College of Education

Michigan State University


By Kristin L. Gunckel and Rebecca Forthoffer
With support from David Vandenbelt, Dean Grosshandler, Christopher Wilson, James Gallagher, Felicia Moore, and David Fortus
Michigan State University

Water for People and the Planet is a high school curriculum unit developed to help students understand where our water comes from and where it goes. This inquiry unit focuses on the connections between groundwater and watershed systems. Lessons are designed for students in general-level science courses who typically have limited interest in learning science. Lessons are intended to help students connect big ideas in science to their own lives and see the relevance and importance of learning science. Included within the unit are connections to personal water use; a recent Mid-Michigan urban flooding event; an exploration of a groundwater pollution case in Battle Creek, Michigan, which contaminated the municipal groundwater supply; and investigations of water supplies and water treatment facilities.

This unit follows a general inquiry and application model. Lessons use a general approach that 1) establishes a problem/purpose, 2) develops a model and provides experiences using the model, 3) provides data for finding patterns, 4) allows students to develop explanations, 5) and applies learning to new situations. Student materials support student small group cooperation, conversations, and co-construction of understanding.

Teacher materials provide embedded assessment scaffolds to help teachers assess how well students are progressing towards the learning goals and suggestions for what to do next in helping students revise their initial ideas about important concepts. A pre-post test and a culminating authentic assessment activity are also included.


Introduction – Overview of the unit and learning goals

Lesson 1 – Water as a Finite Resource
This lesson introduces the unit and establishes the purpose for studying about water resources. Students learn about how much fresh water is available on Earth, calculate their own water use, and compare their water use to people’s water use in different cultures.

Lesson 2 – The Engineered System
This lesson provides the context for all future lessons. It establishes the big picture of the surface water system, the groundwater system, and their connections to where we get our water and where it goes. Students use specially-designed cards to lay out the parts of the engineered water system from the natural source to their house, and back to the natural system.

Lesson 3 – Groundwater
This lessons looks specifically at the groundwater system. Students build groundwater models and draw cross-sections of a groundwater system using well-log data.

Lesson 4 – Watersheds
This lesson looks specifically at the surface water system (watersheds) and introduces pollution in watersheds. Students model and map watersheds on an island, determine watershed boundaries on a map of Michigan, and use their understanding of watersheds in a role play activity to solve the a surface water pollution problem in the Flood at Cottonwood Flats.

Lesson 5 – Groundwater Pollution
This lesson returns to the groundwater system. Students examine pollution in groundwater systems and the connection between groundwater and surface water systems. Students contaminate and attempt to clean-up the groundwater models they build in lesson 4, then use maps and cross-sections to solve the problem of groundwater pollution at the Verona Wells, Battle Creek, Michigan.

Lesson 6 – Water Treatment
This lesson looks at what we do with our water and how we clean it up. Students model the process of water treatment at a waste water treatment plant.

Lesson 7 – Renewable and Re-Useable
This lessons examines water as a finite but renewable and a re-useable resource. Students role play water pollution and clean-up scenarios.

End of Unit Assessment - The Salt Problem
This problem synthesizes surface water, groundwater, pollution, and the engineered system. Students use map and cross-section data to locate the source of salt pollution in an aquifer and develop potential solutions.

Pre-Post Test
Short answer pre-post test that teachers can use to assess student learning. Questions match the identified learning goals and correlate to the lessons in the unit.

This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ESI-0227557. 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.


© 2006 College of Education, Michigan State University Board of Trustees.
MSU is an affirmative-action, equal-opportunity institution. East Lansing MI 48824

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