Friday, October 28, 2011

Downstream/Upstream Poster at Student Sustainability Symposium

The first ever University of Minnesota Student Sustainability Symposium was held October 26, 2011, at the Institute on the Environment. Students across colleges presented posters on their research related to sustainability and networked together. Downstream/Upstream was included in a poster I presented called "Art, Story, and Infrastructure: A Model for Experiential Interconnection in Environmental Education." The poster can be downloaded from the University of Minnesota's Digital Conservancy at this link.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Spirit of the Story: Interview with Audrey Robinson Favorito

Audrey Robinson Favorito is one of the advisers for the Downstream/Upstream project and also volunteered her education and video documentary experience to capture the feel of the Downstream Boat Tour in a video short called, “Downstream/Upstream Day 7: Riverboat Journey.”

Link to Video

JKB: Tell us about yourself.
ARF: I'm a freelance media producer interested in how young children relate to the natural world.  I enjoy helping children create stories, short videos, based on their experiences and their imagination. I've come to the Downstream/Upstream project with the goal of creating a short video documenting the spirit of the boat tour experience. 

JKB: What were your impressions of the boat tour?
ARF: Being on a Jonathon Padelford boat on the Mississippi River with exuberant young children was a festive occasion.  The children brought hand decorated bottles of tap water from their preschool faucets and ceremoniously poured the water over the edge of the boat at the place where the metro's treated water is returned to the Mississippi, completing their part of the urban water cycle. They sang, danced and asked many spirited questions of Padelford Captain Bob and Park Ranger Brian Goodspeed.  But mostly, they gleefully explored the boat and enjoyed the view with their friends.  Adults and children alike had smiles on their faces all morning long. The Mississippi captivated all of us!

JKB: Given your storytelling experience with young children, what are your observations about the Downstream/Upstream project?
ARF: One of the things I like best about this project is that the children and their teachers met and talked with people from their public works community. Equally important, the public works professionals got to meet the children and their teachers, affording them an opportunity to know them better too.  I think it's a rich experience for everyone involved.

In the past number of years, I've been fortunate enough to create video projects with preschool aged children at a St. Paul preschool following the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education.  An important focus of the Reggio Emilia philosophy is children, in collaboration with their parents and teachers, learn about their community through exploration and discovery.  Given that mission, the children and their teachers do things like walk to their neighborhood grocery store and interview the people who work there.  With the Reggio Emilia approach, a trip to the library isn't about simply checking out books, it's also about having a thoughtful exchange with the librarian, building a connected community.

JKB: What have you learned?
ARF: Through Downstream/Upstream, I've learned about the urban water cycle, right along with the children and their teachers! It's been a wonderful journey and I've much respect for the depth and scope of the project.

Audrey conducting an interview for the video
In working with storytelling and video, I've learned to honor the natural curiosity of young children, listen to their questions and support their interests and imagination.  Do your best to document their progress at the time they're creating their art and stories, because with children, the creative moment is often fleeting. The window of time you have to understand their connections and thinking is often short, so you need to be ready when it happens!

JKB: Thanks,  Audrey for your contributions and insights!

Audrey can be reached at

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Water Journey Outline

Well, the two-week Downstream/Upstream Learning unit was a whirlwind! Here’s an outline of what happened. More detailed descriptions will follow in the weeks to come, with some of the documentation using photographs taken by the students themselves. Now that the focused learning unit is done, the project continues at a slower pace with the student's water journey story books, a site installation marking the entry and exit of water systems to the school, and an exploration of plantings and rain gardens to address natural site water flows.

Downstream/Upstream Two-Week Learning Module Outline
Week 1: Upstream Week
Day 1: Tuesday, May 31
  • Chart the Upstream course at the Big Map
  • Introduction to Cameras
  •  Learning the Water Journey Song
  • Decorating Water Collection Bottles

Day2: Wednesday, June 1
  • What is water: Water cycle
  • What is water: Water activities and experiments

Day3: Thursday, June 2
  • Tour of River Park (storm water demonstration park)
  • At the River: Upstream Water collection
  • Nature Hike River Park's features
  • Tour of St.Paul Water Intake with Jim Bode, St. Paul Regional Water Services
  • Tour of Sucker Lake and picnic lunch
  • Tour of Water Treatment Plant

Little Canada Water Tower, by Amelia, Pre-K
Day 4: Friday, June 3
  • Tour of Water Tower
  • Follow water lines to building
  • Exploring the Water Meter
  • At the Sink: Upstream Water Release
  • Making Treasure Maps of Water Journey

Week 2: Downstream Week

Day 5: Monday, June 6                                                         
  • Water Taste Test: tap water and bottled water
  • Tracing the Mississippi

Paul, Pre-K, peers below the classroom floor at pipes
Day 6: Tuesday, June 7
  • Chart the downstream course at the big map
  • At the sink: Downstream water collection from tap
  • Follow pipes under the ground, out the building
  • Manhole sewer demonstration with Bill Dircks, City of Little Canada
  • Water meter measurement of toilet flush and hand wash
  • Making dirty water

Day 7: Wednesday, June 8
Downstream Water Release
  • Metropolitan Waste Water Treatment Plant Visit
  • Water Cleaning Game and singing
  • Jonathon Padelford boat tour downstream to where cleaned water effluent channel returns to the Mississippi,with Brian Goodspeed, Park Ranger
  • At the river: Downstream water release
  • Further downstream: Heron Rookery and other downstream communities
  • Singing on the River 
 Day 8: Thursday, June 9
Ella, Pre-K, Gail Buhl and Maxime, Raptor Center
  • Meeting some Downstream Residents: Raptor Program with Gail Buhl, Raptor Center
  • Picture with an Eagle
Day 9: Friday, June 10
  • Water in the World: Other country’s water systems
  • Downstream/Upstream Concert, with Beth Wiskus
  • Begin working on story of water books… to be continued

Friday, June 3, 2011

1.5 Million Gallons of Refreshment: Interview with Bill Dircks, Public Works Superintendent

The work of Bill Dircks touches the lives of everyone in Little Canada. From the water coming out of the tap to removing snow from the streets, he's the person in charge of public works. Today, Dircks hosted the Downstream Upstream tour of the water tower and traced it back to the water meter inside Children's Discovery Academy. Next week, he'll be showing the kids how the water goes out of their building and underground. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about the nature of his work.

JKB: What is your favorite part of your job?
BD: My favorite part of my job is knowing that what I do on a daily basis helps everyone in Little Canada in some way. We make it so residents don't have to worry about their homes flooding with rain water or sewage. We give them good roads to drive on and water to drink. They turn on their faucets without even thinking about whether or not water is going to come out. It is very rewarding to know that I am having an impact on so many people.

JKB: Could you describe your job in a general way?
BD: I am in charge of maintaining the City's streets, sanitary sewer system, water system, and storm sewer system. I manage a crew of five full time employees and two additional seasonal employees in the summer. We take care of things such as snow plowing, cleaning sewer lines, flushing fire hydrants, patching potholes, and sweeping streets. I also have a lot of contact with residents, business owners, and contractors, and I present information at City Council meetings relating to public works.

JKB: What drew you to this kind of work?

BD: As a kid I was always interested in road work and big construction equipment. I needed a summer job after my freshman year of college and decided to work for the City of Little Canada for the summer. I fell in love with the work immediately and continued to work as a public works seasonal worker in subsequent years. After I finished college I decided I wanted to work in the public works field.

JKB: What do you think about teaching children about the water system?
BD: I am excited to teach kids about the water system. I always have been intrigued by things like fire hydrants and how they work so I would have loved to have been taught about this stuff when I was young. Kids use water everyday and they see hydrants and water towers and other equipment everyday. I think it is important that they know what they are looking at and how they are able to drink water and bathe in it and use it for whatever other reasons.

JKB: What stories about the water system should be told, What missing connections should be made?
BD: I think it is important that children know that tap water is as safe or safer than bottled water. Tap water is tested more thoroughly than bottled water. I think it is important to know that while we have a seemingly unlimited supply of water here in Minnesota we still need to know that water cannot be wasted. We need to be responsible when using water. There are parts of the United States and the World where water is scarce and it could happen here if we aren't careful. The whole cycle of water is a good story and is important to know.

JKB: What is the role of community relations and outreach of an organization like yours.
BD: We try to keep residents informed of what's going on through our website and newsletter. There are occasionally articles in the local paper or even the big newspapers about what's going on in the City. We don't go much further than that due to financial and time concerns. Our city is small and our staff is also limited so most of our time is dedicated to keeping things running. A project like this allows me to go a little further in reaching out.

JKB: What do you like about water?
BD: I like that water is so readily available to us here in Minnesota. I like that it is so refreshing and has so many different uses to us. I think our drinking water in Little Canada tastes great.

JKB: Any interesting facts you can share about our water?
BD: The City of Little Canada's water tower holds 1.5 million gallons of water. On a hot summer day when many people are watering their lawns we use all of that water and then some. If you figure there are roughly 10,000 residents in the City that equates to about 150 gallons of water used per person on those hot days. In the winter we use about half of that or around 750,000 gallons per day. The water we distribute comes from St. Paul and is some of the best tasting water around. There have been taste tests done with bottled water and tap water from different cities and the cities have won numerous times. 1000 gallons of water costs about $2.50 in Little Canada. 1000 gallons of bottled water costs a minimum of $2000. If you hit a fire hydrant with a car water does not gush out of the ground. There is a valve below the ground that keeps the water from flowing out even when the head gets knocked off. We have 530 hydrants in Little Canada.

JKB: What is the hardest part of your job?

BD: The hardest part of my job is keeping all of our pipes and hydrants and the water tower and other equipment maintained on a limited budget. I would love to put brand new pipes in the ground every few years and get the latest technology but we have to be responsible with people's money. We have to pick the most important projects and direct funds toward those and do our best to maintain everything else with what we have.

JKB: What is the role of community relations and outreach of an organization like yours.
BD: We try to keep residents informed of what's going on through our website and newsletter. There are occasionally articles in the local paper or even the big newspapers about what's going on in the City. We don't go much further than that due to financial and time concerns. Our city is small and our staff is also limited so most of our time is dedicated to keeping things running. A project like this allows me to go a little further in reaching out.

JKB: What excites you about the future?
BD: I am excited to see what types of treatment methods will be developed in the future. I'm sure most of the methods used to treat water now will be improved upon. I'm excited for new technology that I can't even think of right now but will make my job easier.

Thank you Bill and the City of Little Canada for the tour! We'll see you next week...

Clean Water for 400,000: Interview with Jim Bode, Water Quality Supervisor

Jim Bode at the St.Paul Water Intake Building

Jim Bode, Water Quality Supervisor, St. Paul Regional Water Services

As part of the upstream journey in the Downstream/Upstream project, Jim Bode, Water Quality Supervisor at St.Paul Regional Water Services (SPRWS) took Children's Discovery Academy Pre-K and Kindergarten classes on a tour of the St.Paul Water Intake, Sucker Lake, and McCarrons Water Treatment plant. The kids had many questions for him and I followed up with more background on the nature of his work.

JKB: Could you describe your job in a general way?
JB: I supervise the treatment of our water to ensure it meets quality standards. I also supervise our laboratory and some of our operations staff.

JKB: What drew you to this kind of work?

JB: I have a degree in Environmental Science, so it was an opportunity to use my education. When I first started with SPRWS I worked outside a lot on some projects at Vadnais Lake, which I enjoyed a lot. I have continued to find most work here interesting.

JKB: What do you like about water?
JB: I specifically like clean water, which can be hard to find, depending on where you live. I like the fact we can take lake water and make it drinkable for 400,000+ people.

JKB: Does this have anything to do with your interest in fishing? What are you going to fish for next week? JB: I am going to go walleye and lake trout fishing in Canada. Canada has terrifically clean water, and they are good stewards of the water and forests there, which I appreciate.

JKB: Any interesting factoids or theories you could share? Eg. How many gallons do you treat per day..
JB: We treat and deliver about 45 million gallons of water per day to about 415,000 people. We have more than 1,100 miles of pipe beneath the streets that deliver the water to peoples homes.

JKB:What is your favorite part of your job?

JB: I enjoy the people I work with - we have a great crew of people here at the plant. I have also enjoyed the last 5 years of producing nearly odor free and good tasting water. That has not always been the case here. When I started 25 years ago the water did not always smell or taste good.

JKB:What is the hardest part of your job?
JB: I think right now the hardest part is balancing our finances. We have been struggling with revenue, and we have not been able to buy all of the equipment we would like.

JKB: What do you think about teaching kids about the water system?
JB: I think it's important for everyone to understand that people impact the quality of water by how they live. So starting young is good. The water we see today is not the same as it was pre-settlement, and most of the changes have been to the negative side. But recently there has been progress in some areas, such as the Mississippi river.

JKB: What is the role of community relations and outreach of an organization like yours?
JB: Historically we have done very little outreach locally. Water and waste water treatment has been such a fundamental part of our civilization that we don't often publicize our accomplishments or our goals. But we are seeing more outreach on a national level from our trade organization in areas such as water conservation and protection from practices that can harm water supplies.

JKB: Thank you Jim and St. Paul Regional Water Services for the tours ... and the clean water!
Link to description of the the water treatment process

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Music for the Mind and Body: Interview with Beth Wiskus

Interview with Beth Wiskus, MA, MT-BC, NMT Board Certified Music Therapist, Special Music, Inc.

The Downstream/Upstream project is fortunate to have the assistance of Beth Wiskus, who has helped plan the music portion of the project, and recently led a rehearsal of songs with the kids and recorded a practice CD for them to take home. She teaches a music class at Children's Discovery Academy, but there’s more to her work than traditional music education, and I asked her to tell me about her role as a music therapist through her program, Special Music, Inc.

JKB: What drew you to this work as a music therapist?
BW: I’m interested in the therapeutic role of music, -- music as a therapeutic medium.

JKB: How did you decide to become a music therapist?
BW: I was getting an undergrad degree in Music Education, but had also considered psychology. I heard about a music therapy program and thought this would be the right combination of music and psychology. So I finished my music education degree, then got a masters at the University of Minnesota in music therapy. I was in St.Paul schools as a music therapist for a number of years. I also got certification as a Neurologic music therapist from Colorado State.

JKB: Can you tell me more about how music can be therapeutic?
BW: The work is evidence-based. There is research on how rhythm affects the brain. For example, when a person is engaged in music the whole brain is engaged. If there is a deficit like Parkinson’s, or stroke, rhythm can help improve muscle coordination. More neurons are firing simultaneously while engaged in music than in other activities. I work with kids with autism to regulate sensory information. Rhythm, through both music and movement, helps both the motor and sensory systems. My work uses music to work on non-music goals.

JKB: Does music have benefits for the non-impaired?
BW: Yes, research shows that for musicians, without impairments, that it also enhances and strengthens the muscle between the two hemispheres of the brain. In addition to the aesthetic and emotional benefits of music that are commonly known, there are other benefits too, like improved learning in math, for example.

JKB: What excites you about the field?
BW: There is exciting progression in the field. As more research is done on music and the brain, perhaps it will become recognized by health insurance companies as an important treatment that should be covered for certain conditions. More research on music and learning outcomes could also help make the case for the importance of music in regular education.

JKB: What do you find kids are most interested in when you work with them?
BW: That’s hard to say because each child is different. Kids are often most interested in what instrument they get to play, but some are most interested in singing or in movements with music.

JKB: Thanks Beth. We’ll see you next week at the concert!

Day 1 - 10:30 am Sounds Like Water: Learning the water journey song

Later in the morning, the children gathered to learn a song called Downstream/Upstream which I wrote for the learning module. Special guest Beth Wiskus, music teacher to some of the children, played guitar and led the singing while I led the motions. Beth had chosen instruments for each child to play during a part of the song. There was a thunder tube and rain sticks for the thunderstorm verse, and tone blocks for the verse about the toads. The instruments were arranged in a large circle to follow the story of the song. Five children sat in the middle to play the big drum on each chorus. Here's a sound file of Beth's practice CD for the children to take home. A video of the children singing is to come. Here's the lyrics.

We also started to learn another song called, I turn on the tap/I walk to the stream with words and music by Richard Stilgoe from Water Aid's Children Sing for Water program. The program aims to "transform lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in the world's poorest communities." The song is part of a children's fund-raising concert kit and talks about how other children in some parts of the world get their drinking water from dirty streams. This theme not only points out the challenges and differences in water supply systems around the world, but also can help children appreciate the clean water we have here.

Day 1 - 9:30 am Introduction to Cameras

Teacher, Jamie, a photographer herself, brought groups of kids outside to learn about photography so they could document their water journey. First, she introduced them to the idea of composing a picture with cardboard frames that they could hold up in front of them like a camera. This is a good way to explore the importance of the vision of the photographer without distraction from the camera itself.  This was fun, but the kids were excited to get on to the "real cameras." Jamie pointed out the very basic controls and then the kids got to practice taking pictures, zooming in and out, and reviewing their shots. Now they'll be ready for the big trip.

Day 1 - 9:15 am "We're going on a treasure hunt!"

Tuesday, May 31 was the first day of the two week learning module of Downstream/Upstream.  I constructed the giant map in the morning, next to the Pre-K room, and then the kids gathered around to hear about the project. I explained that "we're going on a treasure hunt!" The kids guessed what the treasure was, and figured out that the treasure was water. They were full of ideas as to why water is a treasure: "It makes the flowers grow," "It's good for trees," "the fish need it," "it's good to drink," "I like to swim in it," "without water we'd be dead..." were some of many answers.

I lifted the map flap of where their school is to reveal a closer aerial view of their building and then the next page showed the sink in the Pre-K room. I asked them where they think the water in that Pre-K sink comes from and they guessed, "the faucet, the lake, the ocean, the water tower." In a way, they are all right... I lifted the map flap upstream to reveal a closer aerial of the St.Paul Water intake and let them know we were going to go on a trip through the city to see the places where we get the water and how it gets to the sink.

I asked a similar question about where the water goes and got, "down the drain, into the tubes, into pipes, under the floor..." I lifted the map flap downstream at the Metropolitan Waste Water Treatment plant to show where the treated water returns to the Mississippi River.

The kids were eager to share their ideas about water and I am greatly looking forward to our time together.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Kids, Cameras, Stories!

One of the activities in the Downstream/Upstream project is to get kids to retell the story of their water journey using their own words and pictures. Each child will create a water story book of their explorations and trips on the learning module in parks, at manholes, on the river boat ride... The idea is to use kid-friendly cameras, story prompting, and drawing/coloring to draw out what each child found interesting at each location.

In addition to each child’s book, a map-based community book, from the whole classroom will be created. The beginning of this book, called Downstream/Upstream Mapstories, was presented at the Living Green Expo Art Exhibit May 7-8. As illustrated below, the community book is a wall map made of “tiles.” Each tile is an area of the city, whose cover can be lifted up to reveal more about that place. A few starting images were shown at the Art Exhibit to give the idea, but once the project is complete, the children’s images will create thicker books beneath the path of their water journey. In addition to recording stories, the wall map will be used to chart the journey and share it with the parents and other classes.

Depending on funding, the cameras from this project will become part of a nature appreciation class kit for a nature center or similar program.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Downstream/Upstream Mapstories will be previewed at the Living Green Expo Art Exhibit

Exhibit Card (click to enlarge)

Downstream/Upstream Mapstories is an interactive wall map that explores the stories hidden within land and its representations that the Downstream/Upstream project will  uncover. The content of the stories will grow and evolve as the project progresses.

This 10th anniversary of the art exhibit at the Living Green Expo is called “Art as Gateway to Community Engagement: Sustaining Nature and Culture.” Curated by Roslye B. Ultan, this show features over 50 artists and will take place May 7-8 at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds Fine Arts Building. For more information go to:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Downstream/Upstream Receives Institute on the Environment Mini Grant

February 28, 2011 - University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment Awarded a Mini Grant to gather an interdisciplinary team to develop a curriculum model based on the Downstream/Upstream demonstration project.

Excerpt from the Mini Grant proposal for
"Art, Story, and Infrastructure: A Model for Experiential Interconnection
in Environmental Education"

This Mini Grant Proposal will support a new interdisciplinary research project called “Art, Story, and Infrastructure: A Model for Experiential Interconnection in Environmental Education.” The focus on cultural sustainability in the 2010 edition of State of the World and the Institute on the Environment’s cross disciplinary efforts such as “River Life”, and “Dialogue Earth,” among many other trends, underscore the importance of integrating the tools of cultural development such as art and storytelling with scientific development toward effective sustainable outcomes and effective outreach of environmental information to broad audiences. The conveniences of infrastructure have allowed individual actions, such as water use choices, to be experientially disconnected from impacts to natural systems. However, by paying attention to infrastructure and integrating it into our concepts of the world, we can counter its invisibility and better appreciate its contributions while also better understanding the implications of its over-use. This proposal will gather an interdisciplinary team of University faculty and outside partners around the topic of how to use place-based interaction with infrastructure, interpreted through art, story, and science to create an experiential and informed sense of interconnection of our daily use of resources with the engineering and natural systems in which they interact. The Mini Grant scope lays the essential groundwork needed to develop a replicable curriculum model based on a concurrent research process and demonstration project. The work of the Mini Grant will be available for use and further development by the environmental education community, schools, and other researchers.

More Detail on Curriculum Model Grant

Early Planning

Planning for Downstream/Upstream began in Summer 2010. It became clear that in order to fulfill my graduate study goals to explore the expressive potential of infrastructure, I would need to complement the photography and artist's books that looked at its parts with an interactive journey that followed its flow.

Interested in foundational narratives, and inspired by my children's curiosity about what was underneath the sink, I approached their early learning center to explore the idea of a collaboration around a journey through the urban water cycle, starting at the sink in the Pre-K classroom. Children's Discovery Academy staff and teachers are always refreshing curriculum and looking for new best practices, and were excited to participate.

A project like this involves a wide network (see evolving team list.) The Project Plan document evolved throughout meetings and calls with community partners, and will continue to be a living document.

One of the issues I worked on in January was funding. I applied for an Institute on the Environment Mini Grant to support the development of a curriculum model based on the main Downstream/Upstream Demonstration project. It was wonderful to connect with even more potential advisory group members within and outside the University of Minnesota as part of the process.