The nine Wickham Elementary School students are overflowing with questions and curiosity. Hands popped up again and again during Iowa Flood Center Engineer Tony Loeser’s presentation on flooding. These students are part of FIRST Lego League (FLL), an organization designed to inspire students to learn firsthand about science and technology. These kids are clearly inspired!
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) programs help students gain self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills while taking on a new challenge each year. This year’s challenge is “Nature’s Fury.” These young people, who have seen severe flooding near their own homes, quite naturally thought first of flooding when they heard the phrase “nature’s fury.”
Enter Loeser, who works at the Iowa Flood Center (part of IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering at the University of Iowa). After the FLL students choose a real-world problem, they are encouraged to learn more about it. Talking to adult professionals in the appropriate field is a great way to do that. Loeser agreed to help the Wickham students (as well as several other area FLL groups) with their flood-related project, and today’s presentation is their first encounter.
Loeser, who spent two years working with eighth graders as a visiting scientist in Idaho while he was pursuing a master’s degree, says he loves working with kids. “I enjoy sharing the moment of discovery with younger students, when you see their eyes widen and get a sudden head nod that they have gained an understanding of a subject,” Loeser says.
The questions fly at Loeser like water from a fire hose. “How much does it cost to rebuild?” “How much does a flood wall cost?” “What’s the best material for a flood wall? Could it be rubber?” He takes each question seriously, and answers thoughtfully even when the questions slip off-topic.
Luke, one of the Wickham Elementary students, says he participated in Lego League last year and loved it. “I wanted to do it again because it was such a blast,” he says. The Eastern Iowa FLL groups will come together for a regional competition, which will be held this month at the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa.
Loeser says he hopes the students will take away three things from his discussion of floods. First, he hopes they will understand what a watershed is, and how changes in a watershed make a difference in how a river responds to rainfall. Second, he wants them to understand what causes flooding, how to be prepared, and how to make decisions about safety.
“Lastly,” Loeser says, “I hope to provide inspiration for them to want to continue to investigate flooding and rivers after their Lego challenge is completed.”