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All About Water


A "fly-on-the-wall" view of project implementation...

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Background / Context

Third grade language arts students take water samples--from home and school--to analyze using test kits. They develop a a database to catalog their samples and submit the results to project collaborators; ninth grade high school Integrated Natural Science (INS) students.

These ninth grade science students determine whether there are any trends in the data. They graph the results of their testing and summarize their investigations in a report to their third grade collaborators. The INS high school students locate the source of contaminants and identify sources of information which will help them investigate the problem. Also, INS students devise methods to remove the pollutants from the water. Finally, they decide on a course of action in reporting to appropriate officials about any impurities found in the water samples.

Interestingly, at the 3rd graders' school, two of four water fountains are operational and serve the entire student population (500+). The office staff maintains a commerically provided bottled water dispenser. Teachers, typically bring in bottled water for personal consumption. This project-based learning opportunity challenges the students to discover if it is in their best interest to drink from an alternative water source while at school, to identify what those alternative sources may be, and to make a proposal recommending their best alternative to the appropriate administrator and parent group.



Beginning / Getting Started

Third Grade


Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink!




Guiding Questions





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Identify Investigative Strategies






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Incite Inquiring Minds















Teacher Role Shifts to Facilitator and Guide



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Session One:

The teachers begin this project-based learning opportunity with a demonstration. A gallon jug of water that represents the earth's total supply of water is used to show the students that actually, a very small amount of the water on Earth is suitable for humans. From the gallon jug, the teacher removes one-half a cup of the water, and says: "This amount is salt-free water." Finally, the teacher removes one tablespoon of water from the one-half cup. The teacher remarks: "This tablespoon represents all the drinkable water there is in the world!"

By posing a series of guiding questions, the teacher engages the students in an open discussion. The teacher asks the students to brainstorm about how to find answers to the questions, and strategies to find out whether the answers they have given are accurate. The teacher records students' questions and answers in a K-W-L chart as students do the same on individual K-W-L charts. For example: "What does knowing this about water mean for us?" "What kind of responsibility does this fact leave us with?" "What would happen if we ran out of tap water?" "What if this tiny bit of drinkable water became polluted or dirtied?" "Has anyone ever heard of water pollution?" "What do we already know about water: at home, at school?" "How is water delivered to our schools and homes?" "What complaints do you have about the water we have at school?" "How safe is the water we drink today?"

After this query and discussion, the teacher points out: "We have come up with a lot of questions without reliable answers." The teacher tells the students to, "Think about the questions you have raised. For homework, you are to bring in at least five ways to get answers to some of these questions."


Session Two:

The teacher breaks the students into groups of three. Have the students compile the results of their homework assignment onto a master list. Then, the teacher records those answers on a "Investigation Methods" chart. This chart and the K-W-L charts are to be posted throughout the duration of the project. In addition, the teacher makes certain that several research methods have been included in the final list of research methods. That is, the WWW, older students in a science class, the City Water Department, encyclopedia, a science teacher, a scientist, the government, environment protection groups, etc.


Session Three:

The students are told: "I thought about the questions from our discussion. The one that made me most concerned was "Is the water we drink today, safe? So, I used the WWW, to look for some answers. I found something I'd like to share with you." The class moves to the room where the "Web TV" is or access to the Internet is available, so that they can see a selection of recent news pages about unsafe water (or print the pages and use them as handouts).

Given the news articles, the teacher asks, "Would anyone be interested in looking at whether their friends', relatives', and school's tap water is free of pollutants?" Then the teacher says, "Let's look at the other questions we have. We could use someone to work on finding answers to these as well. I know, I want you to pick a question you think is interesting, and you'd like to research. Pick two questions different from the one about water testing for pollutants. Then we can break into groups and get a lot of work done in a shorter period of time! The next time we work on this, I'll have a list of groups and topics to be researched by each group."

The teacher arranges the children based on their expressed interest and makes certain that a strong reader is assigned to each group. The higher functioning students are not to be allowed into a single group. At this point, the teams are engaged and self-directed in learning all about water!


Ninth Grade

The High School students receive the water sample information, as well as pertinent information (as determined by the elementry school investigators) detailing the history of the samples. They locate the origin of the sample on a map of the city, and detail what the quality of the water is at that point. The students thus generate a locator map that will help pinpoint the location of any contaminants and allow them to focus on the source. They may determine that additional points need to be added to get a complete picture of the sample, and enlist the aid of the original investigators to do some more research. This is one place where e-mail and an interactive web page would be used.

If contaminants are found and are of sufficient quantity to warrant alarm (and even if they are not), the students need to find appropriate ways to remove them. The teacher acts as a guide to suggest possible locations to find information. Indeed, the instructor may not be sure of the best ways to remove some of the chemicals found, or even if they are supposed to be removed. The students locate information in the library, use the internet to find information and contact experts, and contact the appropriate local government agencies (along with the elementary school investigators).

Students are divided into task forces based on individual preferences. Some may be contacting government agencies, others researching filtering methods, and all will be involved in testing purification practices.

Middle / In Progress

A variety of research tools are to be used throughout the project. These include the WWW, e-mail, water quality test kits, word processor and database software, a CD-ROM science program, and on-line subject matter experts. The report, presentation, water quality tests, alternative drinking water proposal, and classroom participation are used to assess student learning.

The third grade Language Arts students, work in small groups to research a water question of expressed interest. The teacher ensures that a strong reader is placed on each team. Sessions described above, are teacher-guided. After these sessions, students work collaboratively in class and outside of class to complete their investigations. The teacher role shifts to that of facilitator and manager, acting as the on-site consultant and troubleshooter to the various student teams.

The INS students produce a map locating the site that each sample was taken, and indicate the chemicals that were found in the water there. The INS students provide evidence that they have researched the appropriate ways to remove chemicals from the water and decided on the best course of action. Students will contact government authorities if it is warranted, and they will devise and test filtering methods. Students from the elementary and high school classes will communicate and share information throughout the process.

The water testing can be ongoing, to ensure the water quality and expanded to include more schools via the WWW.

End / Culmination

At the end of this project, the third grade students will embark on a field trip, by bus, to meet face-to-face with their ninth grade collaborators. Students may use proceeds from a project-based component, a lemonade sale, for example to defray the cost of transportation. Students will present summaries of their experiences to administrators, parents, and collaborative project teams. The ninth grade students will complete "Critique Rubrics" for the third graders' group presentation, and the third graders will critique the ninth graders' group presentation. All students will be expected to successfully complete an informative essay of how water is delivered to residences and schools throughout the city.

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Created for the Fermilab LInC program sponsored by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Education Office and Friends of Fermilab, and funded by United States Department of Energy, Illinois State Board of Education, North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium which is operated by North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL), and the National Science Foundation.

Author(s): Karl Balke (with e-mail address links) and Sherri L. Johnson slynnj@ix.netcom.com
Schools: Pershing High School and Thaddeus Kosciusko Elementary School Detroit, MI
Created: March 1, 1999 - Updated: April 25, 1999
URL: http://www-ed.fnal.gov/lincon/w99/projects/allh2o/scenario.html