RiverXchange is a program of Ciudad Soil & Water Conservation District.
Since 2007, our goal has always been to provide an exciting way for upper elementary teachers to explore major water resources topics over many months as part of the normal curriculum — instead of confining water to a single study unit or a one day water festival event. In fact, we think water makes a terrific theme to teach just about any subject at any grade level! RiverXchange continues to be provided free of charge to participants. This is possible due to New Mexico-based funding and major support from dozens of in-kind sponsors in New Mexico and in our partner states/countries.
Water Challenges at Home and Afar
With over 2,100 watersheds in the contintental U.S., ecosystems and local water issues may seem to be vastly different. Imagine life in the high desert of New Mexico versus the temperate rainforest of Seattle, Washington. Through RiverXchange, students learn that all communities in the world face water quality and water quantity challenges, but that these challenges are of varying degrees. For example, should a community that receives over 40″ of precipitation per year need to conserve water? Should a community that receives less than 10″ of precipitation per year need to worry about water pollution? RiverXchange helps students and teachers understand how different – yet similar – these challenges are, and that demand on natural resources drives much of local political decision making process.
The River as a Curriculum Focal Point
The local river is used as the curriculum focal point because it is a logical (and fun) teaching tool to address nearly all water resources concepts: water cycle, watershed, surface water/groundwater connections, drinking water, wastewater, nonpoint source pollution, municipal and commercial uses, food webs, etc. A river is something students can easily relate to and appreciate, whereas a watershed being a land area is a more difficult concept for students to understand. The watershed is a unifying concept for understanding all water resource issues, and the river is just the tangible evidence of what is going on in the watershed. By starting with the river and building on what they already know about the water cycle, students eventually reach the not-so-obvious conclusion that everyone in the world lives in a watershed even if there are no mountains and no visible water.
We think all citizens should understand the concept of watersheds, as the health of a local watershed directly impacts the quality of life in a community — and vice versa. Thus, poor planning and development can lead to dangerous levels of nonpoint source pollution in the river or ground, overpumping of a river can threaten species, and overpumping of an aquifer can lead to land subsidence. The result is declining quality of life for the entire community (human and non-human). Our goal is to educate the public about life in a watershed, so that individually and collectively people will make choices that will improve the quality of life for everyone and everything that depends on the local river.
Through RiverXchange, students examine many aspects of the river in their own back yard and take pride in sharing their knowledge of their local ecosystem. Many students say they have never been to their local river, so this project provides an important opportunity for them to actually experience the river. Students gain a broader understanding of the importance of a river to human life because they are learning from their peers about another river ecosystem and comparing it with their own. RiverXchange gives these students the unique opportunity to see and hear each other, ask questions, and share personal experiences about a distant place. Teachers feel this kind of personal connection is a big deal for fifth graders – many of whom have never traveled beyond their city limits.
All classes follow the same curriculum at approximately the same time during the school year and regularly share what they are learning via a private shared website, KidBlog. To learn more about how we use KidBlog technology, click here. The curriculum features hands-on activities conducted by the teacher or classroom guest speakers that reinforce one or more key water concepts known as The Big Water Questions. While a few questions have specific answers — for example, What is the water cycle? — other questions such as Who owns our water? require students to think more deeply. The goal is for students to understand all questions and be able to formulate logical answers. The curriculum covers three units:
- Understanding a Watershed
- Water in Our Society
- River Ecosystem
Highlights of the curriculum are the classroom guest speakers and the field trip to the local river, tributary or important watershed feature. This means teachers are able to spend less time delivering actual content and more time helping students develop their critical thinking and writing skills. Contact us for a copy of the curriculum.