K-12 educators ‘Step Up the Science of Water Quality’ with Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation and Iowa Nutrient Research Center

August 16, 2021

K-12 educators follow Adam Janke, assistant professor and extension wildlife specialist, around an oxbow wetland as he calls on them to engage their senses and experience the varied benefits from the nutrient reduction practice. Iowa State University photo.

A recent workshop, “Step Up the Science of Water Quality” attracted 23 K-12 educators from 21 different schools in Iowa and Pennsylvania. The two-day training, Aug. 2-3, 2021, located at Iowa State University and nearby field sites, was hosted by the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation.

Their exploration of water quality topics began on campus, where participants were introduced to water quality concepts and issues. Presenters included INRC Assistant Director Kay Stefanik and Mark Licht, assistant professor and extension cropping systems specialist, who reviewed agronomic impacts on water quality.  The introduction for teachers-turned-students also included an activity to encourage critical thinking skills led by Will Fett, Iowa Agricultural Literacy Foundation and laboratory tours of the Water Quality Research Lab and a hydrologic flume led by Professor Michelle Soupir, agricultural and biosystems engineering, and Andy Craig, also in ABE.

Each day included outdoor field tour visits to see water quality research projects first-hand and discuss impacts and research findings with scientists and conservation leaders. A visit to the Tedesco Environmental Learning Corridor, in Ames, helped set the stage. Michael Cox, Story County Conservation Director, and Ryan Wiemold, Parks Superintendent, discussed the park’s guiding 4 C’s: Collaboration, Conservation, Cooperation, and Connectivity. The teachers also engaged in hands-on learning and discussion during stops at a stormwater retention wetlands, saturated buffer and stream restoration project, where Jade Allen, graduate student with the Iowa State Applied Geomorphology Lab, gave an overview of stream channel processes and phosphorus transport.

Other field tour locations included:

  • Comparison of Biofuel Systems experimental field plots, where Michael Thompson, professor of agronomy, reviewed research on the impacts of cropping systems versus reconstructed prairie on soil health and subsurface nutrient transport.
  • Edge-of-field research and demonstration project sites for an oxbow wetland, a bioreactor and a saturated buffer, with interpretation from Adam Janke, assistant professor and extension wildlife specialist, Lindsey Hartfiel, graduate student in ABE, and Tom Isenhart, professor of natural resource ecology and management. 
  • A drainage water recycling project that stores tile drainage water and stream water in a retention pond used to irrigate a nearby field during dry conditions, led by INRC Director Matt Helmers, professor of ABE.
  • One of the first Iowa Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) wetlands built for nitrate reduction, where Bill Crumpton, professor of ecology, evolution, and organismal biology, explained treatment wetland design, water quality monitoring and nitrate removal efficiencies.

Teachers gathered at wetland listening to speaker
Bill Crumpton, professor of ecology, evolution, and organismal biology, speaks to a group of educators about nitrate reduction wetlands. Iowa State University photo. 

The group also experienced the Iowa Learning Farms’ Conservation Station Trailer Fleet in action. They engaged in learning activities with a rainfall simulator designed to show how land management practices affect surface runoff and subsurface drainage, an Edge-of-Field trailer showing the below-ground components of a bioreactor and saturated buffer, and a wetland trailer with models that illustrate the ecological and hydrological functions of three types of wetlands.  

“Passionate teachers can make learning much more engaging for students. This professional development workshop gave teachers the background knowledge that they need to teach students about the science of water quality. Throughout the two-day workshop, we also provided them resources – lesson plans, kits, and more – that will make teaching students about water quality easy and fun,” said Fett.

"The INRC was thrilled to co-host the ‘Step Up the Science of Water Quality’ workshop, which allowed us to provide important information on water quality and the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy to educators who will take this knowledge back with them throughout Iowa to share with our young citizens and future farmers,” said Stefanik.

Educators who participated were able to receive licensure renewal credit or graduate credit through Iowa State University upon completion.  Financial support came from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, AFRI Professional Development for Agricultural Literacy Priority Area.


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