Essential Science for Teachers: Earth and Space Science
Restless Landscapes Featured Classroom: Barbara Waters with Robin Geggett; Mashpee, Massachusetts
Barbara Waters with Robin Geggett;
“Asking a question is harder than giving an answer. My thesis is over 100 pages and I can boil it down to one sentence: Never answer an unasked question. I think that over half a lesson should be developed from questions that the children ask — if they didn’t ask the question, they really won’t care about the answer.”
School at a Glance:
- Location: Mashpee, Massachusetts
- Grades: 3-6
- Enrollment: 776
7% American Indian
5% African American
- Percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch:
2% versus a state average of 29%
Barbara Waters is quick to say that she has always liked water. “Ever since I discovered there were little things crawling around in the pond in the back yard, I was fascinated.” But she’s also quick to add that she married into the name. Barbara started teaching science in 1959 and, because she lived near the coast, says she felt like she was always teaching about water in some way. When she went back to school to earn her master’s in the early 1980s, she became interested in watersheds and groundwater, and it was an easy choice to do her thesis on water. At the same time, however, Barbara became interested in the constructivist approach to teaching, which, in the 1980’s, was not yet strongly advocated to classroom teachers. For her master’s thesis, Barbara combined her two interests, and one of the results of her work is the grades 4-8 curriculum Watershed to Bay: The Raindrop Journey.
For the video, Barbara worked with Robin Geggett’s fifth-graders at the Quashnet School in Mashpee, Massachusetts, which is on Cape Cod, a peninsula off the coast. Robin is in her fifth year of teaching, and has used Barbara’s curriculum in the past. “Mashpee is a community that has to be really concerned about their water — dumping from a local air force reservation led to some groundwater plumes,” explained Robin. Groundwater plumes result when contaminants have filtered into the groundwater, making it unsafe to drink.
Lesson and Curriculum
Lesson at a Glance:
Curriculum: Watershed to Bay: A Raindrop Journey
University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension System
Barbara worked with Robin’s fifth graders on groundwater. She started by having the students work in pairs to draw what they thought a groundwater table looked like. Barbara notes that children and adults alike are full of misconceptions about groundwater. “Almost all the drawings I get have the same misconception, and that is that water is in some kind of river or pool or lake underground,” Barbara commented. She also asked the students to think of and write down any questions that occurred to them as they worked on their drawings. “That’s essential for them: this is a question that I have that I hope is going to be answered.”
When they were done briefly discussing their drawings and questions, Barbara introduced a material she feels is analogous to the rock in groundwater — a sponge that was saturated with water. The students were then ready to work with their groundwater models. In groups of four or five, the class used plastic tanks that had an uneven layer of gravel on the bottom. When the students poured water into the model, they had a clear example of the water table: the bottom of the tank represents the aquifer, the gravel that is saturated in water represents the groundwater, and the dry gravel serves as the water table.
After working with the model and a little more discussion, the students, again in pairs, drew a picture of a groundwater table and wrote down some questions about it. “Well, I had a very good class of students that did a lot of thinking,” Barbara said after the lesson. She was slightly disappointed in the children’s second drawings — “they seemed to understand saturation, but their drawings didn’t reflect it” — but she considered the lesson an overall success. “I asked them to come up with questions when they started and more questions when they were finished. Those end questions were much more sophisticated, like a boy who said, ‘What is a pond like on top of the mountain? It couldn’t be connected, it’s too high up. Would it be connected to the water table the way it was in our model?’ That question shows me that he understands the concept, because he couldn’t have asked that question if he didn’t. So soliciting questions can be more important than giving answers. ”
Session 1 Earth’s Solid Membrane: Soil
How does soil appear on a newly born, barren volcanic island? In this session, participants explore how soil is formed, its role in certain Earth processes, its composition and structure, and its place in the structure of the Earth.
Session 2 Every Rock Tells A Story
How can we use rocks to understand events in the Earth's past? In this session, participants explore the processes that form sedimentary rocks, learn how fossils are preserved, and are introduced to the theory of plate tectonics.
Session 3 Journey to the Earth’s Interior
How do we know what the interior of the Earth is like if we've never been there? In this session, participants examine the internal structure of the Earth and learn how it is possible for entire continents to move across its surface.
Session 4 The Engine That Drives the Earth
What drives the movement of tectonic plates? In this session, participants learn how plates interact at plate margins, how volcanoes work, and the story of Hawaii's formation.
Session 5 When Continents Collide
How is it possible that marine fossils are found on Mount Everest, the world's highest continental mountain? In this session, participants learn what happens when continents collide and how this process shapes the surface of the Earth.
Session 6 Restless Landscapes
If almost all mountains are formed the same way, why do they look so different? In this session, participants learn about the forces continually at work on the surface of the Earth that sculpt the ever-changing landscape.
Session 7 Our Nearest Neighbor: The Moon
Why is the Moon, our nearest neighbor in the solar system, so different from the Earth? In this session, participants explore the complex connections between the Earth and Moon, the origin of the Moon, and the roles played by gravity and collisions in the Earth-Moon system.
Session 8 Order out of Chaos: Our Solar System
Why do all the planets orbit the Sun in the same direction and why are the planets closest to the Sun so different from the gas giants farther out? In this session, participants gain a better understanding of the nature of the solar system by examining its formation.