Exploring Community Drinking Water Quality

CSI-Maine is in the first year of working with a small group of teachers to explore how local surveys of drinking water quality might provide pedagogically powerful opportunities for students to learn how data are used to make decisions. The program is called Crowd the Tap Maine (CTTM). It is adapted from a national Crowd the Tap program based at North Carolina State University.

CTTM grows out of more than a decade of work at Schoodic Institute exploring ways to connect teachers and students to meaningful scientific work while also carefully attending to developing students’ capacity to use data to dig more deeply into problems. In CTTM, data is not just used to answer a question or prepare a presentation; it is also used to develop new questions that lead to a better understanding of a problem and greater confidence in proposed solutions.

Very Brief Overview

CTTM supports teachers and students as they explore drinking water quality in their community. Students collect data about drinking water quality from homes and buildings all across the community and look for patterns and differences. One of CTTM’s key features is that students learn to think about data spatially, using maps.

If students see patterns suggesting that drinking water in one part of the community is more likely to have troublesome odors, tastes, colors, or chemical properties, they use simple statistical methods to explore their data in more detail. Key questions at this point are (1) how sure are they that there really might be a problem, and (2) how can they test their ideas to revise them or become more confident they are correct? For an example of this process of starting from maps and then using quantitative data to explore conjectures, see the posts on “Using CTTM to Introduce Core Data Literacy Concepts” and “Evidence, Probability, and Uncertainty.”

Maine is a rural state. Rather than having a few big-city water systems, Mainers get their water from nearly 2,000 small and mid-sized public systems and thousands of private wells. Water from some of these systems will have problems that might be addressed through water filters or repairs. If, after careful thought, students are pretty certain an issue should be looked at more closely, they should work with their teacher, people running the water system, and others to take a closer look. We have not yet found such a problem, but we probably will.

Program Update – 02/02/21

Students working with Ed Lindsey and Chuck Neeley at Old Town High School have wrapped up the first semester’s work at OTHS. They collected water samples and data from taps in more than 30 buildings around Old Town, Maine. Recent posts on the CSI-Maine site look at some of what they found and explore how these data could give students practice with big ideas at the foundation of data literacy. These data are available to all teachers in the CTTM program.

This past week, students working with John van Dis at Islesboro Central School collected samples, analyzed them, and inputted them to Anecdata (the data collection and management platform we use at CTTM). Over the next weeks, we will see what they found.

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For Teachers: CTTM at Sumner Memorial High School

This past fall, Schoodic Institute Education Specialist Sarah Hooper worked Pathways students at Sumner High School on a CTTM project aimed at creating a comprehensive report on water quality in the old Sumner High School building before it is torn down and replaced by a new middle and high school learning center. Sarah used an instructional design that emphasized the importance of students’ figuring things out on their own rather than being told what to do. In her post titled “Inviting Inquiry,” she describes what happened during the first class session and includes her lesson plan, updated and commented to reflect the changes she made on the fly as she worked with the students. Don’t miss this post!

Detailed Guidance for Teachers About Collecting Water Data

CTTM is now up and running. You can see some of the data that students have collected here. Pilot teachers that are still just getting going with CTTM should look at the Instructions About How to Get Started. If you are not part of the pilot program but are interested in learning more about how you might use CTTM in your classroom, let us know.

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