students about water during the annual Red River Water Festival in Moorhead. 

The volunteers, including Concordia’s Dr. Jennifer Sweatman, assistant professor of biology; Dr. D. Bryan Bishop, professor of biology; Dr. Graeme Wyllie, assistant professor of chemistry; and junior Peyton Selle, led hands-on activities for 2,300 third and fourth graders during the five-day festival, put on by River Keepers.

The objective is to enable students to learn how to gather information needed to make informed decisions about water use and protection, increasing their awareness and appreciation of water resources in our area.

Sweatman got involved with River Keepers during her first semester (Fall 2016) at Concordia and has been a member of the board of directors since 2019. 

“I’ve volunteered at nearly every Red River Water Festival since 2016!” Sweatman said.

This year, she led three different activities: “Trees! The Water Keepers” — focused on the role trees play in the water cycle and in stabilizing our soils; “Stream Sense” — focused on using all of our senses to explore our world; and “Let the Cattail Out of the Bag” — focused on wetlands and using metaphors to describe wetland functions.

Wyllie has been volunteering at the festival for about 10 years. He was invited to help out after meeting members of River Keepers at various local events for kids. 

“I was doing ‘The Life Box’ where I teach about life and the required materials for life on the planet such as why water, soil, air, sunlight, and organic matter are key,” Wyllie said. “We talk a wee bit about photosynthesis, and kids learn about germination by getting a seed in a bag that they add the ingredients for life to and teachers let them grow in their classrooms. I’ve been doing this one every year, and I think I make it entertaining and educational.”

Wyllie said it’s also a good way to see both Cobber faculty and students in the community.

“There is not a single day I do not see at least one or two other Cobbers at the event,” he added.

Selle got involved through her Limnology, the study of freshwater ecosystems, class this semester. She worked on an activity called the Water Olympics and during the sessions helped the kids with their activities as they learned about adhesion, cohesion, and surface tension. 

“All the kids loved competing against one another during these activities,” said Selle. “It was a great experience for me to see how amazed they were to learn the different ways water behaves.”

River Keepers was established in 1990 after a large communitywide assessment said that the Red River is underutilized, underappreciated and in some cases — mistreated. It coordinates efforts in conservation, safety, recreation, riparian restoration, and water quality and creates programs and events for current and future leaders designed to build a sound foundation for science-based decision making.