Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Penn State Extension: Water Education Remains A Priority In Distance Learning

By Jennifer R. Fetter,
Penn State Extension

Penn State Extension has been leading an effort to engage educators in water education across Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic region since 2012. This year, distance learning became a key factor of that engagement.

While as many as 70 percent of Americans are aware of environmental subjects such as water and air quality, it is estimated that less than 2 percent of adults are environmentally literate. 

Americans lack the skills and knowledge needed to investigate, understand, and apply information about the environment, such as water quality data, to their lives. (Coyle, 2005)

Here in Pennsylvania, water quality is a significant issue. Over 30 percent of streams in the state – more than 25,000 miles – are listed as impaired. (PA DEP, 2020). 

These streams are vital to wildlife, but they are also extremely important to humans. They are not only places for recreation and fishing, but many also serve as drinking water supplies to millions of Pennsylvanians.

Laying the groundwork for true environmental literacy takes time, and it really needs to begin at a young age. 

With so much important emphasis placed on math and language arts learning, teachers struggle to find time to include additional topics like science in the classroom. 

Finding innovative ways to incorporate environmental education into existing classroom lessons is one approach to help overcome this hurdle. 

Water is a great topic to focus on because it can be incorporated into so many school subjects: science, health, physical education, art, social studies, and most importantly, math and language arts.

Penn State Extension has been leading an effort to engage educators in water education across Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic region since 2012. 

The Dive Deeper Youth Water Educators Summit,” says Jennifer Fetter, Water Resources Educator at Penn State Extension, “is a conference for any educator interested in teaching youth about water.” 

In 2020, this program shifted into the virtual learning space and was offered as Dive Deeper Distantly on October 1. 

A record 223 educators from school classrooms, parks and nature centers, and educational institutes across the United States and Canada “gathered” to learn about and share water education during this time of distance learning. 

Having attendees from Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Ohio, Virginia and more fulfilled the steering committee’s vision of a truly Mid-Atlantic Youth Water Summit. 

“This was my first year as a steering committee member for Dive Deeper,” said Jen Dindinger, watershed restoration specialist with UMD Sea Grant Extension. “I was in awe of the breadth and depth of knowledge presented at the summit and I am looking forward to next year already!”

The virtual summit provided the opportunity to host presenters from Montana, Texas, and more. Presentations offered lessons on using digital education tools, explored lab spaces in a virtual tour, and shared data from current needs assessments. 

The summit also included time for networking and sharing abundant ideas and resources.

As a result of the summit, ninety-nine percent of participants indicated an increase in knowledge about tools, resources, and opportunities to help teach about water. Many (89 percent) planned to increase their time or efforts teaching youth about water. 

An important goal of the Dive Deeper Summit is to help connect educators so that they can leverage each other’s resources. 

Even in the virtual conference setting, 73 percent said they met someone they were likely to continue networking with to help improve their water education efforts.

“The biennial Dive Deeper Summit strives to consistently offer water education resources, tools, and lessons to those just starting their career in the field all the way to extensively experienced educators. This is a tall order. Even with the virtual setting it was exciting to see attendees connecting with each other in the break out rooms, the online exhibit hall, and in the networking spaces,” says Carissa Longo, DCNR, PA State Parks Environmental Education Program Coordinator and Dive Deeper Steering Committee member.

The pandemic (and resulting shift to distance learning) has had an impact on water education, with 88 percent of Dive Deeper Distantly attendees stating that their ability to teach about water has decreased. 

Being able to learn and share with others at the virtual summit led 79 percent of attendees to say that their ability to teach about water in the next 6-12 months has improved as a result.

“We are hopeful to return to an in-person conference next year,” says Fetter, Dive Deeper Summit Chair. Next year’s summit is currently slated for September 23, 2021 in Harrisburg, PA.

(Reprinted from Penn State Extension Oct. 21 Watershed Winds newsletter.  Click Here to sign up for your own copy.)

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[Posted: October 21, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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