Paint a Watershed!

The Cause

This 90-minute program begins with a curriculum-connected discussion (this may be the property of liquids, the water cycle, natural and human waste, wetlands, or freshwater systems, depending on age group) and a watershed demonstration using the EnviroScape Watershed/Nonpoint Source Model. The demonstration highlights how our communities, industry, and recreation on the landscape may impact bodies of water. Materials, like instant coffee, sprinkles, and juice powder, are used to represent landscape impacts, like sediment from erosion, nutrients from manure or fertilizer, road salt, or litter. Water is poured on the model and demonstrates that, in a watershed area, water is always slowly draining to the lowest point on the landscape, where larger bodies of water are formed. As water moves through the watershed it may potentially dissolve and carry those different materials with it. Participants will then create their own watershed landscapes on craft paper by using a variety of dry watercolour paints to represent materials like sediment, nutrients, fertilizer, or pollutants. While considering their watershed and different users, participants will create a map-legend that explains what each of their colours represents. Students then add rain to their landscape by spraying their watershed. They will see how water reacts to their materials and observe where the large bodies of water, like rivers and lakes, are formed on their unique watershed landscape. The program ends with a quick Gallery Viewing, where students can take a moment to wander and view the works of art created by their peers. Finally, students will have a chance to share what they added to their watershed and what they observed, further enhancing their watershed literacy. Experiential learning is especially valuable. Participants may not remember what specific materials they selected, but they will remember distributing dry materials across their landscape and watching how it was impacted by rain – forming colourful rivers and lakes. This is watershed messaging in its simplest form. Our bodies of water are an expression of the landscape. A pilot of the program was delivered at the Calgary Mayor’s Environment Expo for 1 group of students, from Grade 2 to Grade 5, and a pilot was offered to Banded Peaks School to a Grade 5/6 split. Based on participant and teacher feedback, we believe this program is an effective way to explore the science curriculum and will be a popular program.

Who Will it Benefit?

This program discussions and presentation are created based on the age group and curriculum objectives, which allows us to offer this program to Grade 2 to Grade 6. This exploration is a tactical experience, which makes it accessible to all students, including those that may struggle with pen-and-paper tasks. Scientific data can sometimes be hard to digest, but art is an incredibly useful tool to inspire environmental stewardship because there are no right or wrong answers, and art may provoke an emotional response that inspires change in behaviours and attitudes. Additionally, by connecting their colour choices to materials on the landscape we will encourage students to think about the impact of communities and different landscape users, which will be recorded on their legend. As a Watershed Stewardship group, we ultimately believe that educating the community and improving watershed literacy will benefit the landscape, our drinking water, and management practices for future generations. By having partners and financial support, we are able to provide a large amount of materials (dry watercolour paint and craft paper) while keeping the cost for classes low, so any group could afford to participate if program costs are a barrier. Our primary audience is school groups, however we are also interested in offering this program to the Bow River Basin Council’s Youth and Young Professionals Committee, and could offer this program to other community or youth groups.