Contaminated Water Study and Town Meeting - 7th Grade Science

The fictitious town of Silver Oaks has a not-so-fictitious problem: the possibility of a mercury-contaminated water supply. But don’t worry, Norwood’s seventh-grade science students are on the case.
Investigation took place within lab groups. At the beginning of the project, each group was given a town map with 40 locations where they could drill test wells and test water drawn to determine how much mercury was in the groundwater. Lab groups were told they only have enough money to drill in 12 locations out of the 40 possibilities and could only test three wells at a time. Students carefully studied the town map and applied what they knew about groundwater movement to decide which three wells they thought would be most important to test first and why. Within their groups, students have to think strategically and collaboratively, taking what they have learned in class about geology and groundwater and applying this knowledge to a real-life situation.
Simulated well-water tests took place in labs to measure mercury levels, and students were expected to use the data they obtained from each phase of the testing to inform the next phase. They tested all 12 of their labs in four lab sessions. Once each group identified what they felt was the source of the contamination, individual students were assigned “roles” and participated in a mock town meeting to address the water contamination problem in Silver Oaks. Students portrayed concerned citizens (mother of young children, community activist, senior citizen, and out-of-towner), Town Council members,special interest groups, and five representatives who presented plans to clean up the contamination, which included containment, removal, excavation and treatment, electrification, and shutting down the water source. Proposals were supported by PowerPoint presentations, evidence, and budgets.

This project teaches students that sometimes there is no easy solution and that all decisions are hard. And what do you do when you have conflicting opinions? As a group, they needed to figure out what’s most important, such as money, safety, and time. It’s a complex assignment that helps develop a wide range of skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

Teaching science today is far more complex than it used to be. Just look at this one assignment. It blended real-world events, public speaking, debate, research, geology, lab skills, as well as how science informs political views.
Located in Bethesda, MD, Norwood School develops students in grades PK-8 into confident lifelong learners who have the academic, character, and leadership skills to succeed in high school and beyond. Recognizing that children are multi-faceted, Norwood provides many opportunities for safe risk-taking, exploration, discovery, and growth in a nurturing, supportive, and inclusive school community.