Burgess Falls Kids

Water Monitoring for Kids

Whether they’re cooling off in a spring-fed creek, casting a line in a lush cove or catching some air on wakeboard, outdoor enthusiasts in the Valley are never far from fun times in the water. In fact, water is so plentiful here that people sometimes take it for granted. But not TVA Science Kids. They think about water… a lot.

Thanks to the TVA Science Kids World Water Monitoring program and our partner, EarthEcho International, TVA facilitators and young scientists can be found in elementary school classes throughout TVA’s service area. TVA facilitators have visited more than 1,500 locations over the last few years, and deliver TVA Science Kids World Water Monitoring program to about 15,000 children annually. With young fingers wrapped carefully around beakers and test tubes, students learn to perform experiments on water quality, record the data and apply the findings in their daily lives.

What’s the trick? Actually, TVA program facilitators have several tricks of the trade to keep students engaged throughout this fast-paced class.

The Water

The first trick is the water.

“We bring it in from a local pond or stream that most of the children are familiar with. As soon as they stick their hands in that bucket, it’s their water. They become committed to it and to finding out more about it,” says facilitator Vicki Jo Stevens-Valentine.

The second trick is the laboratory itself. This “lab in a box” has a flashy exterior with intriguing pictures of children who are testing water in their own communities throughout the world.

Water Monitoring for Kids

As part of the TVA Science Kids World Water Monitoring Outreach Program, students at East Coffey Elementary in Manchester, Tenn., conduct a series of experiments to determine local water quality.

Everything needed for facilitators to teach children about conducting experiments, testing water quality, recording data and safely handling scientific equipment is in this container. Each year, thousands of children in the TVA service area excitedly open their little laboratories, which are provided free of charge to classes. But this isn’t the last trick — not even close.

Scientific jargon is a different kind of trick; it’s cool, new words that sound grown up. It doesn’t take long for phrases like “high turbidity level” or “non-neutral pH” to begin swirling around the room and soon, 30, young brains begin to take note.

The Newbie

It sounds unlikely, but sometimes, just bringing in a different person to teach the class is a great trick in itself. Because TVA facilitators aren’t acquainted with the students, they are totally focused on one thing: educating them about water monitoring and the effects of water quality on their environment.

This is a trick that makes teachers, facilitators and students feel a twinge of satisfaction. Findings are recorded on a data sheet by each team, then the facilitator encourages the young scientists to determine the importance of their results.

For example, a class might discuss the fact that the lives of fish are affected by the water’s turbidity. Why? Because fish need to see both their prey and their predators, or they won’t survive.

This type of information gives students more context; they are able to view the results of their experiments more thoughtfully. Facilitators give them lots to think about, and there are plenty of “aha!” moments.

Another trick that keeps youngsters engaged is “to put each student in the position of a scientist. Assigning jobs gives them a sense of involvement and social responsibility in assessing and protecting their own environment,” says facilitator Jessica Venable.

Parting Gifts

The final trick is actually more of a treat. Facilitators leave the teachers with several gifts, including a test kits, instructions for adding the teams’ data to the EarthEcho site, and most importantly, their students’ newfound awareness. 

“After our program, the students have a broader understanding of the factors that can harm aquatic life and what these students and their families can do to stop that from happening,” says facilitator Jessica Wykoff.

The Takeaway 

“Part of TVA’s mission is to protect the Valley’s natural resources for future generations. This program creates young citizen scientists who have discovered that their behavior can help keep the Valley’s waterways clean and its wildlife healthy,” says Rachel Terrell, TVA Public Outreach manager. “Thanks to TVA and our partners at EarthEcho International, they’ve also learned how their actions can affect water quality at home and around the world.”

Want to find out more? Check out these links:

To request information from TVA about bringing the TVA Science Kids World Water Monitoring program to your school, contact plic@tva.gov.