ERIC Identifier: ED463950
Publication Date: 2000-12-00
Author: Haury, David L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Studying Watersheds: A Confluence of Important Ideas. ERIC
"How is life in your watershed? Though we generally describe where we live in
terms of towns, cities, or school districts, we also live within the boundaries
of local watersheds. Determined by the topography of a region rather than
political boundaries, watersheds are areas of land defined by the flow patterns
of rainwater or melting snow and ice. In general terms a watershed is a
geographic area where all the water, sediments, and dissolved materials drain to
a common outlet-a stream, river system, reservoir, underground aquifer, or other
body of water. It can also be thought of as an area that "catches" water and
routes it to a common basin, channel, or network of channels. Internationally,
the term catchment rather than watershed is used to convey this idea.
Some watersheds are complex systems like the Everglades (Robinson, Robinson,
& Lane; 1996), while others are simpler river systems. Together they supply
the world's fresh water. Understanding these natural systems and sustaining
environmentally healthy conditions within these systems require the application
of knowledge and skills from many subject domains, as well as active inquiry,
collaborative study, and decision making. Unfortunately, most Americans do not
know what watersheds are, and only 22% know that storm water runoff is the most
common source of pollution in streams, rivers, and oceans (NEET, 1999).
WATERSHEDS IN THE CURRICULUM
As the linked forces of
curricular reform and standards-based assessment continue to delineate important
ideas and skills to learn in science and other subjects, there is a growing need
to identify focal points for organizing school programs. Locally relevant topics
are needed to connect concept and skill development across subject areas and
grade levels. A study of watersheds can serve this role; everyone on earth lives
within a watershed; the quality of life is greatly affected by the condition of
the local watershed; and watersheds can serve as an instructional focus for
active learning in science, mathematics, social studies, environmental
education, and other subject areas. Here are some examples (Cole-Misch, Price, & Schmidt, 1996):
A watershed's geological history and hydrological processes teach elements of
Analysis of the chemical and biological parameters of a river teaches physical
and biological sciences.
The gathering of quantitative, empirical data involves students in mathematics.
Land and water use within a watershed provide a context for the social sciences
in watershed management.
Furthermore, the study of watersheds provides the perfect forum for engaging
community partners in the school curriculum. Many local issues relate to the
supply and protection of drinkable water, and many occupations relate to
monitoring and managing the environmental health of watersheds.
CONNECTIONS TO NATIONAL STANDARDS
Following are examples of
how the study of watersheds intersects with the standards of selected subjects.
"The National Science Education Standards" (NRC, 1996) include statements
about unifying concepts, skills of inquiry, and content knowledge that are
relevant to the study of watersheds. Among the unifying concepts and processes
explicitly mentioned is the concept of systems, a concept central to an
understanding of watersheds. The Standards also emphasize engaging students in
active inquiry, and the study of watersheds provides opportunity for both
authentic, local inquiry and collaboration with others at a distance. Finally,
the Standards refer to science in personal and social perspectives; a study of
watersheds provides a unique opportunity to study issues related to water
quality, water management, and community actions and policies.
"Excellence in Environmental Education-Guidelines for Learning (K-12)"
(NAAEE, 1999) presents guidelines that emerge from six core principles which
relate to a study of watersheds: (a) systems, (b) interdependence, (c) the
importance of where one lives, (d) integration and infusion, (d) roots in the
real world, and (e) lifelong learning. Guidelines are organized into four
strands directly relevant to the study of watersheds: (1) questioning and
analysis skills, (2) knowledge of environmental processes and systems, (3)
skills for understanding and addressing environmental issues, and (4) personal
and civic responsibility.
"The Principles and Standards for School Mathematics" (NCTM, 2000) present
standards in ten knowledge domains, with several being particularly pertinent to
the study of watersheds. Here is a sampling:
Apply appropriate techniques, tools, and formulas to determine measurements.
Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and
display relevant data to answer them.
Develop and evaluate inferences and predictions that are based on data.
In the "Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies"
(NCSS, 1994), a set of ten thematically based curriculum standards are
presented, the following seem most pertinent to a study of watersheds:
"People, Places and Environments:" Students make informed and critical decisions
about relationships between humans and the environment.
"Science, Technology and Society:" Watersheds provide specific conditions and
contexts for considering responses to societal issues related to science and
"Civic Ideals and Practices:" Examination and care of the local watershed
provides an authentic forum for civic participation and personal involvement.
WATERSHED CONCEPTS AND ACTIVITIES
The study of water has
traditionally been organized around specific resources-wetlands, ponds,
rivers-or issues-pollution, water use, water quality-rather than within the
context of a larger water system, the local watershed. The traditional approach
creates awareness of water issues and facilitates development of skills and
knowledge, but it fails to address the subtle, systemic, and chronic factors
that influence the environmental health of watersheds. What is needed is a
deeper understanding of the natural systems through which fresh water flows.
Study of watersheds has been encouraged, with varying emphasis placed on
awareness (Vandas, 1997a, 1997b), protecting water resources (Jewett, 1996), and
active exploration (Rainy day hike, 1995). Mattingly (1991) provided a rich
context for thinking more broadly about watershed systems, and Milne and Etches
(1996) provided a model to examine the dynamics of watersheds within classrooms.
A high school guide (Gail, 1995) offers help in developing a program that
includes community service. These ideas and activities provide excellent ways to
examine aspects of watersheds, but more ideal would be ongoing attention to
watersheds within curriculum frameworks.
WATERSHED EDUCATION PROGRAMS AND MATERIALS
programs and materials emphasize the opportunity for active investigations,
integration of school subjects, and collaboration with other community partners.
Adopt-A-Watershed. This K-12, integrated, school-community program uses the
local watershed to engage students in comprehensive studies of ecosystems,
issues, and a broad range of science concepts. The curriculum matrix includes
concepts, field studies, action projects, and community education activities for
every grade level. For more information, see www.adopt-a-watershed.org.
The Rivers Project Curriculum was developed over several years through the
efforts of several hundred high school teachers. Curriculum units include:
Rivers chemistry, Rivers geography, Rivers earth science, Rivers biology, Rivers
language arts, and Rivers mathematics. These supplementary materials help
teachers incorporate field studies, classroom activities, and community
resources related to watersheds within their traditional courses. For more
information, visit the Website at www.siue.edu/OSME/river.
Earth Force -- Global Rivers Environmental Education Network. This
interdisciplinary watershed education and action program incorporates hands-on,
scientific learning with civic action for young people. Program participants
assess the health of their local watershed and develop a sustainable plan to
improve water quality in their community. For more information see
Give Water A Hand is a national watershed education program designed to
involve young people in local environmental service projects. For more
information, visit the Website at www.uwex.edu/erc/gwah.
WATERSHED RESOURCES ON THE WEB
Surf your watershed
(www.epa.gov/surf) is provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and
enables you to locate local watersheds and monitor conditions.
River network (www.rivernetwork.org) aims to help people understand, protect
and restore rivers and their watersheds.
The World's Water(www.worldwater.org/links.htm) offers information and data
on organizations and individuals who are cleaning up their watersheds.
U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources (water.usgs.gov/education.html) offers
links to data, pictures, maps, and interactive sites related to water.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Search the ERIC Database
(ericir.syr.edu/Eric) for more resources related to watersheds. For best
results, use watersheds as an identifier in your search strategy. To locate more
watershed education resources on the World Wide Web, use a search engine, such
as Google (www.google.com) and use the following search terms: watershed or
watersheds education. For more information about Websites providing water
information and data, please see Katz and Thornton (1997).
Cole-Misch, S., Price, L., & Schmidt, D.
(Eds.). (1996). "Sourcebook for watershed education." Ann Arbor, MI: Green
Rivers Environmental Education Network.
Gail, P.A. (1995). "A curriculum activities guide to watershed investigations
and environmental studies." Chagrin, Falls, OH: Chadbourne & Chadbourne,
Inc. [ED 378 054]
Jewett, J. (1996). Protecting our water resources. Science Scope, 19(7),
Katz, M., & Thornton, D. (1997). "Environmental management tools on the
Internet." Delray Beach, FL: St. Lucie Press.
Mattingly, R. L. (1991). Shedding light on watersheds. "The Science Teacher,"
Milne, A., & Etches, J. (1996). Floods n' dams. "Green Teacher," Issue
48, June-September, 13-16.
National Council for the Social Studies. (1994). "Expectations of excellence:
Curriculum standards for social studies." Washington, DC: Author. (Available
online at www.socialstudies.org/standards/stitle.html)
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2000). "Principles and standards
for school mathematics." Reston, VA: Author.
National Environmental Education Training Foundation. (1999). "National
report card on environmental knowledge, attitudes and behaviors: Seventh annual
Roper survey of adult Americans." Washington, DC: Author.
National Research Council. (1996). "National science education standards."
Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
North American Association for Environmental Education. (1999). "Excellence
in environmental education-guidelines for learning (K-12)." Rock Spring, GA:
Rainy day hike. (1995). Science Activities, 31(4), 30-33.
Robinson, G.B., Robinson, S.C., & Lane, J. (1996). "Discover a watershed:
The Everglades." Bozeman, MT: The Watercourse, Montana State University.
Vandas, S. (1997a). Watersheds: Where we live. "Science & Children,"
Vandas, S. (1997b) What's in a watershed? "Science Scope," 20(7), 24-26.