Jackson Elementary School fourth-grader Manuel Gomez learned about the four parts of the water cycle at school Wednesday, but he didn't get the information from a textbook.

Gomez and his classmates were the first students in Utah to be visited by The Living Planet Aquarium's new Utah Waters Vans, an interactive learning program that will visit schools throughout the state.

"The crux of learning is those hands-on experiences kids will remember for the rest of their lives," said Jackson Elementary principal Ernie Nix at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the vans Wednesday morning outside the school.

Brent Andersen, president and founder of the aquarium, said by this time next year the Utah Waters Vans will have instructed 20,000 Utah students about the value of water. The vans bring with them working models of the water cycle and how water is used in urban settings. The vans will teach Utah children about the water cycle, water usage and conservation and freshwater animals.

Gomez and classmate Frank Carrillo, 10, said they liked watching how evaporation, condensation, precipitation and accumulation work through a model complete with vapor and a cloud that rains.

"When the clouds get all full then it starts to rain into the rivers and then into the lakes," Carrillo said.

Utah Waters Van instructor Janice Whatcott taught students about how much water is available on the Earth and how much is actually OK to use.

"The thing we're going to emphasize is that even though there's not a lot of water, there is enough if we use it wisely," she said.

Whatcott's learning station included a model of how people use water, from electricity to irrigation to recreation. One of the ways children can conserve water is to remember to turn off lights to conserve energy, which in turn conserves water as well. Students should also remind their parents about ways they can conserve when running the household, she said.

The Utah Waters Vans are also sponsored by the Division of Water Resources and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. Chris Finlinson, governmental affairs director of the water conservancy district, said the district wants young people to better understand water and its qualities and uses.

"We bring the water from the mountains of Utah to the thirsty Wasatch Front," she told students. Now that the state is in its fourth year of drought, there is an even greater thirst, she said.

Though the actual aquarium is years away from construction, it has been educating students since 1999. The new Utah Waters Vans will triple the number of children the educational programs can reach. The Aqua Van and Rain Forest Van also visit schools throughout the state.