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Essential Science for Teachers: Earth and Space Science

Restless Landscapes Featured Classroom: Barbara Waters with Robin Geggett; Mashpee, Massachusetts

Barbara Waters with Robin Geggett;
Mashpee, Massachusetts

“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:
Quashnet School

  • Location: Mashpee, Massachusetts
  • Grades: 3-6
  • Enrollment: 776
  • Ethnicity:
    85% White
    7% American Indian
    5% African American
    4% Hispanic
  • 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:
Watershed to Bay: A Raindrop Journey
University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension System
Grade: 4-8
Topic: Groundwater

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. ”

Series Directory

Essential Science for Teachers: Earth and Space Science


Produced by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 2004.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-742-8