Putting the thinking into water education with ThinkWater

By Jeremy Solin

I’ve worked as an educator in both formal and informal settings for nearly 20 years. Throughout those years, I asked my students (adults and youth) to think critically about the topics I presented. Not too long ago, though, I realized that I really had no idea what I was asking them to do. What does it mean to think critically about something?

I was reminded of this realization this past Easter when my 10-year-old daughter was doing an Easter egg hunt. She knew how many eggs were hidden for her. After about 15 minutes of hunting, she came up to me and said “I can’t find half of my eggs!” I responded, “you need to look harder.” She stopped, looked at me and asked “What does that mean? How do I look harder? Do I scrunch up my eyes and stare at things?” I was amused by this, and also realized I had just asked her to look harder without providing any support or skills for her to accomplish this. This was the same thing I had been doing to my students when asking them to think critically.

Fortunately, scientists have been exploring the process of thinking and offer some effective strategies for how to think about something. One of these cognitive scientists, Dr. Derek Cabrera, has developed a framework for thinking that we use in ThinkWater. (We explain ThinkWater below.) DSRP-making Distinctions, understanding parts and wholes of Systems, identifying Relationships, and taking different Perspectives-provides the four simple rules of systems thinking/metacognition that are the basis for the work that ThinkWater does. For a bit more of an introduction to systems thinking, check out this short article and a 12-minute video.Copy of DSRPPosters


ThinkWater is a national movement of educators, students, managers, stewards, scientists, and citizens who think and care deeply about water. They know that future water security and sustainability starts with deeper learning, understanding, and caring, and that true understanding and behavior change requires more than new information. That’s where systems thinking comes in. For a short, 2-minute introduction, check out this video.



Educators in an Arizona Project WET workshop practice DSRP.

ThinkWater has generated a host of resources including online trainings, concepts and paradigms, instructional materials, software, and a community forum for water thinkers.

As water educators, integrating systems thinking into our program design and delivery will improve our efforts to engage our audiences in water topics. Too often, we provide information expecting our audiences to make meaning of it (through thinking) without providing the structure or skills to do so. That’s what ThinkWater resources can help us do better—put the thinking into water education.

ThinkWater will be offering a half day, pre-conference workshop at the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference on October 11th. If, like me, you’re interested in integrating thinking into water education, I hope you’ll join me there. For more information about the workshop and to register, visit CFWE’s Water Educator Network website.

jeremy_solin_headshotJeremy Solin has worked in the environmental and sustainability education fields for nearly 20 years in programs across the country. Currently, Jeremy is the Wisconsin Coordinator and National Program Manager of ThinkWater.  He has a bachelor’s degree in water resources (UW-Stevens Point), a master’s degree in environmental education (University of Minnesota, Duluth) and a doctorate degree in sustainability education (Prescott College).
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