Thanks to tireless schoolteachers, student ingenuity and hard work, and support from Texas A&M AgriLife professionals, hundreds of middle and high school students in Texas were able to produce educational videos about environmental science for the National Geographic Slingshot Challenge.

Head and shoulders of Kelly Albus.
Kelly Albus, Ph.D., research scientist for Texas Water Resources Institute, TWRI, receives National Geographic funding support to serve as the Slingshot Challenge supporter for Texas.

Kelly Albus, Ph.D., research scientist for Texas Water Resources Institute, TWRI, received National Geographic funding support to serve as the Slingshot Challenge supporter for Texas. Albus trained teachers to use the challenge to complement state-mandated teaching objectives for science courses and advanced placement environmental sciences courses. She also helped teachers connect students to local environmental issues to feature in video projects.

“The Slingshot Challenge invited 13- to 18-year-olds to use their voice to tackle the planet’s most pressing environmental issues,” said Albus, who is part of TWRI’s Urban Water Innovation and Sustainability Hub team at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas. “It was more than just creating a video – these students were so proactive and creative. They said, ‘What’s around me, what can I do to help.’ As a result, many of them learned about environmental issues through a local lens.”

International awards for the challenge were announced earlier this month, and a Houston student received multiple recognitions for a video titled “The 15-Minute City.” State-level awards were presented May 18, as select students from the cohort supported by Texas A&M AgriLife gathered virtually to celebrate completing the challenge. Several outstanding videos were recognized as the Texas 2023 Cohort Winners. The first-place state winner, an eighth-grade student from Wimberley Independent School District, taught himself video animation skills for his award-winning Slingshot video about ocean pollution, Albus said.

Contest to Classroom

Lindsay O’Gan, a middle school teacher in Wimberley Independent School District, used the challenge as an opportunity to engage her students in citizen science and experiential learning,  She learned about the challenge as a result of attending an ACCESS Water: Community Science Education Workshop Albus taught earlier this year.

3 persons standing around the edge of a lake.
Participants at an ACCESS Water educator workshop learn water sampling techniques at Spring Lake. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Albus)

All 115 of O’Gan’s eighth grade science students created a video for the challenge. Many of the students learned about water quality impairment issues in local streams and creeks in Wimberley. They also became aware of and involved in organizations working to improve the water bodies.

“The students learned about a stream that has a bacteria problem, and now the community is working together to improve it,” Albus said.

After helping students and teachers in numerous school districts around the state complete the Slingshot Challenge, Albus said she looks forward to continuing to support science educators.

“At all of our teacher workshops, we teach local, place-based learning and citizen science, using water quality testing and low-cost, accessible materials to increase diversity in science participation,” she said.

Albus said place-based learning and citizen science are fantastic ways to teach students and facilitate open-ended learning.

“They learn how to follow research to its end, and students get to do their own projects and find their own voice, which makes a higher impact on learning,” she said. “This also impacts student’s life behaviors, which can impact environmental quality.”

Two of O’Gan’s students worked together to produce a video about water conservation in the Edwards Aquifer region and the impact that schools can make using a One Water approach. One Water integrates management of all types of water, including drinking water, wastewater, stormwater and greywater, as a single resource.

“Teachers leave our workshops feeling more empowered to empower students, and that results in students taking more initiative and more ownership of their projects,” Albus said.

This summer, Albus will host two Active Community and Citizen Education for Science and Stewardship, ACCESS, Water teacher workshops: June 21 in Tarrant County for Master Volunteers; and July 12 in Tarrant County for teachers and educators.

To learn more about the workshops, visit tx.ag/ACESSWaterWorkshops, or contact Albus at kelly.albus@ag.tamu.edu or 972-231-5362.

TWRI is a unit of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

By Leslie Lee, Texas Water Resources Institute

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