Great “Laboratories” for Children and Families to Build Water Awareness

October 10, 2014
Children exploring water in Forces that Shape the Bay

Verónica Urdaneta

July 12, 2014 – Berkeley, CA Global warming is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Given this year’s spring heat wave, combined with ongoing extreme drought conditions, parents can use the opportunity to help their children learn about heat waves, droughts, watersheds, oceans, and climate change. The Lawrence Hall of Science provides extensive resources to help children learn about their role and responsibility as part of this planet, including how to understand the value of water and methods for conservation in their own neighborhoods.

Imagine that you could not bathe or would have to shower only at certain times of the day because water had to be used sparingly. This might be fun at first, but if water were not available for a prolonged period, as happens in other parts of the world, then things would not seem so fun. Learning how our lives depend on the health of our ecosystem, and learning about how human activities may be changing Earth’s climate or the health of the ocean, are both essential for understanding and protecting our planet. The Hall offers practical resources for doing this. Our resources influence teaching and learning about these topics throughout schools, museums, aquariums, science centers, parks, and homes, as well as in other informal learning environments. Science On a Sphere®, the Augmented Reality Sandbox, Ocean Literacy resources, our Forces that Shape the Bay exhibit, afterschool kits, and the afterschool science investigation are some of the resources that the Hall offers to help children connect to their environment and understand how human activities may be changing our planet.

Science On a Sphere, Blue Planet
The Lawrence Hall of Science offers weather data and satellite imagery through an exhibit called Science On a Sphere. The exhibit gives families the opportunity to observe up-to-date visualizations of our blue planet—and other planets as well. Children can observe storms forming over oceans and the direction the winds blow. “The Science On a Sphere is a fantastic tool for visualizing complex global data,” says Toshi Komatsu, director of digital theaters at the Hall. “Weather, climate, and oceans are systems that are global by nature, and seeing real, scientific data on a 6-foot-diameter sphere really enforces the idea that we all live on one planet, where everything is connected. Moreover, the Science On a Sphere can be used as a time machine to show global changes over hours, months, even decades. This view across time drives home the point that Earth is a dynamic system, constantly changing—but, again, connected to itself.”

Augmented Reality Sandbox
The new, interactive, Augmented Reality Sandbox exhibit brings the fascinating world of watersheds to life at the Lawrence Hall of Science. In this play space, using state-of-the-art technology, colorful terrain data are digitally overlaid on hand-sculpted sand landforms, where visitors can make “virtual rain” fall onto the landscape and observe how water flows down mountains and hills into rivers and valleys. Children can use their imaginations to learn how the landscape is connected by the water that flows over it, and how elevation and humans can affect the landscape—on local and global scales.

Ocean Literacy
The Hall also offers resources for both in-school and out-of-school educators, so they can better communicate with children and give them the tools to know how to responsibly care for the ocean. These resources support educators from kindergarten to college level to develop Ocean Literacy by means of professional development, curriculum, and other materials. These resources help children understand how the ocean moderates the Earth’s climate, how it influences our weather, and how it affects human health. Through the Shoreline Science unit, students learn about the properties of sand and other earth materials, erosion, organisms and the environment, and human impact on the environment. They also learn to make inferences and use text features as they read, and also to practice writing reports and scientific explanations. They are exposed to and use scientific terms such as habitat, predator, evidence, and compare.

Afterschool Science Kits
The Lawrence Hall of Science also provides AfterSchool KidzScience kits that offer activities for out-of-school settings, including demonstration videos. The Freshwater Kit video helps educators learn how to use models to demonstrate how much water on Earth is freshwater and how to explain what groundwater is, and see what happens in the sessions. The Freshwater Kit provides children with the opportunity to explore the ways they use water in their everyday lives and how they can help conserve this limited resource. The activities in each kit not only are engaging and easy to lead, but they also excite children about science, build science knowledge and inquiry abilities, and help children learn important skills of cooperation and teamwork.

Forces that Shape the Bay
Forces that Shape the Bay is a Lawrence Hall of Science exhibit created with the support of the East Bay Municipal Utility District. The exhibit enables children to learn where all the water goes and how some forces interact to change, shape, and reshape land masses like those in the Bay Area. The “Where Does All the Water Go” demonstration is a component of this exhibit that is facilitated by UC Berkeley student volunteers. This demo shows visitors how much usable freshwater there is on the planet and where that water is allocated in California, and specifically water flowing from the Sierra Nevada watershed through the Delta. Visitors are walked through how much water there is on Earth, then are led through how much of that water is salt water, how much is trapped underground, and how much is stored in ice caps and glaciers. Children will be able to control the water flow from the simulated Sierra Nevada, or can roll up their sleeves at our hands-on erosion tables. The Forces that Shape the Bay exhibit also gives an opportunity for visitors to learn about the extensive management of our watersheds and native plants, with a resource guide that helps visitors identify such plants.

School and Afterschool Science Investigations, East Bay Academy for Young Scientists (EBAYS)
The Lawrence Hall of Science’s East Bay Academy for Young Scientists provides youth with opportunities to perform collaborative investigations of the water quality of local estuaries and streams, and further encourages the development of a deeper understanding of how freshwater ecosystems throughout the world are related to climate change. Participating youth learn how pollution can disrupt and negatively impact Earth’s water systems and human health, by focusing their research on issues that affect and are relevant to them and other members of own communities. The East Bay Academy for Young Scientists works in local communities where it offers school day and afterschool programs consisting of year-long minicourses presented at elementary, middle, and high school sites, as well as at youth-serving community organization sites. In particular, EBAYS helps youth to develop an understanding of global warming through explorations of personal, local, and global energy generation and use. The program provides participants with opportunities to use technology, including devices that measure household appliances’ energy use. By participating in EBAYS programming, young people learn important scientific concepts, as well as develop greater appreciation of how scientific research contributes to addressing issues that affect their lives.

Aside from the resources provided by the Lawrence Hall of Science, Bay Area residents can also use other local resources that are offered by local organizations and other Lawrence Hall of Science Partners. National Geographic, for instance, provides a Freshwater Quiz that allows anyone to test their knowledge of this vital resource. KQED-TV’s QUEST program, a collaboration of six public broadcasters around the country, produces a multimedia series that strives to deepen our understanding of some of today’s most pressing sustainability topics; it also offers amazing resources that help consumers understand the water cycle and their own cost of water. East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) provides classroom materials to help students learn about the value of water, including WaterSmart Tips to help consumers understand all the ways they can save water, whether indoors or outdoors. EBMUD rangers also work with school-age children to enhance habitats, stabilize soils, and restore natural conditions for creeks and disturbed areas in the East Bay. They offer outdoor educational programs at restoration locations during morning school hours on certain weekdays, and provide Free Conservation Items that save water and are easy to install.

Children are born looking around and trying to make sense of their social and physical environments. They gradually learn more about their expanding community and eventually come to see themselves as part of it, understanding the role they play. The Lawrence Hall of Science offers resources to the community that link science content to the way that it can change children’s perspective about themselves and the world of which they are a part. Weather events and changes produced in our environment, down to the level of our very own neighborhood creeks and streams, are the best “laboratories” to help children explore and understand that freshwater resources are extremely vulnerable and must be treasured.

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