Playing with mud became a school assignment Thursday for the 20 fourth-graders in Kelly Jackson’s class at Pauline South Intermediate School.
The youngsters immersed their hands in the gooey muck that sat atop two outdoor tables at Garfield Park.
They created rivers, ponds and dams, then watched to see how those watersheds held up when water was poured onto the higher table.
“A watershed is where gravity takes all the water,” explained Kansas State University senior Josh Maske. “It’s important to manage where water goes, to make sure it goes to clean places where fish and animals can be happy and healthy.”
Maske was among more than 100 volunteers who helped put on Thursday’s 18th Annual Make a Splash Topeka Water Festival at the park.
Organizers said about 1,025 area fourth-graders — from 18 area schools and 48 classrooms — joined teachers and parents to attend free of charge.
Students came on buses, with many schools receiving stipends to help cover their transportation costs.
Some classes stayed for half the day, while others remained for the entire session.
The event offered about three dozen hands-on activities and exhibits where youngsters could have fun learning about topics that included water conservation, water main breaks, how plants filter water and how pioneers used less water than people do now.
The festival was part of “Make a Splash with Project WET,” the nation’s largest water education event. The Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education is this state’s provider for Project WET, which stands for “Water Education for Teachers.”
Several sponsors, including the city of Topeka, partnered with KACEE to put on the festival.
The event is designed to increase student awareness, understanding and knowledge of water, said Laura Downey, KACEE’s executive director.
She said some students seemed pretty happy to get wet on Thursday, when the National Weather Service reported Topeka temperatures soared into the lower 90s on the last full day of summer.
Each group of students spent 20 minutes at a station before moving on to another, Downey said. Groups could go to as many as five stations in the morning and four in the afternoon.
Maske and K-State junior Dixon Olson were among volunteers manning the station where Jackson’s students from Pauline South used mud to create watersheds, with the 10 boys standing on one side and the 10 girls on the other.
Maske then poured water on the mud at the higher end of the table.
He said, “This water has to go some place, right?”
As the liquid advanced toward the table’s other end, Olson pointed out to students the places where it was pooling in the ponds or lakes they’d created.
Olson also noted the presence of a waterfall in one area, where the liquid was plunging over the table’s side.
Contact reporter Tim Hrenchir at (785) 295-1184 or @timhrenchir on Twitter.