There’s a big difference between learning about the environment while sitting in a classroom and hands-on experiments outdoors. For two days last April, 11 students from three high schools in the border-crossing Lake Winnipeg watershed had the opportunity to conduct scientific tests on the waters nearest Brandon, Man., and discuss their findings with other students — all part of the OPEN Water planning project.

“Our water testing activities and citizen science offered the kids a hands-on look at geography in action,” says Connie Wyatt Anderson, a governor of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society and OPEN Water’s project leader.

The three schools that participated in the workshop, representing three distinct areas of the watershed, were from Minot, N.D., The Pas, Man., and Brandon. Some students collected scientific data while others focused on the geography of the region, and they all converged to share their findings on an interactive map. “This is my first time going into science, in-depth, and I’m enjoying it,” says Yasmine Mojica, a Grade 10 student from Minot High School’s central campus. “I never thought of going into the STEM fields [science, technology, engineering and mathematics], but I might reconsider.”

OPEN Water (which stands for Observe, Participate, Experience, Network) is an international initiative of Canadian Geographic Education, the North Dakota Geographic Alliance and the Minnesota Alliance for Geographic Education, and is funded by the National Geographic Education Foundation. One of its goals is to give students the chance to explore and understand the watershed both in the classroom and in the field by collecting and analyzing data and sharing findings with other students from the four provinces and four U.S. states in the basin.

“The overarchng goal,” says Mary Jane Starr, the director of strategic partnerships for the RCGS, “is to engender a sense of environmental stewardship among those of the next generation.”