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December 2007 E-Update
By Jim Hawhee, APNEP Policy & Engagement Manager
Sampling water quality in a local stream
In what has long become an annual tradition, teachers from around North Carolina gathered recently for a professional development institute dedicated to water quality education.
Hosted in partnership with the UNC Superfund Research Program and the UNC Institute for the Environment, “Environment and Health” was the tenth consecutive institute for which APNEP has provided support.
After a brief welcome from APNEP and UNC staff, teachers launched into engaging lessons based on Project WET and the Division of Water Resources’ “It’s Our Water” curriculum.
Within minutes, Project WET coordinator Holly Denham had the teachers in stitches. With a comically overpronounced French accent, she began driving home the phases of the water cycle. EvaporaTION! CondensaTION! TranspiraTION! The teachers were familiar with these concepts, of course, but were developing tools they could use with their students to reinforce concepts and making learning fun.
To be useful, classroom activities have to be engaging, relevant and inexpensive. After her brief lecture, Holly demonstrated several short classroom activities. Teachers used the back of their hands, washable markers and folded wax paper to model basic watershed concepts.
Attendees learn how to demonstrate watershed concepts using materials found around the house
Soon thereafter, the teachers went outside for a game in which they mimicked water molecules. Students sometimes have misconceptions about the water cycle, believing it to be simple and circular. By playing and then leading an active game designed to refute that notion, teachers added another tool to engage their students.
Michele Drostin from the Institute for the Environment picked up where Holly left off, reinforcing watershed concepts while showing teachers the finer points of interpreting topographic maps. Once they were able to identify hills, saddles and ridges, teachers were given the tools to help students delineate their own local watersheds.
Learning to interpret a topographical map
The afternoon session held more of the same. A mock stream covered in paper leaves was explored by teachers for macroinvertebrates, known to most high school students as “big bugs.” Because many of these species are sensitive to water quality changes, their presence indicates a relatively healthy stream.
Teachers search for macroinvertebrates in a simulated stream
When asked about the field activities, Erica Bower of Eastern Guilford Middle School was ebullient.
“I think it was great! I love doing hands-on activities with my students. When I get to participate in those kinds of activities, I feel I can place myself in the shoes of my students and see what my students might think about during the activity. I become the learner again.”
The macroinvertebrate lesson was reinforced again on a grassy field, where teachers played a modified game of tag to show how pollutants can chase away stream life.
Teachers stretch their legs while learning new activites their students will enjoy
Finally, the teachers visited a stream in Chapel Hill to put their newly gained knowledge into practice. Rotating through stations, they conducted water quality sampling, studied the stream’s geomorphology, and surveyed the macroinvertebrate population.
During the stream survey, teachers gained some street smarts in addition to improving their knowledge base.
“What’s the first rule of exploring?” asked Denham as the teachers began their tasks. “Never put your hand in a hole!”
On days two and three, the curriculum shifted to provide enrichment related to groundwater dynamics, management of hazardous waste, the national Superfund program, and the techniques used to protect land and water from our nation’s most contaminated sites. In addition to their structured lessons, teachers were granted access to UNC’s leading researchers and visited the Ward Transformer Superfund site in Raleigh. This site has contaminated water in Raleigh’s Brier Creek and Lake Crabtree, which are found in the Neuse River Basin.
“The institute provides yet another opportunity to engage our educational partners in ecosystem-based approaches” says Bill Crowell, director of APNEP. “From nonpoint source pollution to the management of toxic waste, teachers will go home with a rich understanding of how we protect and restore North Carolina’s waterways.”
The lessons aren’t lost on these teachers.
“Understanding the issues that we face as a society with regards to water quality is important for students if we are to help them become literate citizens about the world around them,” Bower says. “How often do students wonder about the water that comes to their homes or the water that surrounds them? Most would say that they have no idea. What if we as educators could change that?”
What if, indeed.