'Growing' hamburgers

Published 11 April 2008

How much water does it take to ‘grow’ a hamburger? Southern Cross University Bachelor of Education (Primary) final year student Anna Jones knows - but she wants young people to investigate for themselves.

Anna has posed the question as part of an award-winning educational resource she has developed for Australian teachers and their students, which focuses on wise water use.

Her innovative and challenging program has just won Rous Water’s annual competition for University students to produce education resources based on water conservation issues.

Rous water and the University are keen to see the exciting teaching resources used in schools across Australia and have made the winning and highly commended entries available for free.

For one learning sequence in her project, Anna has students undertaking an active investigation of how much water the agriculture industry uses and how this benefits human society. Their task is to acquire information through visits to a beef cattle farm, a wheat farm and a processing factory, and learn about the water use of these industries.

With a bit of extra research, discussion and group work, they are then guided to estimate the amount of water it takes to make a hamburger. That estimate is then compared to the actual amount of water used.

“Hopefully the penny drops at that point and young people can see just how much water goes into making processed and manufactured goods,” Anna said. “This knowledge can then be placed in a learning context through which students can examine how water is valued and used in a whole variety of areas from their own school garden to industrial uses.

“In learning about water conservation issues, I have them doing activities like playing water trading games in which they have to debate the case of their industry for more water. The team with the best case gets the most water - but is this fair, or the best use of scarce resources for Australia? There is a lot to think about it. The program also looks at all the possible ways of reducing water usage and wastage, starting in their school garden.”

Barbara Jensen, Rous Water community education officer, said Anna had designed an incredible unit of learning, full of challenging and novel ideas, using everything from experiential learning to research skills, interview techniques and dynamic group action processes to draw young minds into the quest for a greater understanding and knowledge of the complex water issues facing modern society.

“At Rous Water we recognise the important role education plays in water management. We aim to support schools and teachers in providing effective water education programs and resources which support students to become sustainable water users,” she said.

In 2008, for the third year running, Rous Water is again working in partnership with Southern Cross University’s School of Education to encourage primary and secondary education students to design and develop water education units.

Dr Renata Phelps, senior lecturer in education information technology and Dr Brad Shipway, lecturer with the School of Education, have fully supported the project since its inception.

Renata said she was delighted the University had been able to partner with Rous Water on such an important project.

“This has been a wonderful opportunity for teacher education students to engage with environmental education issues as part of their university study and to be creating valuable teaching resources that are useful for other teaching professionals,” Renata said.

“It is great to think that these future teachers will be helping a whole new generation of children and young people to become wise water users. Working with community groups in this way is a win-win for all concerned!”

And just so you know, according to Anna Jones, it takes about 2,347 litres of water to grow a hamburger!

Photo: Rous Water general manager Paul Muldoon and community education officer Barbara Jensen toast award-winning SCU Education student Anna Jones (centre) with a glass of fresh water.

Media contact: Zoe Satherley Southern Cross University media officer, 6620 3144, 0439 132 095.