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Introduction to Watersheds and Urbanization


Watersheds are most effectively studied using an interdisciplinary approach because of their complexity and location at the interface between terrestrial and aquatic habitats. The multiple perspectives available in this University of Minnesota IGERT (civil engineering, ecology, computer science, and geology) provide an appropriate forum to study watersheds. The goal of our IGERT outreach project is to introduce fifth graders to interdisciplinary research and the concept of watersheds. A basic understanding of watershed principles and complexity are developed via interactive computer software and hardware along with classroom activities. The “rain table,” a nascent computer program authored by a UIC computer science graduate student and modified by our cohort, allows a student to control the location of precipitation within the state of Minnesota. The students can then identify and explore different watersheds based on the computer generated runoff. Students also participate in a role playing game designed to reinforce the water cycle and introduce the effect that land cover has on water quality and residence time within a watershed.

Address Goals

Young students will benefit from a holistic introduction to watersheds, riparian ecosystems, and anthropogenic stressors on watersheds. The interactive lesson highlights some of the drivers of eutrophication and species-community structure as it helps students think about effects of urbanization. In accordance with the state education standards, students mature in their grasp on scientific inquiry, improve their understanding of the water cycle, and receive an introduction to interdisciplinary research efforts and higher education.