More scientists showing up in bathrooms this school year

By Kathleen Ferris

If your kids are spending even more time in the bathroom this school year, they may be doing homework. Really.

The homework is part of the Water Investigations Program, a yearlong learning adventure that brings science into students’ homes and takes students out to rivers and wetlands. It is the program’s fourth year in Maricopa County schools. Last year, 2,600 junior and high school students in 26 schools participated. This year, the number of participants is expected to grow to 3,700.

Students learn to attach low-flow aerators.

Students learn to attach low-flow aerators.

Here is the core of the Water Investigations Program and, perhaps, why the program is so popular with students, teachers and administrators in our desert valley schools.

  1. Water Resources: Students learn how watersheds, rivers, reservoirs, canals, aquifers, and groundwater help to supply the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan area with water to drink, cook, shower, fill swimming pools and keep yards green.
  2. Human Water Use: Students conduct a water audit of their school’s bathrooms. They measure faucet flow rates, monitor use, and convert their findings to gallons used daily. Then the students determine how much water and money their schools could save each day, each week, and each year after they attach a low-flow aerator. For homework, students are assigned to conduct a similar water audit at home. The upside: Students bring home free low-flow aerators for the bathroom faucets.
  3. Water in the Environment: Students group into scientific teams of four or five. Each team decides to discover something about water in the Valley’s rivers and wetlands. The chemists may want to determine the quality of water specimens and the biologists may want to determine the health of the riverbed by digging for bugs. (Dragonfly larvae are a good sign and midges not so good.)

    Students take what they've learned into the field.

    Students take what they’ve learned into the field.

Then off the students and teachers go by the busloads to the Hassayampa River Preserve near Wickenburg or the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area just south of downtown Phoenix. Volunteers and science mentors help the student teams conduct their experiments. Finally, students present their findings at four science symposiums, where the best projects receive trophies.

University of Arizona’s Project WET organizes this massive undertaking with financial and volunteer support from many groups in the community, including The Nature Conservancy and the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.

Project WET conducts six hours of teacher training, organizes the field trips, finds volunteers, pays for buses, prints and distributes materials, and – most important to teachers – provides classroom support.

Teachers call the program powerful because the lessons make science relevant to the students’ lives. The program promotes creativity, critical thinking and data collection. It also has local impact, helping families understand why it is important to save water and how to save every day at home.

So, plan ahead this school year to allow your child a little more time in the bathroom. There is probably a scientist at work. You can find more information at Arizona Project WET.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

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