FASTLY - Faith & Science Teaching

Activity Map: Water, Ecology, and Neighbors

Overview

What's the Focus

Water, ecological science, justice, and the Golden Rule—are they connected? If so, how? This Activity Map explores the connections between these concepts.

Water is essential to the flourishing of all living creatures; when our water supplies become polluted, our well-being and our ecosystem’s well-being are threatened.

Water pollution is a concern that should engage our willingness to care for creation, and call us to focus on how our actions affect others. Who lives downstream from us, and who lives in the places where pollution accumulates the most? Loving our neighbor and seeking justice both become relevant when we realize that the effects of our actions on our watershed can have damaging effects on others. Science is a necessary tool to employ, as we take responsibility for understanding and ameliorating any harmful results of our actions.

This Activity Map1 aims to help students to see how something as simple as water, and something as central to faith as the call to love one’s neighbor as oneself, can intersect with science learning. It facilitates engagement in thinking carefully about our ecological responsibility toward others.

It is not necessary to use every activity in your class. The Activity Map is intended to offer a range of possibilities to enrich your existing teaching resources. While some of the activities form a possible sequence, you can select the ones most suitable for your context, and adapt them to connect to your own plan for learning.

Discover activities offer brief ways into the topic, designed to set the stage and get students thinking.

Delve activities promote more extended learning. This is where the main substance of the lesson unfolds.

Debrief activities bring the sequence of the study to a thoughtful close by helping students reflect on how they have been invited to see science and faith anew.

You can mix and match these activities as you wish. It is not intended that all of them should be used with the same class.

1This Activity Map was developed in collaboration with the Plaster Creek Stewards. We are grateful for their work in making this Activity Map possible.

Quick Stop Lesson Plan

The best way to use this Activity Map is to explore all of the activities, and see which ones best fit together in your particular teaching context. If you just need a quick lesson outline, you can use the links below to preview and download a lesson plan based on activities selected from this Activity Map.

PreviewDownload Files

Discover Activities

Discover activities offer brief ways into the topic, designed to set the stage and get students thinking.

  • Activity

    20 min

    Follow the String

  • Activity

    10 min

    First Water Memory

  • Activity

    20 min

    One Drop

  • Activity

    10 min

    Hand Watershed

Follow the String

In Brief

This activity introduces a basic concept of ecological science through a physical representation of how ecosystems are related. It introduces the ideas of interconnectedness and care, helping students to see the environment as a whole, in which actions can have indirect consequences.

Goals

Students will understand that the study of ecology involves appreciating the relationships between things, and will see how this can be connected to themes of care and responsibility.

Thinking Ahead

This activity takes the potentially abstract concept of ecology and makes it a little more concrete by actively engaging students in constructing their own web of connections. It introduces the basic concepts of ecology in order to lay the foundation for further learning. It also introduces, in a general way, the connection to care and responsibility, employing it as a frame for learning about the natural environment. You may also consider how you could introduce other science topics in ways that actively involve students in modeling these concepts and also evoke connections to responsibility.

Related Book Review: From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World by Norman Wirzba

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • A ball of string

  • An outdoor location with a variety of natural objects

Teaching the Activity

Take students to an outdoor location where a variety of natural objects—such as trees, plants, roots, branches, soil, and water—are visible. Ask the students to each choose a specific part of the natural environment to focus on, like the branch of a tree or a patch of soil or a particular plant.

Give one of the students the ball of string. Ask that student to attach the end to herself or himself (preferably to an item of clothing such as a belt loop; be sure that students do not tie the string too tightly to fingers) and name the object he or she has chosen as a focus. When he or she has done so, ask the other students if anyone has an object in mind that is connected in some way to the first object—one that interacts with it. When an object is volunteered, have students explain the relationship (e.g., plants depend on soil and water; soil is kept from eroding by ground cover). Have the first student give the ball of string to the second student, who is to attach it to himself or herself. Repeat these steps until all of the students are connected to the string.

Conclude with a brief discussion of what the string shows us about studying the environment.

  • What might it mean for the task of caring responsibly for the environment if different parts of the environment are interconnected?
  • Is it possible to do good or harm in one place, and have it affect the environment, and the people and other creatures who live in it, in a different place?
  • What will we need to learn in addition to the properties of individual things if we are to enact care for our surroundings well?

First Water Memory

In Brief

This activity engages students in thinking about their earliest memories of water. It offers a brief introduction to learning about water, grounding the topic in students’ personal experience.

Goals

Students will connect with an early memory of water and share it with another person. This memory could be positive, negative, or neutral, as long as it is one they feel comfortable sharing.

Thinking Ahead

Lessons about watersheds and water can seem disconnected from everyday life, focused instead on impersonal maps, grids, and data. This brief activity aims to personalize learning by asking students to connect water to their earliest memories from childhood.

Water often creates strong impressions on us, making routine moments more memorable by amplifying or deepening the experience of them. While this activity does not necessarily move scientific understanding forward, it does connect the science learning to a personal context, opening a little space for students to connect existentially with some reasons why water is vital. This personal investment may contribute to students’ level of engagement in subsequent learning about water resources.

Teaching the Activity

Ask students to think back to their earliest memories of water. Leave it open for them to determine the situation (bath, backyard, birth, etc.). Then ask them to pair up and share with someone beside them. Allow 3-4 minutes for this and a minute to wrap up the conversations.

Ask a few students to share their memory with the class. Encourage greater participation by choosing several students at random, as some who have very ordinary, but important, memories might hesitate to share, especially if they feel their stories are not as interesting or exciting as others they have heard.

You may notice themes such as functional uses of water (bathing, drinking), recreational uses (playing, swimming), or others. You can raise awareness of these themes by asking questions like:

  • How many people got wet in their first memory?
  • How many people were having fun?
  • How many were using water to get something done?

If there is time, you could expand the discussion to draw in students’ most unpleasant, most significant, or favorite memory of water. The important thing is to allow time for a personal connection to water to be brought to mind and articulated. In conclusion, observe that people may have different experiences with water, but we all have profound memories of it, because water is so vital to our lives. It is God’s gracious provision to the world, and it interacts with our lives in many ways, reaching back to our earliest memories.

One Drop

In Brief

This introductory activity uses a gallon bucket to help students to see water as a rare and precious resource. It engages students in the early stages of reflection on what appropriate responses to fresh water as a finite resource could be.

Goals

Students will understand the importance of fresh water to sustain life on this planet.

Students will understand the rarity of fresh water on earth.

Thinking Ahead

Like many of the activities on this site, this activity introduces students to a new topic through a combination of scientific information, practical demonstration, and student reflection on what an apt personal response could be. This is one way of teaching FASTly, letting faith and science connect not just through controversial issues, but also through the ways in which learning about the world scientifically can challenge us to responses of gratitude, responsibility, care, or justice-seeking. It is a given that you must meet the stated goals of your science curriculum, but what other goals do you have for your students’ growth? How do those goals become evident in your teaching practices?

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • A one-gallon container filled with water

  • A 1/2-cup measuring cup

  • An eyedropper

  • Food coloring (optional)

Teaching the Activity

To introduce the activity, ask students to make a guess at how much of the earth’s surface is made up of water. Ask them to choose a partner, and then allow a few moments for them to discuss the question together. Let them compare their guesses with the actual figure of 71 percent. Then present the one-gallon container filled with water (optionally colored with food coloring to make it more visible) and explain that this water represents all the water on earth.

Remind students to consider the various places where fresh water is found—in lakes, rivers, wetlands, rain, ice, the ground, living things, etc. Ask students to talk with their partners again, this time to arrive at an estimate of how much of the water in the container is fresh water, and therefore potentially drinkable by humans and other creatures. When students have had time to formulate a guess, measure a 1/2-cup from the container of water. Show them that this represents all of the earth’s fresh water, which is less than three percent of the total amount of water on earth.

Next, review again with students the various places on earth where fresh water is found, and ask them to make a third estimate with their partners: How much of this water is available for drinking and for keeping humans and land-dwelling plants and animals alive? When students have had time to make an estimate, use the eyedropper to dispense one drop from the 1/2-cup of water into your hand. Show it to the class (this represents about 0.3 percent of the fresh water, or less than 0.0001 percent of all of the water).

Ask the class why the rest of the fresh water might not be available to use. Elicit that we cannot drink water that is frozen as ice, that is moisture in the ground, that is in the body of another person or in the atmosphere, etc. There is a helpful visualization of the amounts of water, fresh water, and available fresh water in relation to the size of the earth at “How much water is on Earth?

Finally, ask students: Given what you have just seen regarding the percentage of water that is fresh, and the percentage that is available for use to support life, what responses to available fresh water might seem appropriate? Explore with students how gratitude, wonder, and care might fit as responses. Invite students to reflect on whether these are the responses they most often see or experience. What issues arise in our communities around the purity, scarcity, abundance, unequal access, costs, and value of water? Do we take it too much for granted? Since this is an introductory activity, you can keep this discussion brief. However, you may wish to offer the opportunity for students to write a reflective journal on their own response to fresh water and how that relates to its finiteness as a gift and a resource.

Hand Watershed

In Brief

 

This activity engages students in a practical, experiential introduction to the concept of a watershed, and to how pollutants can travel within a watershed. It also helps students see how the idea of loving our neighbor as ourselves might be relevant to the workings of a watershed.

Goals

Students will understand what a watershed is and where water moves to and from within a watershed.

Students will understand how surface runoff carries pollutants to waterways, and will connect this understanding to the idea of love of neighbor.

Thinking Ahead

A watershed is an area of land that drains water to a common point, whether creek, river, lake, or ocean. This can seem very basic; it is easy to focus on the water and forget that the water is interacting with the land. Understanding that a watershed is an area of land that drains is important to understanding pollution.

Most countries have laws against factories dumping pollution directly into waterways, yet waterways continue to face pollution from surface runoff. Stormwater runoff picks up pollutants from the surface of the landscape and carries them to the waterways, making unhealthy conditions for the plants, creatures, and people living nearby.

Pollutants may not be obvious at first. For example, bacteria from animal and human waste is not noticeable to the human eye, but can cause sickness and odor. Sediments, rapidly changing hydrology (flash flooding), heat from parking lots, trash, toxins leaching from old industrial sites, and excess nutrients from fertilizers or yard waste are more examples of how properties of the landscape change water conditions.

The difficulty with this nonpoint source pollution is that everyone who lives, works, or travels through the watershed is responsible. The way the land is used and developed is reflected in the water, and the water coming out of the watershed tells us a lot about how people there are using the land. As we affect the water passing through a watershed, we also affect those downstream from us. The connections between yard waste or lawn fertilizer, water quality, and love of neighbor might not appear immediately obvious to students, but helping them see and make such connections is an important part of teaching FASTly. This activity introduces these connections for further study later.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Spray bottles containing water (one for each group of 4 or 5 students in the class)

  • Towels (cloth or paper)

Teaching the Activity

Instruct students to cup their hands together with their palms up and tilted a little, one way or the other. Explain that their cupped hands represent their own little topographical map of a watershed: an area of land with mountains, hills, streams, and maybe a lake.

Ask students to look at their cupped hands and reflect on the following questions:

  • Is your watershed flat, or does it have high and low points?
  • What could those lumps and creases in your watershed be?
  • What do you think would happen if it were to rain on your watershed?
  • If water were sprinkled onto your hands, in what directions would it move?
  • Where would it go?
  • Why?

Group students and choose someone reliable in each group to use a spray bottle to spray a little water onto each student’s hands. Instruct students to hold their hands still as this happens.

Ask students to observe what happens, and to compare it to what they had imagined.

  • Where does the water flow as it collects on the skin and runs into the creases and finally drips from the hand?
  • What happens to water that falls either side of the highest point?

Next, ask students:

  • If you had peanut butter, bike grease, dirt, germs, or other pollutants somewhere on your hands, what would happen to these pollutants?
  • Where would they end up?
  • How would you feel about drinking the water that dripped from other students’ hands?
  • If you had to drink it, what would you want to know about their hands?
  • What is a real-life parallel—what washes into the water system from streets and yards when it rains?

Ask students what the process they have just observed might have to do with the biblical call to love our neighbor as ourselves. This may be a surprising question after the focus on observing water flow. Nudge students to imagine their hands again as a watershed, and to think about what happens when some people live downstream from others and pollutants from one group of people flow down into the living areas of others. Do not turn this into a long or heavy discussion; the purpose for now is simply to introduce the connection between watersheds and our responsibility toward others.

In conclusion, write the words “watershed,” “land,” “water body,” and “drain” on the board and ask students to come up with a definition of “watershed” that includes those words. To follow up, ask students to find out in which watershed their home and/or their school is located.

Delve Activities

Delve activities promote more extended learning. This is where the main substance of the lesson unfolds.

  • Activity

    15 min

    Burning Water

  • Activity

    45 min

    Follow the Raindrop

  • Activity

    30-45 min

    Design a Watershed

  • Activity

    Upstream Downstream

  • Activity

    35 min

    A Stewardship Story

Burning Water

In Brief

This demonstration, in which a sample of water appears to burn, helps students to see that water purity is impossible to gauge with the naked eye, and that scientific tools are necessary for evaluating water purity. It points to the connection between scientific investigation and care for others and the natural world.

Goals

Students will understand that water purity cannot be determined solely by visual inspection.

Students will use models for density, water-solubility, and flammability to account for how a water sample is made to burn.

Thinking Ahead

This science activity prompts students to consider one of the problems associated with measuring water purity. You cannot simply look at a water sample and know if it is safe for humans or animals to drink.

In this science lesson, a mystifying demonstration is conducted in which a water sample collected in front of students from a nearby source, for example, the science lab, is tested for flammability, and in a surprising turn of events, the sample burns quite easily. Note that while the main focus during the demonstration is on having students use scientific understanding to explain what happened, the activity closes with a second focus: prompting students to consider the role science plays in water safety and, therefore, in serving the well-being of our communities.

You might consider how often in your regular teaching practices you take a moment to encourage students to make these larger connections to service, society, and the flourishing of our communities and natural systems.

Related Book Review: God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith by Ruth Bancewicz

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Two 1000-mL Erlenmeyer flasks

  • 4 mL of hexane (C6H14), divided

  • 2000 mL tap water

  • A multi-purpose lighter (e.g., Aim ‘n Flame)

  • Proper eye protection (chemical splash goggles)

  • Chemical-resistant gloves and apron

  • A current online Material Safety Data Sheet for safety, handling, and disposal information related to hexane

Directions:

Before class begins, add 2 mL of hexane to one of the dry Erlenmeyer flasks.

Teaching the Activity

As students arrive for class, you can do a couple of things to help sell the surprise in this demonstration. You might greet students while holding an empty Erlenmeyer flask in your hand. You could already have donned your chemical-resistant gloves and apron and have your eye protection ready to use. The agenda for today could also be displayed as something like “Water Testing.” As students take their seats and class begins, quickly switch to the flask containing the 2 mL of hexane. The quantity is so small that students will not notice the liquid previously placed in the bottom of the flask.

Ask students if they have heard in the news of problems with water purity in certain U.S. city water systems. You could also ask students to suggest possible contaminants to test for to determine water purity, such as mercury or lead.

Indicate to students that today they are going to do some water testing using a sample of the water in their classroom. Fill the Erlenmeyer flask containing the hexane with tap water to just below the lip. Do not let the flask overfill or you will lose the hexane. As you fill the flask, because the hexane is less dense and is insoluble in water, it will rise and float on the water surface at the neck of the flask. Since hexane has the appearance of water, the two liquids will appear as one to the students. Do not mention anything about hexane yet, as students should be thinking that the flask contains only the tap water they just saw you put into it.

Suggest that one test might be to see if this water sample will burn. Ask students for their input. Is this a good idea? This will sound absurd to them; let them voice their opinions. Then tell them that you are going to check anyway. Do so by bringing the lighter close to the water surface and lighting the flask. Much to the students’ surprise, the water sample does indeed appear to burn as the hexane floating on the water’s surface burns.

You can develop the science in this demonstration in many different directions. Water, of course, does not burn, so students quickly deduce that there must be something other than just water in the flask. You could ask students:

  • What do you think might be the polarity of the substance already in the flask?
  • Would you expect it to be water-soluble?
  • If so, what would happen when the water sample was added?
  • What can you infer is the density of the mystery liquid? (It must have a density that is less than the density of water for it to collect on the surface of the water.)
  • What can you conclude about its visual appearance? (Water-like.)
  • What can you conclude about its volatility? (Must not be very volatile.)

Some actual liquids that students might mention include liquids like oil or gasoline (since each floats on water and burns), or (rubbing) alcohol (since it burns). Motor oil would be less dense than water, but it would be visible. Gasoline would be less dense, but likely easy to smell given its volatility. Alcohol would burn, but it would mix well with water and not form a second layer at the water’s surface. Eventually you can reveal to them what you did by repeating the demonstration using a second flask where this time, they watch you add the hexane and then the tap water.

When you are finished with the demonstration, disposal should be handled by letting all the hexane in the flasks completely burn off. Consult general guidelines and specific procedures governing the disposal of laboratory wastes.

This demonstration reinforces the point that water purity is impossible to gauge with the naked eye. Obviously muddy water is unsafe to drink, but even water that looks clear can be contaminated and unsafe for animals and people to consume. Conclude by discussing with students what this means for the relationship between science, water purity, looking out for the health of others as well as our own, and care for creation.

Follow the Raindrop

In Brief

This activity engages students in physically exploring the path taken by rainwater as it travels across school property, and asks them to consider the pollutants it gathers and their effects downstream. It encourages students to reflect on questions concerning our responsibility for pollutants and their effects on others.

Goals

Students will understand how stormwater runoff affects local creeks and streams.

Students will reflect on how responsibility towards others intersects with stormwater concepts.

Thinking Ahead

Use online maps or other map resources to view the landscape around your school parking lot to learn for yourself where water goes when it rains on your school property, and where water runs when it enters the storm drains. Figure out where the drainpipe leads, and follow that until you find a low-lying area or waterway. Often on maps you can locate the nearest creek, and that can be indicative. You could assign this as research for the students, as well, or let them figure it out with you as you go. You can check with your local municipality to find out if stormwater is handled in some way other than by piping it directly into streams.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Wet weather clothing

Teaching the Activity

Dress for the weather (rainy days can be very useful for this activity!) and take students out into the school parking lot. Draw students’ attention to the parking lot surface and ask them to suggest all the pollutants that might accumulate on it:

  • Dirt
  • Salt
  • Metal dust from cars
  • Antifreeze
  • Oil and other chemicals from cars
  • Heat from the sun

Discuss with them how all of those things get picked up with the stormwater when it rains.

Next, ask where the water goes when it rains, and if it is raining, observe with the students any visible flow patterns.

Physically walk with the students to the storm drain. Then either by your best guess or on the basis of research, follow that pipe downhill and out to the next waterway. As you walk, ask students for observations about the way the land is used. Does the water pass homes, businesses, industries, farms, or just go into a drain?

It is ideal if you can all make it to where the pipe enters the creek so the students can see the water running out of the pipe. But if it is too far, you could take a picture or video in advance and share it with the students while you are all standing at the storm drain. The experience of imagining the water running underground, with more dirty water accumulating as it goes, and then seeing it pour out into the creek, can help make the learning more vivid.

Debrief the walk with students, either on-site or back in the classroom. Use some of the following questions and encourage students to ask and discuss their own questions:

  • What is in the water?
  • What route does water take from your house to get to the creek?
  • How might this water, with the pollutants it has gathered, affect the creatures living in the creek?
  • What might the consequences be for the creek’s ecosystem when the waterways are put in pipes and sent underground?
  • How would the areas around these waterways look different if the waterways were aboveground or connected to the landscape, rather than under it?
    • What problems might this pose?
    • What solutions might it offer?
  • What could be done to prevent stormwater from polluting the creek?
  • How can the stormwater be slowed down or allowed to soak into the ground, thus removing pollutants, before it reaches the creek?
  • What lifestyle changes would need to be made to prevent this pollution?

Ask students to imagine a single drop of rainwater and draw a map of where it goes as it travels to the creek. On the map, include pollutants that might accumulate along the way and creatures that live near or in the creek that will be affected by the droplet of water and its pollutants.

Finally, ask students to imagine that they had a fishpond or a vegetable garden at home and discovered that their neighbor was regularly dumping out polluted water that then ran directly into this pond or garden. How would they react? Why do we not tend to think of stormwater that passes over our property in the same way?

Design a Watershed

In Brief

Students will each design their own plot of land and then connect their plots to make up a watershed. This leads to a definition of “watershed” and a discussion about what happens when it rains and stormwater washes over their landscape and down into the waterways. What are the implications for the natural resources, community, and downstream neighbors?

Goals

Students will understand how water moves across a landscape and defines a watershed.

Students will understand that water quality is affected by land use, and that land development and stormwater management are environmental justice issues.

Students will develop ideas for how to care for streams and rivers and downstream communities.

Thinking Ahead

This activity puts students in the role of developing their own plot of land and then looking at what happens when rainfall makes their land just another piece of a watershed puzzle. It gives students increased awareness of how their choices affect others around them as well as the creek specifically. Finally, it allows students to make adjustments to their land use to protect waterways and downstream neighbors.

Watersheds work as unifying natural boundaries whether or not they are recognized by human boundaries. Within the same watershed, many governing bodies (cities, counties, townships) may coexist, each often making different rules without consulting those downstream who are directly affected by the regulations as the water washes all things downhill. In some communities, people identify themselves by their watersheds or valleys, while in other communities people do not even know that there is water running underneath their streets.

Becoming aware of watersheds and running water helps make people aware of how their land-use choices and other choices impact the quality of life for creatures and people living downstream from them, if not for those in their own community. Christians can gain from improved awareness of past broken choices regarding land use and water in order to learn to care well for the land, the water, and their downstream neighbor. As Wendell Berry puts it, “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”1

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Copies of the watershed (30 sheets, 8.5×11 is suggested), printed from Design a Watershed. If you want to make a watershed puzzle in the shape of your local watershed, lay out a grid of office paper (tape the sheets down) and draw a shape similar to the watershed onto the grid, including outlining the major waterways and tributaries. Then number the sheets so that you can reconstruct it later. Define the lines with a thick marker. Finally, make a master copy of each sheet, so that you can reproduce the grid on future occasions as needed.

  • Markers, colored pencils, or crayons (or instruct students to bring their own). Make sure to have lots of green, blue, brown, and black, as these are the most frequently used colors.

  • Pictures of pollution (these are optional, but helpful) printed from free online clip art sites or magazines. You can laminate these if you wish to reuse them. Suggestions: oil, poop, cows, piles of leaves, heat waves, soap containers, toilets, salt bags, dirt piles, creepy looking monsters (bacteria), trash cans or piles of trash, piles of food waste, plastic bags, pets/pet waste, geese, etc.

  • Chalk (if doing this lesson outdoors on pavement).

  • A large, clear area on the classroom floor to put the puzzle together with enough space for students to congregate around it and discuss it.

Teaching the Activity

Hand out the watershed pieces randomly, so that students sitting next to each other cannot put their sheets together and start formulating the idea that they are neighbors (that should come later). Do not tell students what the activity is, or why they are doing it, or anything that will give them any preconceived notions of what is going on beyond logistics. Do not tell them what the numbers are for. If you wish, you can tell the students a framing story: “You have just stumbled upon a piece of property. It is all yours and you can use it however you want. Your imagination is your only limitation. You only need to decide what to do with it and show us this with images, words, or symbols on your property. You may consider how you will live off of your property and what you will pass on to your children.”

Provide logistical information: “If you have black lines on your land, they represent waterways, creeks, lakes, streams. If you have no black lines, you do not have any surface water on your land. You all have about 10 minutes to dream and draw your ideas. If it is helpful, think about what your property will look like from space or Google Earth when you draw it; you don’t have to make things 3-D. You may not have enough time to make careful drawings with pencils, so just go for it and capture your ideas.”

Do not give students ideas of what to draw unless they are really stuck. If so, then ask them what they are passionate about or interested in: sports? shopping? video games? food? Suggest they do something along those lines. Or ask them what their favorite place to visit is: What is their dream vacation activity? Where do they go to relax? Suggest they use this to create a piece of landscape.

Sometimes if a class is being very uniform in their ideas (e.g., 15 farms or soccer fields), it may be helpful to ask if anyone has thought about how to supply energy, or community gathering areas (e.g., library, school, town hall, church), or entertainment, or restaurants.

After 10-15 minutes, give a 1-2 minute warning and ask students to start gathering in an open area with space to put the puzzle together and enough room for everyone to stand around it. If you have a large enough piece of butcher paper, you could make a grid that is numbered to indicate where students should place their property, but this isn’t necessary if you don’t mind helping to place them in the order you created. The provided watershed sheets are to be laid out in a grid with five columns and five rows.

Ask for volunteers to explain how they developed their property. This can take as long as you want. Look at your watershed and try to choose sharers who have chosen a variety of ways to develop property. As they are sharing, drop pieces of pollution on their sites. Since the common sources of pollution in the particular watershed depicted here are mostly from stormwater that washes pollutants into streams, drop oil blobs on parking lots and roads or cars. Drop trash bags and other trash in areas of heavy traffic or parks with woods. Put dead fish in a creek that is downstream from factories or other heavy polluters. Put cows and manure on farms or in yards that might have pets. Put salt on roads, etc.

Nonchalantly keep the conversation going as you do this, avoiding giving the impression that students are being punished for sharing their creations; you are just describing reality. Do something to each site if possible so no one feels singled out. Ask questions to help students think further through the effects of their properties and to help students connect their property to the properties up or downstream from them. Tell students not to worry about the different styles of the drawings. Explain that we have now laid our properties out and created a watershed. Ask students to help you come up with a working definition of a watershed (an area of land that drains to a common body of water or common point). They could imagine that the edges of the map are raised like hills or mountains and that the waterways are the low points flowing out to the very lowest point, where the river meets the next body of water.

  • How does your property affect the river? The downstream neighbor?
  • How does the cow farm upstream affect your kayak business?
  • How big will the parking lot need to be for your shopping mall?

Next, briefly discuss stormwater runoff. Ask students to help define stormwater runoff (excess surface water that flows across the land into the waterways from snowmelt and rain), and then think about what else might wash from their properties when it rains. Where do those things end up?

As you talk, move the pollutants from the land into the stream and down the creek. Talk about accumulation, and how the pollutants accumulate in the stream, so that as the water continues downstream, water quality gets worse and worse. We can learn a lot about how the land is being used by the quality of the water leaving the watershed. What does this water tell us about the watershed we have developed?

After visualizing the pollutants washing downstream, ask the downstream property owners how they feel about all of those things washing down to them. They will have a variety of answers, but people who actually live in these downstream communities will have the most poignant comments. Ask the downstream puzzle property owners what they would want to communicate to the upstream owners if they had the chance. They usually say something like, “Stop sending that stuff down here! Quit polluting!”

Tell students that they did not get a choice today about where their property would be; it was randomly assigned. Ask them where they would choose to live if they had a chance to choose, and why. They usually choose the headwaters or edges of the watershed, because water is clean there.

Offer a hypothetical situation where the land is distributed in a different way: people can bid on the land, and the plots can be purchased. Who would live in the headwaters of this developed watershed? The people with more money would outbid the others (this part may need to be adjusted to fit different cultural situations, but generally, wealthier people get the better living locations, while lower income people live where they can afford, often in compromised and/or dangerous areas). Who would live downstream? The people with the least money would live on the least desirable plots, probably facing pollution. People of color and lower income neighborhoods are typically located downstream, and receive a disproportionate amount of the pollution from polluted waterways. The land values of polluted areas are lower.

Next, discuss solutions. How can we make this a healthy watershed for all the residents (including plants and animals)?

Here the activity can be taken in various directions. One option is to focus on stormwater management. Slowing stormwater and allowing it to sink into the groundwater cleans it before it reaches the creek. Sediments settle out, bacteria die off, plants absorb nutrients, and even some chemicals can be broken down by the process of soaking through the ground.

You could also focus on land use. Changing some of our land uses can help restore health and beauty to the creek. Some ideas include:

  • Planting trees
  • Restoring the edges of streams so they are covered and surrounded by native plants and trees
  • Capturing stormwater off of hard surfaces with rain gardens before the water runs into the storm drain (and into the creek)

The students may come up with other ideas like reducing trash by reusing bags, and taking the bus or biking to reduce air emissions and pollution from cars. They could fence off domestic animals to keep them from going into the creek, and compost animal waste before applying it to farm fields. Discuss with students how to give the downstream communities a voice to speak up about pollution and how to mobilize the community to value its resources and promote change.

After some brainstorming, send students back to make some changes to their properties to protect the water and show some love to their downstream neighbor. You can optionally extend this work into brainstorming exercises and research projects.

End the activity with the challenge to “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” Tell students that this is a quotation from Wendell Berry, and ask them if they can identify the more famous saying on which it is based. (Jesus’s formulation of the Golden Rule is found in Luke 6:31.)

Optional Outdoor Chalk Option

Sometimes you need an outdoor activity. If there is cement and chalk on hand, “Design a Watershed” can be altered and done outdoors.

Draw a big random shape (large enough for the entire group to have a good section of cement to draw on, but not so big that there would be blank areas between people), with a definite drain at one point. Using blue chalk, draw a waterway with a few tributaries inside the shape.

Introduce the activity as above. Have the students stand with their toes on the outline of the shape and tell them that they are standing on the hills or mountains surrounding a valley where they are all going to live now.

They can all use the chalk to develop their new home, but should keep in mind how they are going to provide for themselves and their children. Recommend that they draw things the way a bird would see them if flying over the valley. Let them know that the blue lines represent waterways. Remind them that they must develop their land only within the shape.

As compared to the paper version, students are more aware of each other and how their properties connect. You could suggest someone make roads to connect businesses and properties. When the development is finished, the conversation that follows is the same as with the paper watershed puzzle.

 

1© 2003 by Wendell Berry, from Citizenship Papers. Used by permission of Counterpoint.

Upstream Downstream

In Brief

This is a major project activity to be conducted over a period of time. It engages your students with students in another school upstream or downstream from them in their watershed. It places love of neighbor in a practical context that is connected to learning about watersheds and ecology.

Goals

Students will have greater understanding of who their upstream and downstream neighbors actually are by building relationships or acquaintances with other students from a partnering school.

Students will develop a deeper awareness of their involvement in, and their influence on, their watershed.

Students will develop a response to share with an upstream or downstream partner student, parent, or other community member.

Thinking Ahead

Very few Americans identify themselves as watershed residents. Working to form intentional partnerships between upstream schools and downstream schools enables students to recognize their location and influence, and the interdependence within a watershed. It puts a face, name, and story to the concept of upstream and downstream neighbors.

To launch an upstream-downstream relationship, two teachers within a watershed (one upstream and one downstream) commit to working together to plan mutually beneficial learning experiences for their respective students. Teachers choose and develop these activities because they see the benefit to their students of getting to know students from another part of the watershed. Such a project not only creates a practical context for science learning, but also allows for very concrete exploration of the possible connections between ecology, science learning, and an ethic of love of neighbor. Teaching FASTly involves exploring these kinds of connections rather than teaching each part of the picture as if it existed in isolation, with faith, science, and community separated. In your regular science teaching practices, consider how often you work to help students see these wider connections.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Contact your local Drain Commissioner, Department of Natural Resources representative, or another local government official to find out what watershed your school is in, if you don’t already know. Using a map of your watershed, locate other schools in the watershed, and ask around to find another school or teacher who would be interested in connecting over watershed issues.

Begin conversations with your partner teacher about what your students and school locations have and do not have in common within the watershed. What experiences do students share, and how are their lives different? How are the schools similar, and how are they different?

Watersheds are integrators; they unify, because everyone has water in common. However, people’s experiences of that water can vary greatly within a watershed depending on where they live (see the activity Design a Watershed). Collect as much information about the watershed as you can, or invite a professional who knows about the watershed to instruct the students from both schools about their two areas in the watershed and the overall issues the watershed faces.

Discuss common interests in studying the watershed, and identify subjects that might lend themselves to common study projects. For example, perhaps both teachers are interested in research techniques and want to research water quality in order to compare results. Or perhaps both schools are open to connecting science and history, offering the possibility of research and oral history projects in the two areas. Environmental justice issues could be the joint focus of geography, social studies, and Bible or religion classes. Studies in plants, animals, local water laws, land-use planning, or other subjects could be drawn together in a common focus on the watershed. Partnering on the installation of a rain garden or another green infrastructure project at each school could create a rich learning experience. The details of the project will vary with the context, but the objective is to create meaningful connections between those upstream and those downstream, focused around ecological learning.

Introduce students to the idea of making a connection with a school upstream or downstream from them. Frame the project using the following quotation from “Watershed and Commonwealth,” an essay by Wendell Berry (included for presentation in Upstream Downstream):

People who live at the lower ends of watersheds cannot be isolationist—or not for long. Pretty soon they will notice that water flows, and that will set them to thinking about the people upstream who either do or do not send down their silt and pollutants and garbage. Thinking about the people upstream ought to cause further thinking about the people downstream. Such pondering on the facts of gravity and the fluidity of water shows us that the golden rule speaks to a condition of absolute interdependency and obligation. People who live on rivers might rephrase the rule in this way: Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.1

Discuss with students:

  • What does Berry mean by being “isolationist”?
  • Why does he think it is harder for people downstream to be isolationist?
  • Why might people upstream be tempted to be isolationist?
  • What is the original version of the “Golden Rule”? Where does it come from? (“Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Jesus in Matthew 7:12)
  • What does the Golden Rule have to do with gravity and fluidity? How does it apply to watersheds?
  • Can we obey the Golden Rule (the original or the rephrased version) without learning about who lives upstream/downstream from us?

If possible, pair students with partners from the other school and arrange a way to get to know each other. Means of doing this might range from an online discussion board to a watershed tour with both schools traveling and doing activities together at sites along the tour. If a tour can be arranged, students will get to see the landscape of the watershed and get to know students from the other school at the same time. Share ideas for projects during site visits.

In collaboration with your partner teacher, choose an activity for both classes to take part in, using the shared creek or watershed as the lab. This could involve a comparative study of some aspect of the watershed, including:

  • Water quality testing
  • Studying macro-invertebrates and fish in the water
  • Studying vegetation along the banks
  • Water temperature measurement
  • Visual comparisons of the creek in both places

You could create collaboration with other subject areas by including drawing or art projects, writing or poetry, historical investigation, or video. As students gather data, invite them to focus on the land use around the two schools as well. Have them consider the ways in which those downstream might be affected by those upstream.

As this activity is carried out, look for issues that might allow for a response project. This could be conducted with the partner school or independently. Students could, for instance, research and begin to implement ways to slow stormwater with rain gardens and rain barrels, or by planting trees and native plants. They may decide to raise awareness with videos, posters, events, or other methods of sharing their findings with their communities. They may create an artistic response. The results of these activities can be shared not only with your immediate community, but also with the partner school, either in person or as part of a joint web page or publication.

At the conclusion of the project, return to the quotation from Wendell Berry and discuss it again with your class:

  • What was most rewarding or most challenging about the project?
  • What parts of our project could be seen as a response to the Golden Rule (the original or the rephrased version)?
  • What have you learned about ways in which we may still be falling short of loving our neighbor?

Optional Extras

Activities that you could do involving both schools to extend learning about local water ecology and create data to share and compare include:

  1. Identify a local stream that has a site that is safe to visit with students and obtain a water testing kit such as the LaMotte Earth Force: Low-Cost Monitoring Kit or the larger LaMotte Earth Force Standard Monitoring Kit. (If this is to be a regular event, the larger kit is a better value and can be used for a longer period.)

    Use the kit with students to gather data on water quality at both school sites and compare upstream and downstream data. Divide students into small groups (3-4 students) and provide them with gloves, directions, supplies, and data record sheets (or have them bring their field notebooks ready to record information). It may be helpful to have groups establish roles: instruction reader, recorder, and investigators. At the stream site, have groups proceed through the instructions that come with the testing kit and record data. You could ask groups to start a spreadsheet of data points to compare over time. This would allow them to construct some simple graphs.

    When students have collected data, work with students to interpret their numbers into a statement of the health condition of the stream. For instance, if the pH is 6, how does that relate to a healthy pH? What does this tell us about the stream? What factors influence that water quality variable in a watershed (i.e., what factors influence the pH of the stream?)? Have students create a “report card” for the stream based on the test results.

  2. Measuring a creek’s size and surroundings can be a useful way to observe and understand influences on the creek. When a creek has streambank erosion, there will be excess sediment in the water, changing the habitat and species-dominance of the aquatic creatures. This erosion is often caused by stormwater that rushes in during and following a rain or melt event. These erosive sediments further dig out the banks and the streambeds, further disconnecting the stream from its floodplain, which would normally absorb energy, sediments, and nutrients from the stormwater.

    In urban areas, or almost any landscape affected by humans, stormwater flow is speeded to the creeks in an effort to avoid flooding. As a result, the creeks swell quickly, and this dramatically increased flow causes erosion in the streambed itself, which leads to streambank damage. Stream Physical Survey includes a detailed survey form and teacher instructions that can be used to engage students in a physical survey of stream erosion and condition.

 

1© 2003 by Wendell Berry, from Citizenship Papers. Used by permission of Counterpoint.

A Stewardship Story

In Brief

This activity engages students in learning about one community’s efforts to bring science, education, faith, and action together to improve conditions in a watershed. It encourages students to see how a complex of factors can come together to bring about change, and how faith, hope, and love can inform work for long-term change.

Goals

Students will learn about the story of a long-term effort to reduce pollution in a watershed and understand the strategies involved.

Students will reflect on the relationships between multiple factors, including faith, science, and community action, in bringing about ecological improvement.

Thinking Ahead

Learning about ecological problems can be disheartening. Given the complexity of the factors involved, and the ways in which they often seem inextricably interwoven with the habits and lifestyles of large populations, it can feel as if there is little that an individual can do, and this can lead to cynicism or apathy. Teaching about ecology in connection with faith raises the challenge of conveying the roles of hope, community, and commitment amid a realistic assessment of the problems facing us.

This activity seeks to show students a glimpse of how the complex interconnections that give rise to problems are also part of how we can work to address them. It encourages reflection on how science, faith, schools, churches, history, and action can all be interconnected in work towards change. Teaching FASTly explores these kinds of connections rather than teaching each part of the picture as if it existed in isolation, with faith, science, and community separated. In your regular science teaching practices, consider how often you work to help students see these wider connections.

Related Book Review: Song of a Scientist: The Harmony of a God-Soaked Creation by Calvin B. DeWitt

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Begin with a short discussion with students of the differences between optimism and hope. Ask students to discuss briefly in pairs whether there are differences between someone who is optimistic about how things will go and someone who has hope. Elicit that while the two terms are often used in similar ways, optimism focuses more on the expectation that things will go well, whereas hope may involve a determination to keep seeking and traveling towards a desired goal even if things do not go so well along the way. Hope trusts in a promised future, and combined with faith, it can allow us to continue to trust through apparent failure. As the New Testament book of Hebrews (11:1, NET) puts it, “faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.”

As a transition to the reading activity, ask students to reflect on how optimistic they are about future improvement in the ecological problems surrounding watersheds. Mention that lack of hope can lead to cynicism and inaction.

Hand out copies of A Stewardship Story, and have students form pairs or groups of three. Ask them first to read through the story of Plaster Creek. When there has been enough time to read it through, spend a few minutes with the class checking their understanding of key terms: rain gardens, bioswales, nonpoint source pollution, green infrastructure, native plants. Then display the following clusters of terms on the board or the screen (see A Stewardship Story):

watersheds – stormwater – native plants

paved surfaces – rain gardens – pollutants

schools – research – watersheds

churches – watersheds – science

science – theology – watersheds

science education – oral history – watersheds

trust – hope – ecological improvement

government – schools – individuals and families

Assign two or more of these clusters to each pair or group (multiple groups can investigate the same clusters, and you can divide them up in various ways depending on the size of your group and how long you would like to devote to this part of the activity). Ask each pair or group to search through the story for any information that shows a connection between the three terms in each cluster, and to be prepared to explain to the rest of the class how each term interacts with the other two in the work of the Plaster Creek Stewards. Emphasize that they need not just point to places where the terms are connected, but should explain why each term is important in relation to the others.

When they have had enough time to investigate and prepare, call on different pairs or groups to explain the relationships between the terms in each cluster. Allow other students to add to the picture. The goal here is to help students appreciate the complex web of relationships that goes into working for ecological improvement.

Finally, return to the theme of optimism or hope. Discuss the following questions with students:

  • Do you see arguments for or against optimism in the Plaster Creek story?
  • Do you see any reason for hope in the Plaster Creek story?
  • Why do you think the Plaster Creek Stewards continue with this work despite not seeing immediate results?
  • Why is it harder to work for complex, long-term goals than for quick fixes? How might faith, hope, and love help here?
  • Why would Christian educators invest so much energy in helping to improve a watershed?

If desired, you could ask students to write up an account of the relationships within one or more of the clusters of terms in the context of the Plaster Creek Stewards story.

Debrief Activities

Debrief activities bring the sequence of the study to a thoughtful close by helping students reflect on how they have been invited to see science and faith anew.

  • Activity

    Ecological Diagram

Ecological Diagram

In Brief

This activity engages students in visually representing scientific information, and teaching it to an adult conversation partner with an emphasis on both clarity, and respectful and supportive communication. It can be used to assess student understanding.

Goals

Students will create an accurate visual representation of stormwater concepts.

Students will practice explaining scientific information to an adult conversation partner, with an explicit focus on respectful, supportive communication.

Thinking Ahead

This assignment fosters parent-student interaction, or interaction between the student and another adult, related to the topics being covered in science class. It invites you and your students to see faith and science questions as matters involving a wider community. Teaching FASTly includes valuing relationships.

School learning can increase distance in family relationships, as students’ learning goes beyond their parents’ and relatives’ knowledge. Parental involvement can be reduced to helping monitor homework deadlines. This activity invites students to consider how sharing their learning can strengthen relationships. It involves practicing good communication with family members on scientific topics.

If you plan to regularly involve parents and other adults in homework activities, it is advisable to communicate with them early in the school year about why this is happening, so that expectations are clear. (See the Activity Map on Engaging Parents.)

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Directions:

Plan to assign the activity over enough days for students to be able to arrange a conversation with an adult.

Teaching the Activity

Explain to students that they must illustrate the concepts that they have been studying relating to watersheds and ecology. Give students the handout Ecological Diagram 1, which lists the following items:

  • Bacteria
  • Flashy flow
  • Heat
  • Land use
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Pollutants and nonpoint source pollution
  • Sediments
  • Stormwater
  • Toxins and trash
  • Water cycle
  • Watershed

Instruct students to create a clear diagram illustrating these concepts, specifying that it has to both be accurate in its representation of the scientific information, and accessible, in the sense that it is suitable for teaching that information to another person. It should, for instance, be large enough to show to another person while explaining what it represents. Allow time in class for students to create their illustration (or assign as homework), and check the students’ work for accuracy and clarity.

Once the diagrams have been completed, tell students that they will now use their illustration to teach the material to a parent or other adult. Allow a few minutes in class for students to rehearse sharing their illustration with a partner. Instruct students to give feedback to their partner on the clarity and pace of his or her explanation and the supportiveness of his or her demeanor as he or she teaches.

Give students a few days to arrange to meet with a parent or other adult to explain the science behind their illustration. Discuss explicitly with students what might count as supportive, respectful behavior while teaching another person (e.g., no eye-rolling if points are not understood at first), and specific strategies for showing interest in a person’s questions (“That’s a great question. I wondered about that myself…”). Give students a copy of Ecological Diagram 2 and tell them to have their adult conversation partner fill it out. The student should bring back the completed paper. Once the assignment is complete, allow a few minutes in class to debrief about how the conversations went.