The RiverXchange curriculum is a compilation of ready-made lesson plans that are coordinated into a coherent whole to help students understand the big picture about water resources. For each lesson, we will provide writing prompts and specific writing assignment ideas. It offers an exciting new way for upper elementary teachers to explore major water resources topics over many months as part of the normal curriculum– instead of limiting the study of water to a single unit or a single subject (science). The curriculum integrates science, social studies, language arts and math lessons to cover three units:
What is a Watershed?
Water in Our Society
Topics within those units include:
|Water quality||Nonpoint source pollution||Drinking water|
|Water rights||Water conservation||Wastewater|
Students develop skills in many areas including data analysis, map reading, scientific investigation, research, communication, writing and computers. We ask that teachers provide regular opportunities — such as every few weeks — for their students to write about what they are learning. The classes that have the most fun are the ones that write often. Ongoing communication generates a lot of student excitement!
All activities are correlated to New Mexico science and social studies standards, as well as new Common Core standards! While many teachers think of water resources as a science topic, we believe water is a great theme to teach many subjects.
One of our main goals is to reinforce students’ learning by communicating about everything they are learning, so the project lends itself extremely well to teaching the Common Core Language Arts Standards, especially:
- Reading informative texts
- Writing opinion, informative, or narrative texts
- With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others
- Researching to build and present knowledge
- Practicing conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking
- Engaging in a range of collaborative discussions
- Including multimedia components (e.g. graphics, sound) and visual displays in presentations
The project is especially useful for integrating social studies standards with other subject areas, something we need to do more and more as social studies is being squeezed out of the curriculum in many districts. Just a few social studies standards we cover are:
- Conduct research on major historical eras including Native American settlement, of European exploration, discovery and colonization and show how that laid a foundation for our government and later history, using a variety of resources.
- Evaluate maps, globes, and charts and identify their purpose.
- Demonstrate how different areas of the United States are organized and interconnected (think watersheds!)
- Describe similarities and differences among regions of the globe and their patterns of change
- Understand the interrelationships between humans and the geographic environment and how natural, man-made, and renewable resources impact daily life.
- Describe the individual’s rights and responsibilities as a citizen.
We also cover lots of math standards, such as data analysis, graphing, and conversions. For example, students can estimate their personal water usage and create graphs of the data. New Mexico students computed how many classrooms would be filled by the 26,000 cubic yards of trash we pull out of Albuquerque’s stormwater system each year. Then they analyzed graphs of the sources of pollution and discussed what they could do about it. And to learn how much water a leaky faucet wastes, they measured how much water would be leaked in one minute, then calculated how much would be wasted in a year.
And of course, there’s science. We not only cover ecosystems and the water cycle, we also include lots of hands-on science experiments. For example, students might create and analyze a chart to understand how pollution changes aquatic macroinvertebrate populations, and why this matters to the ecosystem. Students take a mini-field trip on their school grounds to see where water goes when it rains and measure how quickly it sinks in for different soil types. And to understand how our wastewater is cleaned, students create a model of the sewage treatment process.
As RiverXchange organizers, our ability to demonstrate impact is a key factor in securing future funding. Increasingly, funders and in-kind sponsors have to make tough choices when it comes to funding and participating in outreach projects. While all funders are interested in reaching the greatest number of students for the least amount of money, they are also looking at value. Are the students really learning anything? What are they learning? What are their continued challenges? Is my organization’s message getting through to students?
Student learning will be assessed via three online student assessments and through ongoing review of student writing. The online assessments relate to each of the three units, and they have fun pre-quiz activities along with the quiz. To review student writing, our team reviews the wikis three times each year. It is crucial that students write as often as possible — not only for their own mastery of various language arts skills — but so that we can determine what they know.