If you walked into the West River Ice Center Thursday or Friday, you might have thought it looked like a field day for fifth graders — just a day for them to have fun. Kids were pushing straws in dirt, dropping pennies in water, walking from bucket to bucket with pipe cleaners in their hands, playing limbo and passing blue blocks to each other faster and faster, the blocks tumbling to the floor.

What you would have seen was 21st century learning in action.

The 20th Annual Make a Splash Water Festival is organized by Project WET in conjunction with Southwest Water Authority and features several stations where kids learn hands-on about the different aspects of water including the water cycle, groundwater, watershed, aquifers, cloud seeding and conservation.

"We need to educate people about water, and this is a good age group to do that. It's fun because they learn something. It's hands-on education that sticks. Ideally, I'd like to do one as juniors in high school so they would think about the water industry as a profession," said Mary Massad, manager and CEO for Southwest Water Authority.

Bonnie Thompson, a senior at Dickinson High School, volunteered at the festival with her fellow science club members, senior Sam Roth and sophomore Rebecca Cichy. Thompson remembers participating in the activities herself and said that the program helped inspire her to consider a career in water resource engineering.

"I had good memories going through this program. Just being able to help out with that and kind of spread that joy, that’s fun," she said.

Tina Harding, water resource education manager for Project WET who also works with the North Dakota State Water Commission, said volunteering at the festival is a good experience for the science club members.

"They’re going to go into some field in the future, and regardless of what their field is, you have to be able to teach what you do because most people don’t understand what we do," she said. "By doing this, this is going to make it easier — especially with water concepts and explaining it to the public in a way that they understand how it impacts their lives. We have to bring it to a level that everybody understands. We can’t be engineers up here."

Jane Ohl, a paraprofessional at Lincoln Elementary, has been chaperoning her students to the festival for years.

"It teaches kids about conservation, which is really important right now. I think it’s a really good program," she said. "It’s a lot of fun. The kids like the stations because they’re not just sitting in one spot, so it’s kind of nice. … Most of the time, they have an activity associated with it, so that really keeps their interest, since this is elementary level. ... They have a good time, and I do think it leaves an impression."

Massad said the festival has entertained as many as 650 fifth-graders over its two-day span. The festival has an afternoon session on Thursday, followed by Family Fun Night that evening. The next day, the festival ends with a morning session.

Harding facilitates the H2Olympics station, which has four different challenges for kids to see the physical properties of water.

In the pole vaulting challenge, kids see how many pennies they can put in a cup of water before it overflows. In the balancing beam challenge, kids add drops of water to pennies.

"That’s where they get to see adhesion. By adding a drop of water to the penny, they witness it adhering to the penny. Then they witness cohesion. Cohesion is when you add two drops of water together and they become one. They also get to witness surface tension, and that’s water’s ability to allow things to float," Harding said.

In the backstroke challenge, students see how many paperclips they can get to float on water, which allows them to visualize the concept of surface tension. In the sprint challenge, kids race a water drop through a maze on the page.

At a station upstairs, students participated in the Blue Beads activity, which Ohl said is a favorite among the kids. Project WET facilitator Hank LaBore teaches kids about the movement of water in a river system through the seasons, dams and flooding.