In the high school Integrated Natural Science class, the students are presented with a hypothetical city and a collection of film cannisters that are numbered to correspond to locations on the topographic map of the area. The students use a universal indicator to locate where the concentration of a contaminant is highest. they do this by tracing the "plume" that the contaminant leaves in the "groundwater." The students are presented with the mystery of finding out where the contamination is coming from.
The activity stresses the ability to read topographic maps, and to use indicators to test for the pH of a substance. Their reasoning skills are also developed, since some locations outside the "plume" also give anomalous readings, and they must come up with plausible explanations for the deviations.
Students are assessed for their ability to describe how pollutants travel through the water cycle to contaminate the ground water. They describe the water cycle, and fill in the blanks ina paragraph that breaks down the amount of the earth's water that is actually available for consumption. The internet is not used, and no collaboration outside the classroom is attempted.
Prior to this on-line project, the third grade language arts students had never before used computer technology. In fact, their school installed one iMac computer per each classroom, during the design and development of this All About Water on-line course (March 1999). This is the first semester this project co-developer was assigned to teach Third Grade Language Arts and collaborate with a science teacher.
All About Water is multidisciplinary by design. Usually, topics outside the language arts realm are conducted by the special subjects teachers, i.e., Math, Social Studies, Science, Music, and Art. The design of All About Water, crosses those boundaries, while at the same time incorporates language arts elements the students are already familiar with. For example, use of the group-generated K-W-L chart. This graphic organizer charts:
- what the students already know about water,
- what the students want to know about water,
- what the students learn about water as a result of this project. The "learn" column of the chart is reserved for completion as the various investigations are reported by the various project teams.
Typically, these language arts students develop collaborative learning strategies throughout the school year. Furthermore, they work to develop the skills needed to read, write, research, and present. All this is done with pencil and paper and, or the chalkboard. This project better facilitates application of "target skill sets" to real-world problems. In addition, the quality of self-directed learning embedded within the All About Water project is ideal for learning strategies and lifelong learning objectives.
It was a natural lead-in to use the water theme as the "hook." Students had complained about standing in line at the two working drinking fountains and having the water run warm. Previously, the teacher instituted a special remedy to decrease the amount of time students spend at the fountains (during the warmest months of the school year) and away from the classroom. Students enrolled in third grade language arts classes were allowed to bring plastic water bottles to class.
With this project, students are challenged to collaborate beyond school walls, self-define important issues, seek expert help, work as teams to present findings and solve problems.