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Groundwater Unit Outline with Culminating Project

Kathy Paris

Types of activities:

  • Hands-on
  • Inquiry lab
  • Authentic assessment
  • Group/
    cooperative learning
  • Relevant learning

Target audience:

  • Biology

Background Information:

The learning experience on groundwater was made possible by a grant from the GTE GIFT GRANT program. A math teacher and I received $12,000 to implement the program. $5000 was to be used for conferences and classes related to our topic and $7000 for our supplies and equipment. Some of the activities can be done without grant assistance, but some needed big money (i.e. a computer).

You should be aware of a few problems that always seem to happen when something new is tried. In Part 3 of the activities, my students were to perform many different tests (presumptive and confirming tests for total and fecal coliforms; tests for nitrate, chloride, copper, iron, manganese, color and pH). The testing procedures were fine, but doing so many tests at one time were very stressful for the kids and me. Next year, I am going to focus on just the coliform tests. It is also essential that you have enough sterifil funnels so that you don't have to sterilize between classes. There should be no more than 4 students per sterifil funnel set up.

Parts 5 d and e (making Plexiglas or paper mache models) were very messy. If you are a neatness freak as I am, it can be a real stress creator. Next year, I am changing these two sections (see "Activities" for the original and modified versions).

Preparation time was extensive (as it is for any new unit) as I had to write new lectures, labs and modify the Sepup kits for high school age students. The students enjoyed the kit "Fruitvale-A Groundwater Study" but it did take an hour or two to set up. The chemical and coliform testing took much more time than I had imagined. Although the chemical kits (from Chemetrics) were easy to use, some time was needed to prepare the students. I wrote an assignment to accompany an article on water quality. Each chemical test was explained and a rationale was given for performing the test. The coliform tests took the most time because sterile protocol was required. In addition, we were doing both presumptive and confirming tests and getting results took days.

Class time needed: 21 days (less if you omit some testing)


With few exceptions, students in our community rely on groundwater for their drinking water and on septic tanks for their waste disposal. Few realize that what they put on the ground or down their toilets may end up in drinking water. The intent of this unit is to develop positive ways to change and enhance student attitudes, perceptions and knowledge bases regarding science and the environment and the role of both in all our lives. This project, in pursuit of these changes, has six overall objectives:
  1. To provide opportunities for students to collect real data on their own well water.

  2. To determine if and how the various contaminants (coliform bacteria) affect living systems including the human system.

  3. For students to use technology to solve problems in science as they collect and analyze data, develop Digital Chisel (multimedia) presentations, and use desktop publishing to organize and disseminate information.

  4. To encourage students to grasp the relevance of sciences by experiencing real world applications.

  5. To provide various opportunities to teach and demonstrate science to others.

  6. To become advocates seeking to protect our precious groundwaters by educating others.


Part 1

Students learned about groundwater and watersheds, how septic tanks work, groundwater pollution, and how these pollutants affect biological systems. They did this through a video, drawings, a game, readings and a few notes with demos. Letters were sent home to the parents to explain what we were doing and what was expected.

Part 2

Using the kit "Investigating Groundwater," (a Sepup kit I modified for my high school students), students worked in cooperative groups and measured the length of time it took water to move through various earth materials; performed serial dilution's to understand ppm and ppb; carried out a simulation of well testing and contamination; and used a map of the town and results of their well testing to determine the boundary of contamination. Finally, students role played in a town meeting and discussed clean up plans.

Part 3

I selected quantitative tests for two of the mandatory tests: presumptive and confirming tests for total coliforms (Hach kits) and nitrate, and six of the aesthetic tests: chloride, copper, iron, manganese, color and pH. Measurements were taken in mg/l (ppm). The data was input into a spreadsheet designed for us by the math classes. Each student also created a research notebook to record hypotheses, gather information, record their experiments, gather and organize data and make conclusions. Rubrics were designed for the students (and their parents) so they would know what was exemplary, competent, emerging or unacceptable.

Part 4

The students in some math classes were taught by my students how to do the testing. The math students then used the data to create computer maps of the wells and then shared these with my students.

Part 5

Students selected one of 5 action plans to educate others how they could help. The best way to learn something is to teach it to others.

a) Some created a lesson on groundwater by making a multimedia presentation using Digital Chisel. They incorporated CD ROM and laser disk pictures in their productions.

b) Some groups designed an in-depth groundwater newsletter to send to parents.

c) Others used a Sepup kit to study the proper and safe use of household chemicals (I modified it for high school). These students also prepared booklets for elementary schools.

d) Some built a Plexiglas model to simulate how groundwater is contaminated and made accompanying display cards.

e) The final choice was making a paper-mache model of a watershed and the contamination sources, with an accompanying display panel.

Note: Parts d and e were too messy for me so I have modified them for future use-see next page.

Modified version of Part 5 d and e:

d) Other groups will develop a advertising campaign to educate others about groundwater and how to save it. They will design buttons (to sell to support the program next year) and posters and any other products they can create to help spread the word.

e) Still others will design a boxed kit that will educate elementary students about groundwater and how they can protect it. Students will design handouts, overheads, activities and buttons that can be used by an teacher for their class.


  1. Pre/post tests will be designed to test prior knowledge about groundwater, etc. After our unit is done, a same test will be given again to see how much the students have learned. Questions will be analyzed to see where improvement is needed in this unit..

  2. Evaluation of their performance on their culminating activity which is their action plan (see part 5 under "Activities/Materials"). This is a type of alternative assessment as opposed to just doing tests. Students will be given the criteria for grading (Rubric). The quality of these projects (or lack of) will enable us to make any necessary adjustments in the future.

  3. Once shown the "how-to's", can students use a computer, modem and Internet to access information without assistance to show exemplary performance with a technology or will they need a little assistance (competent) or will they need a lot of assistance (emerging)?

  4. Based on student developed Rubrics ("an assessment framework that defines the performance; describes performance criteria for teachers, students and parents"):

    • Students will evaluate other student's projects. Evaluation is the one of the highest levels of thinking in "Bloom's Taxonomy".
    • Students will perform a self-evaluation.
    • Parents will evaluate some of the project(s) they view during open house.

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