As a primary-level teacher in a self-contained classroom at Edgewood Magnet School in New Haven, I find the neighborhood/magnet setting a rewarding environment, with students coming to school each day from a variety of home circumstances and with differences in academic levels. Because of these variables, the children have differing levels of background knowledge and life experiences. The classroom is a mixture of varied ethnicities, economic strata and social and emotional strengths and weaknesses. Edgewood provides an S.T.E.A.M. curriculum, an educational approach that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue and critical thinking.
The purpose of this unit is to begin to expose my students to the use of scientific inquiry, which inherently allows everyone to learn in a differentiated environment. Students will spend time learning new concepts and experiencing laboratory and field demonstrations as they move through this curriculum unit on environmental engineering and specifically, water filtration. The students will research and design projects to submit to the annual Science Fair that show the experiments that helped them learn about filtering and making potable water of different quality. This unit supports the place-based learning that Edgewood Magnet school encourages. Trips to the Edgewood Park to visit the ponds and the West River for hands-on investigation and experimentation are modeled on experiences from the seminar.
This unit builds an appreciation for the outdoors in my students, impart an understanding of how many people in the world struggle to find clean water, and empower them to solve a problem. Humans are spending increasingly more time indoors. As much as 96% of our day is spent inside, so consequently we are experiencing the natural environment less and less. This is an unfortunate and unhealthy trend. Nature deficit disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods, identifies a result of this extreme amount of time spent indoors. Children are not being exposed to nature on a regular basis and are not making a connection to their natural world. He points out that the children who play outside are less likely to get sick, to be stressed or become aggressive, and are more adaptable to life’s unpredictable turns.
My students most certainly fall into this demographic. They travel to school inside a bus or car; spend many hours in school; many go to after-school programs; frequently sports and activities occur inside buildings: basketball courts, soccer “fields,” and swimming pools. While these are all important parts of a child’s day, we need to think about moving them to the outside world. New Haven, CT offers tremendous opportunities for outdoor experiences to learn about the water within our community and how we have access to what we need. I want to get my students outside where they can become comfortable exploring and investigating.
The outdoors provides significant ecosystem services to humans. For example, when we’re thirsty, we reach for a glass of water. We turn on the tap and fill our glass, open a bottle of water, or go to the refrigerator's water dispenser. Whatever method we use to get a drink, we don't have to consider the environmental and water quality engineering underlying clean water. Living in a fully industrialized country, like the United States, we are fortunate - we don't have to worry about the quality of our drinking water. Our communities have the means to clean and provide water to the residents. But in many parts of the world, people don't have this luxury.
Whether due to war, poverty or underdevelopment, the lack of clean water leads to many health and social problems. In fact, 780 million people do not have access to an improved water source. Towns or villages might not have a well nearby, and family walk for miles to get the daily requirement of water. Or if there is water nearby, it might be contaminated. Contaminated water can be a source of deadly diseases, such as cholera and dysentery. According to the World Health Organization, every year approximately 1.6 million people die from illnesses (usually severe diarrhea) due to drinking unsafe water. Most are children under the age of five. About 4,500 people—again mostly children—die every day because they drank unsafe water.
An additional aspect of lack of access to clean water is gender inequality. The chore of gathering water for the family generally rests upon the shoulders of female family members, especially girls. If girls are gathering water all day, that leaves limited time for school. Access to clean water can result in a population that is not only healthier, but that is better educated, and more able to help improve their community.