Virtual Water in our School

A learning object for school kids

Tasks: Concept development, prototype manufacture, implementation

2009

When I began my engagement with water issues, I was faced with a deep forest of problems. Inspired by IDEO's Thomas Junk, who co-supervised the study project, I asked various experts and institutions for interviews.
The problem of the Virtual Water I could identify as one of the largest in the central European region. Virtual Water is the water that is used for the manufacture of a product. It is called "Virtual" because it cannot be seen in the final product. For example a letter-sized sheet of paper contains 10 liters of Virtual Water, a pair of jeans about 20.000 liters… So how might I make consumers who are heavily involved in the problem change their mindset or even their behavior?
During my research I recognized the potential for children to acknowledge fundamental issues that others ignore and raise questions many overlook. Therefore it is today's children who are able to address issues like Virtual Water carefully and motivate others to do so as well.
To illustrate the topic of Virtual Water the common blackboard in the classroom occurred to be best. In the cleaned dry blackboard there is Virtual Water that the pupils can reveal. Therefore I designed a water tank which should supply water for cleaning the blackboard for one week. The pupils would have to tap some water for cleaning, re-collect all of it afterwards and pour it through a sand filter back into the tank. At the end of time there would be less water in the tank than at the beginning and markings would indicate how much water is lost in cleaning the blackboard. The blackboard becomes an example of products that need water to be manufactured.
Physical and virtual prototypes helped to keep everything usable for small children. Body size and strength needed to be considered. Finally, I had a working prototype which I tested for ten days with actual 4th grade pupils from a elementary school in Munich.