Delaware fourth-graders learn liquid lesson about water

DOVER — More than 700 fourth-graders made a field trip to St. Jones Reserve on Tuesday to learn all about water during the 16th Annual Make a Splash Festival hosted by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

“In fourth grade, they do water and land units in addition to history so this acts as a capstone to those units,” said Splash Day organizer Maggie Pletta of Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve. “We tie together what they learn in the classroom with fun hands-on activities.”

During the blustery afternoon, students wrapped in winter coats and hats rotated through 25 different outdoor stations, each focusing on a different aspect of water.

The goal of the day was to relate what students had learned in the classroom to fun, hands-on activities.

One station on Tuesday, the Incredible Journey, showed students how the water cycle works. Students were equally distributed across stops labeled animals, clouds, glaciers, oceans and soil.

“The students are basically each acting as a water molecule traveling through the cycle,” Ms. Pletta said.

Each stop within the Incredible Journey had a bead representing the name of the stop. After students added the bead from the stop to a bracelet, they rolled a die to determine which stop to head to next.

At the end of the session, students could see from their completed bracelets the many different cycles water can follow.

Another station, led by Tom Herholdt of Tidewater Utilities, used a bucket brigade to teach about water conservation. He was just one of many water resource professionals leading stations throughout the day.

“There’s a set amount of water at the start and the kids need to pass the bucket down the line, trying to spill the least amount,” Mr. Herholdt said.

At the end of the line, the students poured what was left in the bucket into a barrel and when time expired, the amount of water in the barrel was measured.

Towne Point students competed in two teams — girls versus boys and the boys edged out the girls in all three rounds, by less than an inch each time.

“I think the best part for the kids is just getting out of school,” Mr. Herholdt said. “These are fun activities outside the classroom and I think they don’t realize how much they’re learning because it is so much fun.”

The venue of Make a Splash was also important. It used to change year to year but has been held at St. Jones Reserve since 2006. The estuarine location is valuable not only in activities and lessons but also for students coming from urban upstate areas where wetlands are less common.

Just next to the stations at St. Jones Reserve were additional stops at the John Dickinson Plantation. The stations at the Plantation demonstrated water’s historical role in Delaware ranging from its use in food and drink to interstate travel.

“The St. Jones is very important in Delaware history,” Ms. Pletta said. “It’s what brought people into Dover, and before we had cars and trains, it’s what we used to bring resources into and out of the city.”

Instructors at the Plantation stations dressed in historical garb and used 18th-century replicas to take students back in time to better understand the role of the Reserve and its uses.

“We hope these activities today will help them become better water stewards in the future,” Ms. Pletta said.

“Fourth-graders are much smarter than people think, so even though some of these concepts are weighty, by introducing them to all these ideas at such a young age, it will make it easier to understand when they’re revisited later in the classroom.”

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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