In Supporting Collaborative Inquiry, Engineering and Career Exploration with Water (Water SCIENCE), middle school students from southern Arizona, southeastern Pennsylvania, and eastern Massachusetts complete hands-on science and engineering activities, receive guidance and instruction from undergraduate and graduate student mentors, interact online with STEM professionals, and learn about careers in environmental conservation and engineering while investigating their community's local water resources.

The project’s educational activities reflect the real-world challenges faced by water authorities in the three geographic regions: water scarcity and hardness in Arizona’s arid climate, animal waste and agrochemical pollution in Pennsylvania’s farming communities, and road runoff and wastewater management in the densely populated urban centers of eastern Massachusetts.

Students use the tablet computers now commonly found in middle school classrooms as mobile water-quality analysis instruments. Taking advantage of the cameras built into these devices, the Water SCIENCE project team is developing a mobile app to perform colorimetric analysis of inexpensive chemical water quality tests. The app enables students to evaluate the health of water bodies near their schools and share, map, and visualize the data online. By fitting inexpensive optical attachments to tablets, students are also able to capture magnified photographs and videos of samples from lakes and rivers, assessing the turbidity of the water, and documenting the presence of invertebrate life forms or visible contaminants.

After completing their water quality assessments, students conduct classroom engineering projects that model the technologies used to clean, conserve, and manage their local water resources. These activities include the cleaning of water by physical means (e.g., filtration), chemical treatments (e.g., pH balancing), and biological methods (e.g., plant root uptake). In addition, students engineer water conservation strategies, such as approaches for reducing household water consumption and systems for collecting and recirculating rainwater.

Through a series of virtual mentoring sessions, students have the opportunity to interact in real time with STEM professionals working in the water field and learn about the critical roles played by scientists, engineers, and other professionals in maintaining healthy water resources, as well as the educational pathways leading to these careers. As a capstone experience, students engage in a role-playing exercise involving a simulated water emergency, such as a drought or an oil or chemical spill.

Water SCIENCE brings together experts in K-12 curriculum and educational technology development (Concord Consortium), environmental sustainability (Arizona State University), freshwater science and conservation (Stroud Water Resource Center), and hands-on engineering (Machine Science Inc.).

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1433761. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

In the Water SCIENCE project, the partnering organizations will conduct a systematic investigation of the impact of integrating purposefully designed inquiry, engineering, and career-orientation activities into science instruction at the middle school level. The research will be conducted in diverse classroom settings in southern Arizona, southeastern Pennsylvania, and eastern Massachusetts, assessing student outcomes in three areas: 1) STEM career awareness and interest; 2) STEM content knowledge; and 3) the development of supportive mentoring relationships with university students and STEM professionals. Comprehensive data will be collected, using a variety of research instruments, and analyzed both statistically and qualitatively.

Research Questions

Research Question 1. In what ways do Water SCIENCE experiences enhance students’ understanding of and inclination towards STEM career pathways?

Research Question 2. How does students’ STEM content knowledge evolve through their participation in the Water SCIENCE activities?

Research Question 3. How do students’ perceptions of their relationship to peers, undergraduate and graduate mentors, and water professionals change through their participation in the Water SCIENCE activities?

Water SCIENCE brings together experts in K-12 curriculum and educational technology development (Concord Consortium), environmental sustainability (Arizona State University), freshwater science and conservation (Stroud Water Resource Center), and hands-on engineering (Machine Science Inc.).

WaterSCIENCE Curriculum and Standards Alignment

Key Concepts Activities NSES & NGSS
Unit 1. Learning about Water Quality
  • Fresh water is a scarce resource on Earth.
  • Humans must have water to live.
  • Americans use a large quantity of water for domestic purposes.
  • Human activities such as industry and farming threaten water quality.
  • Scientists can measure indicators of water quality using chemical tests.
  • Indicators include: pH, DO, temperature, turbidity, nitrates, phosphate, bacteria.
  • Discussing the problem of fresh water scarcity.
  • Prepare “contaminated” water samples and test those samples.
  • Share water sample quality data within the class.
  • Prepare questions about water quality for a water professional.
  • Participate in Google Hangout on Air with a water professional.
  • Identify scientific questions (8ASI1.1).
  • Conduct scientific investigations (8ASI1.2).
  • Analyze and interpret data (8ASI1.3, MS-PS1-2).
  • Scientists work in teams (8GHNS1.1).
  • Science requires reasoning and insight (8GHNS1.2).
Unit 2. Assessing Our Community's Water
  • Communities draw their water from lakes, reservoirs and rivers.
  • Every community faces unique water challenges, based on climate and terrain.
  • Agriculture, industry, and population density all threaten the water supply.
  • Communities design water systems to ensure the supply of safe drinking water.
  • A variety of occupations are involved in each community’s water system.
  • Gather water from a local lake, reservoir or river.
  • Assess the quality of the water.
  • Learn about the features of the community’s water system.
  • Prepare questions about water treatment for a water professional.
  • Participate in Google Hangout on Air with a water professional.
  • Develop predictions using evidence (8ASI1.4).
  • Support explanations with evidence (8ASI1.5, MS-LS1-1).
  • Recognize other explanations (8ASI1.6, MS-LS1-1).
  • Communicate scientific procedures (8ASI1.7, MS-LS1-1).
  • Use mathematics in science investigations (8ASI1.8).
Unit 3. Cleaning Our Water and Sharing Our Findings
  • Providing clean water is an engineering "Grand Challenge."
  • There are a variety of techniques for managing and improving water quality.
  • Facilities treat water before it gets to the tap and after it leaves homes.
  • Water can be improved by physical, chemical, and biological means.
  • By examining shared data, we can learn about other parts of the country.
  • Design and build a classroom water treatment system.
  • Monitor water treatment system periodically over time.
  • Share water data online, before, during, and after the treatment.
  • Prepare a presentation of the results for a water professional.
  • Participate in a Google Hangout on Air with a water professional.
  • Define a design problem (MS-ETS1-1).
  • Test design solutions (MS-ETS1-2, 8EST2.4).
  • Analyze design test results (MS-ETS1-3).
  • Propose modifications to design (MS-ETS1-4).
  • Technology solutions have constraints (8EST2.5).
Unit 4. Learning About Water-Related STEM Careers
  • Ensuring the supply of clean water requires many different professions.
  • These include: scientists, engineers, water technicians, public officials.
  • In a crisis situation, these people have to work together to ensure public safety.
  • Recent examples of water crises include: the WV chemical spill and the CA drought.
  • Adopt professional roles for simulation.
  • Read about the expertise and responsibilities for each role.
  • Read about examples of recent real-world crises.
  • Participate in a simulation/role-playing exercise.
  • Participate in a Google Hangout on Air with a water professional.
  • Define causes of natural hazards (8FSPSP3.1).
  • Define human-induced natural hazards (8FSPSP3.2).
  • Analyze risks and benefits of human activity (8FSPSP3.3, 8FSPSP4.1, 8FSPSP4.2).
  • Make decisions based on risks and benefits (8FSPSP4.3).
  • Propose solutions (8FSPSP4.4).

Sign into the Innovative Technology in Science Inquiry portal as a teacher to access the activities. All activities will be available in Middle School Environmental bin.

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