How I Use Project WET: Inspiring a Career Educating People about Water

Dave Chapman giving some instructions about use of an inland lake dredge on Lake Lansing, Michigan.Michigan science teacher Dave Chapman giving some instructions about use of an inland lake dredge on Lake Lansing, Michigan. Michigan high school science teacher Dave Chapman first got to know Project WET at a field test—a workshop in which educators give feedback about potential Project WET activities—along the Michigan-Ohio border in the mid-1990s. Following that experience, Project WET staff asked Dave to join other educators across the United States in Bozeman for a writing workshop. He and that group helped develop wetland education activities, some of which eventually become part of the Wonders of Wetlands Educators Guide.

Dave told Project WET Foundation President and CEO Dennis Nelson in a recent email that the experience was a pivotal one for him: “Your inspiration in water education has started me on quite a venture.” After we received his email, we got in touch with Dave and asked him three more questions about Project WET and water education. Here are his answers:

Project WET Foundation (PWF): What impact has Project WET had on your professional life?

Dave Chapman (DC): Water is an important focus of my teaching, which is due in large part to Project WET’s influence. Since taking part in the writing workshop, I have not only used WET activities but have also developed additional wetland and groundwater lessons. I installed monitor wells at my school for students to use. Each year, I take a class of students to the Muskegon area to study water issues there and go out on a research ship onto Lake Michigan to runs water tests. I have also engaged students in water testing with the GLOBE and GREEN programs. I designed an inexpensive way for students to measure frost depth, an often overlooked role of water in the ground affecting flood risk. With a local National Weather Service hydrologist, I designed a 3-D model of a river flood plain to be used to study how various factors affect the risk of flooding, a model now produced and sold by Wards Scientific. I even surveyed an entire small watershed within our school property so students could take measurements and calculate a water budget for individual storms. I organized an entire-day field trip for teachers to Michigan's Lake St. Clair Delta—the largest freshwater delta in the world—and recently started working with Michigan State University's sailing center on a program to take youth groups out on a large inland lake to do water testing and learn about limnology. This last program may be the only such program in the country on an inland lake. We just finished good trips with urban youth in a local Upward Bound program.

Map of Michigan, courtesy of the University of Texas at Austin Perry-Castaneda Library Map CollectionMap of Michigan, where Dave Chapman has been educating about water for decades (Map courtesy of the University of Texas at Austin Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection) PWF: What are your favorite Project WET activities and why?

DC: I have shared “The Incredible Journey” with more teachers than any other WET activity. I love the way it leads students to see the complexity of water movement through the world in an eloquently simple way. But “Capture, Store and Release” and “Color Me A Watershed” both contributed my development of 3-D model for exploring factors that affect flood risk. Rivers are a dynamic system in which water is in continuous motion. Any activity that shows that dynamic character is of great value.

PWF: Why do you think water education is important?

DC: The obvious answer is that our very life—and the life of most all living things that we know—depends on water. So the quality and quantity of water is critical to life on Earth, something all youth (our future leaders) need to understand. But WET and any good water education effort does not just say, “This is important!” It shows students how water relates to the many things that are important to them—and gives them ways to act to conserve and protect that resource. Good water education affirms the importance of water and gives guidance for decisions and action. To put it another way, the lack of water education may lead to bad decisions made out of ignorance by today’s youth when they become community leaders, business people, parents and/or government leaders.


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