Learn Deep Fellows – Water Projects

Our Learn Deep Fellows wrapped up the STEM Studio workshop on Friday with a presentation and discussion of their projects to colleagues and program partners.  The projects developed over the course of the past two weeks focus on water, but are aimed at the much larger goals the fellows have for their students– that they can see a broad range of career possibilities, that they can see themselves as creators and that they think of themselves as someone who can make a difference in their community.  Those three goals led to a sequence of three projects which flow together over the course of the school year.

Our Water Our Stories

Students will talk with each other, people in their lives, and others in the broader community involved in the provision or use of water and tell the stories of what clean water means to our community.

Our Water, Our Design

Students will collaborate to design and build a prototype or model of a device to test water for qualities they care about.

Our Water, Our Community

Students will identify a location in their community, how it uses or is impacted by water, the issues posed by the current systems, and propose an equitable, sustainable solution.


What’s Next?

Across the arc of the three projects, Fellows identified points in each project where students can collaborate with and support the work of their peers at other schools. While the timing will vary by school, Fellows will get students involved in the first project come October.  We’ll be working to build up pool of interview candidates that represent a broad range of perspectives on water and how it is used. If you’d like to participate as an interviewee, we have a sign up form for you here: https://bit.ly/LDFwaterInterviews

Collab Lab 25 Recap

Water: How can we engage students in authentic learning experiences related to water and water technologies?

Beyond the facts that Milwaukee sits next to a whole lot of water and spans several watersheds, it is home to more than 200 water technology companies. This creates an opportunity not just to explore physical connections to water and the environment, but to tap into expertise around how water is used and managed.  At our February Collab Lab, we pulled together individuals from area organizations engaged water technology and issues from a variety of perspectives. We then sat them down with educators to flesh out some ideas and make the connections that can help bring those ideas to life.


Amber DuChateau was kind enough to step in as a guest facilitator.  She guided our discussion groups through a process that began with participants sharing what drives their work and what excites them now about what they’re working on.  From our perspective, the really interesting work in schools is driven by teachers passions.  This method of introduction provides a chance for them to connect with others who share their enthusiasm.


Our search for opportunities began with a brainstorming process within each discussion group.  We asked each table to generate ideas for potential projects using one or more of these strategies:

  • Mix and match — What would it look like to combine exciting work from 2 or 3 members of your table?
  • Shift context — What does it look like to take exciting work and put it in a different location, class (art music, language arts, history, business), age group?
  • Empower students — what does it look like when students drive the questions, act as mentors to younger students, lead the project
  • Distribute the work — what changes if you had 10 classes chipping in, what does it look like if you have 100?
  • Extend the scope — what changes if you can rely on the skills of students/teachers in other classes?

That process gave us a list of ideas that included:

  • What constitutes “healthy water”
  • How does water flow through the curriculum
    • gardens
    • aquaponics (our focus for Collab Lab 22)
    • connecting questions (inquiry) to answers (outcomes)
  • How is water made?
  • Connect Sweet Water’s Adopt a Storm Drain project to schools
  • First Lego League + Computational Thinking + Water problems
  • Water Poetry (with presentation of work)
  • Test presentations of water related work before visitors to Discovery World
  • Tell the story of a drop of water
  • Tell the story of a drop of water through water bracelets (each token on a bracelet tells part of the story)
  • Enlist students in UWM’s School of Freshwater Science as mentors to MPS Science teachers working with Project GUTS
  • Tell the story of the Habitat Hotels constructed for the Harbor District by Bradley Tech students
  • Extend STEMhero‘s curriculum to connect students to look at water usage of businesses near schools

With those ideas in hand, each group moved on to select one idea and create a vision for what that might look like.  Here’s where they landed:

Project Idea 1: Adopt a Storm Drain +


Students adopt one or more storm drains near their school.  Students understand the function of storm drains, how pollution can enter the system, and be swept into area streams and Lake Michigan.  Inspired by this understanding, they work to keep their storm drain(s) free from garbage that may be swept into the drain and out into area waterways.

Key Issues

  • Scalability– how can this effort spread
  • What education levels to target?

Potential Partners

  • Sweet Water
  • Green Schools Consortium

Project Idea 2: If I Were a Drop of Water


Engage student physically, mentally, and emotionally to understand the flow of a drop of water from where it lands in Milwaukee and its journey to Lake Michigan.  Use a multidisciplinary approach to help students build these stories, which are then presented to an audience from the wider community.


Across the watersheds which cover Milwaukee in grades 6-12.  Pilot the effort in 7th or 8th grade. Prep for the effort in the fall, get students outside in the spring to follow the path of water from their chosen source to the lake.

What’s Needed to Move Forward

  • Identify locations to use as starting point for water journey
    • Tap local expertise to do so (building connections between schools and partners)
  • Do a test run of the water journey with teachers
  • Map the work envisioned back to curriculum standards

How to get Started

  • Reach out to science curriculum specialists to help identify schools who might be willing to pilot
  • Run the idea past local experts to identify source locations that would allow students to follow interesting journeys

Project Idea 3: What Constitutes Healthy Water?


  • Incorporate actual water issues for Milwaukee– lead, lake levels, etc.
  • Include water quality into multidisciplinary curriculum

How to get Started

  • Identify a client (big or small) for the work
    • Miller
    • Summerfest
    • MMSD
    • Colectivo
  • Craft a project to engage students in work to explore/address the client’s concerns around water.

Thanks again to The Commons for providing the space, to Amber for facilitating, and our featured participants for the experience and insight they brought to the discussion:

Brenda Coley – Co-Executive Director, Milwaukee Water Commons
Jake Fincher – Stormwater Program Manager, Sweet Water
Tony Giron – Community Engagement Manager, Harbor District Milwaukee
Justin Hegarty, P.E., LEED A.P., Executive Director, Reflo
Kelly Ibarra – Teacher Success Lead, STEMhero
Cate Rahmlow – Director of Sector Strategy Development, WEDC
Rochelle Sandrin – Science Curriculum Specialist, Milwaukee Public Schools
Liz Sutton, Outreach Manager, UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences

Collab Lab 25: Water

How can we engage students in authentic learning experiences related to water and water technologies?

Beyond the facts that Milwaukee sits next to a whole lot of water and spans several watersheds, it is home to more than 200 water technology companies.  This creates an opportunity not just to explore physical connections to water and the environment, but to tap into expertise around how water is used and managed.  Join colleagues from public, private, and charter schools from across greater Milwaukee as well as some folks from outside of K-12 to flesh out some ideas and make the connections that can help bring those to life.



5:30 – 6:00 Grab something to eat and drink, say hello

6:00 – 6:30 Introductions

6:30- 8:30 Let’s explore some ideas

Food and beverage will be provided. There is no charge for participation but space is limited!



Featured Participants

Brenda Coley – Co-Executive Director, Milwaukee Water Commons (MWC)

Milwaukee Water Commons is a cross-city network that fosters connection, collaboration and broad community leadership on behalf of our waters. MWC promotes stewardship of, equitable access to and shared decision-making for our common waters.

Brenda brings to MWC her philosophy on being a servant leader. She is committed to exploring the influences of one’s own culture or cultures and understanding ways in which groups of people have been and are treated in society, using that knowledge to develop strategies to effectively engage diverse groups of people in important community issues.

Jake Fincher – Stormwater Program Manager, Sweet Water

Sweet Water is committed to restoring the Greater Milwaukee watersheds to conditions that are healthy for swimming and fishing. They bring diverse partners together and provide the leadership and innovation necessary to protect and restore our shared water resources. Jake manages Sweet Water’s stormwater program which includes initiatives like the Respect Our Waters outreach campaign, the Adopt-A-Storm Drain program, and a coast-wide communications strategy. Each of these focus to inform and educate community members about stormwater pollution prevention. He holds a B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in Integrated Science/Business, with an emphasis on water.

Tony Giron – Community Engagement Manager, Harbor District Milwaukee

The Harbor District has been at the center of our region’s prosperity for hundreds of years – first as a rice marsh with plentiful fish and game, then as an economic hub that served industries throughout the State. Now, much of its land sits abandoned or in disrepair, its waterways are polluted – but its potential is immense.

The Harbor District Initiative brings together local, state, and federal government efforts, private sector interests, and community enthusiasm to transform this area into a vibrant and productive waterfront that strengthens our community and regional economy.

Tony is responsible for building relationships and implementing programs that create or reinforce community connections to the Harbor District. His projects include organizing Harbor Fest, coordinating tours of the area, and seeking opportunities to collaborate with local partners.


Justin Hegarty, P.E., LEED A.P., Executive Director, Reflo

Justin has over 14 years of engineering experience including managing several diverse teams and water resource projects. He co-founded Reflo to work with community stakeholders in the Milwaukee-area to design and build creative and meaningful green infrastructure. Shortly after organizing the nonprofit it became evident that a strong local movement was necessary to advance green schools initiatives in the area, and Reflo began organizing the Green Schools Consortium of Milwaukee. Reflo has supported many exciting community-based green infrastructure initiatives including rainwater harvesting for urban agriculture, organizing and funding the first Green Schools Conference in Milwaukee, developing an interactive app to explore local water projects, and organizing a mapping user’s group to share community data with the intent of increasing communication and resource sharing across organizations.


Kelly Ibarra – Teacher Success Lead, STEMhero

STEMhero offers a curriculum geared towards educating students about water and utility usage through real time, individualized data collection. Previously, Kelly served at two different Urban Milwaukee schools as a middle school ELA teacher and most recently, as a “Master Teacher” and instructional coach. She resides in Bayview with her husband and three lovely children.


Cate Rahmlow – Director of Sector Strategy Development, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation

Kate serves as project strategist and developer for targeted investments in Wisconsin’s food, energy, and water sectors. For each of these sectors, Cate works with industry leaders, economic development partners, universities and other schools to advance economic cluster strategies that strengthen public/private partnerships and help companies better innovate and compete in the global marketplace. Among noteworthy projects,Cate has been involved with the cluster development strategy of The Water Council—which has been recognized as a model for successful cluster development by entities including the Brookings Institution and CoreNet Global.


Rochelle Sandrin – Science Curriculum Specialist, Milwaukee Public Schools

Rochelle leads science curriculum development and design for Milwaukee Public Schools in grades K-12. Responsibilities include leading professional development for school and district administrators, writing and supporting science-related grants, updating curriculum and resources to align with the Next Generation Science Standards, and managing a small team of science teacher leaders as they work directly with teachers in the schools around the district. Our current work includes a focus on equity of access to science education for all students, and culturally relevant curriculum, resources, and teaching practices in our classrooms.


Liz Sutton, Outreach Manager, UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences

The School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is the largest water focused academic research institute on the Great Lakes and the only North American school of higher education solely dedicated to freshwater issues. The School trains the next generation of freshwater professionals and advances strategic science to inform policy, improve management, and promote the health and sustainability of the Great Lakes and freshwater systems worldwide. Liz has spent her career working to engage and inspire young people through STEM and environmental science education. In 2008 she transitioned into higher education, working as the Assistant Director and STEM Specialist for UWM College for Kids before developing a formal outreach department within the School of Freshwater Sciences with her at the helm.

2023-24 Collab Labs

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