Texas students compete in the Slingshot Challenge

This spring hundreds of middle and high school students in Texas produced educational videos about environmental science for the National Geographic Slingshot Challenge. Thanks to tireless efforts from educators and Texas A&M AgriLife professionals supporting the students’ ingenuity and hard work, their videos and ideas could help slingshot communities into a more sustainable future.

Kelly Albus, Ph.D., a research scientist at the Texas Water Resources Institute, TWRI, received National Geographic funding support to serve as the Slingshot Challenge Supporter for the entire state of Texas. Albus trained educators in how to use the challenge to complement state-mandated teaching objectives for science courses and advanced placement environmental sciences courses, and she helped teachers connect students to local environmental issues to feature in video projects.

“The slingshot challenge invited 13-18-year-olds to use their voice to tackle the planet’s most pressing environmental issues,” said Albus, who is part of TWRI’s Urban Water Program team at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas. “It was a lot more than just creating a video – these students were so proactive and creative. They said, ‘What’s around me, what can I do to help,’ and as a result, many of them learned about environmental issues through a local lens.”

One group of students from I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA in Fort Worth, all members of the school’s garden club, focused their video on growing and introducing native plant species for green spaces, instead of potentially invasive or unsuitable plants.

“We thought it would be a good opportunity to do research and see what we could do to help our community,” junior Mira Conec said.

The students’ Slingshot Challenge video also looked at water conservation and how more green spaces with native plants could save water.

 “We focused on water conservation,” junior Joise Wattens said. “What I found interesting was that true native plants conserve a lot more water since they’re better suited for Texas and use less water.”

Inspiration for their topic came, in part, from seeing the spaces around them change as Forth Worth experiences urbanization with population growth.

“There’s a lot more people moving here, and we need room for nature instead of apartment complexes,” Wattens said.

Another goal of their video is to educate people on the importance of green spaces not just for enjoyment, but also for conservation.

“We want to educate ourselves and other people about what conserving water really means, specifically in Fort Worth,” junior Lucia Patten said.

After helping students and teachers in numerous school districts around the state complete the Slingshot Challenge, Albus looks forward to continuing to support science educators.

“At all of our teacher workshops, we teach local, place-based learning and citizen science, using water quality testing and low-cost, accessible materials to increase diversity with science participation,” Albus said. “Place-based learning and citizen science are fantastic ways to really teach students and facilitate open-ended learning.

“They learn how to follow research to its end not just for a grade, so students do their own projects and find their own voice, which makes a bigger impact on learning – and on their community. This also impacts students’ (and their peers’ and families’) life behaviors, which in turn can impact environmental quality on a big scale.”

Awards for the 2024 Slingshot Challenge will be presented on Wed., May 8 on the National Geographic Education YouTube channel at 9:30 CST.

To learn more about the workshops, contact Albus at kelly.albus@ag.tamu.edu.

TWRI a unit of Texas A&M AgriLife Research that brings together expertise from across the Texas A&M University System.


Cameron Castilaw is a communication specialist at the Texas Water Resources Institute. She works with the communications team to create social media content, write for TWRI’s various platforms and print projects, and find new ways to inform people of TWRI’s mission and programs.

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