While most academic buildings are quiet during the summer months, a group of about 40 teachers from around Nebraska gathered at Hardin Hall for the week of June 12 to begin a water literacy program for continuing education. The workshop was the first part of a 15-month program that focuses on revamping water education implemented in K-12 classrooms.
Each day,the teachers assumed a student-type role in the classroom where they spread their laptops and notebooks around tables and worked together to discuss activities related to water. I sat with Laura Goracke from Seward Middle school and Katy Whitman from Lincoln Northstar High school as they worked on an activity to analyze different types of models that might indicate a water table.
They started by drawing a contour map of a mountain, and then constructed a foam 3-D model of it.When the instructor suggested that this is an activity they could use in their classrooms, Whitman said “Dollar tree baby!” referring to the cost of foam materials; and the workshop encouraged this kind of thinking for teachers to use interactive activities.
They compared their drawn contour map with the foam one that they constructed, and then large topographical maps were passed out to each table for a third comparison to infer about the water table of the mountain. There was thoughtful discussion when comparing the three, and some of the teachers expressed confusion that their own students may have. This is one of the critical thinking components of the workshop; that teachers have to think about the student’s understanding and perspective.
Analyzing these models was part of three main components to the workshop that emphasize the use of scientific modeling, the hydrogeology challenge and focus on real world issues and challenges.
“The focus on scientific modeling is a core practice that is emphasized in the next generation science standards and fits with our own state standards too,” said Cory Forbes, Associate Professor of science education. “And there are a lot of water related issues out there that have many environmental components to them, especially in the state of Nebraska where water is so crucial to our livelihood and agriculture.”
The hydrogeology challenge is a computer based groundwater modeling simulation that was developed by the Groundwater foundation in Lincoln. This resource is an accessible tool for students to understand water systems, and a user can focus the challenge on their own location to bring the learning home.
The workshop’s objective is to support teachers in their learning so they can take these skills back to their classrooms. Some goals that the participants drafted at the beginning of the week were to be able to implement these tools in 30-minute lesson plans, work on water communication with different age groups and focus lessons on specific water-related phenomena. At the end of the program, each of the teachers will produce their own instructional lesson plans that engage students with the hydrogeology challenge and modeling.
“Our hope is to put innovative resources in the hands of teachers that they might not have access to otherwise,” Forbes said. “This week they had time to carve out new skills and work with this simulation, so we really want to provide them with updated resources that can enhance what they’re doing.”