Teach the Earth > Service Learning > Example Service Learning Projects > Investigating contaminant transport and environmental justice issues in a local watershed through service learning projects with Sierra Club

Investigating contaminant transport and environmental justice issues in a local watershed through service learning projects with Sierra Club

Jennifer Houghton
Environmental Science Program, Rhodes College
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Feb 18, 2010


Students will be applying hydrogeology concepts and methods in the lab and the field and conducting interviews as part of a coherent characterization of water quality issues and potential risks in local low-income, predominantly minority neighborhoods. Strengths: activities engage students to relate course material to community needs and challenges, as well as benefit community partners working for change in these communities.

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Undergraduate environmental science/geology course for non-major, but can be used in an upper-level geology course

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must have an understanding of the water cycle and have been exposed to basic GIS mapping methods earlier in the semester prior to beginning this project

How the activity is situated in the course

The project described is a set of activities that take place over a series of labs or outside class and are part of a semester-long service learning project in conjunction with Sierra Club. We also work with a group of students at Douglass High School in a nearby low-income neighborhood during the semester so there will be references to that component of the course when we include the high school students in our interviewing and field data collection.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

The Sierra Club has defined an issue that the Environmental Hydrogeology class will help address in this project: most of the surface waters in Memphis are under fish advisories and yet a portion of the population still subsistence fishes from these waters. Our main product we will produce for Sierra Club is a map of fishing sightings based on survey data we collect during the semester and a proposed sampling strategy to assess potential pollutants based on the knowledge the students gain in field and lab activities. We will also provide information on the percentage of survey participants that are aware of pollution issues in the local waterways and percentage that would be detered from fishing if they saw a sign. At the end of the semester, the students will hold an art contest to design better fish advisory signs, and designs will be made available to Sierra Club and the TN Dept. of Environment and Conservation.

Prior to beginning these activities, the students will have created a base map of Memphis in GIS during a previous lab and used it to consider questions of pollutant runoff from various urban spaces such as golf courses, roads, shopping centers, and City parks. (The instructions for this activity are included in the other materials section below under Creating a Base Map in GIS (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 30kB Feb7 10).) The base map will be used throughout the activities as field data and information from interviews/surveys are collected and added to the map for subsequent consideration of possible environmental justice issues.

The lab activities outlined require the students to conduct grain size analyses using samples that community members provide to them, calculate hydraulic conductivity, measure infiltration rates in the community, estimate impervious surfaces within the community, and subsequently model the transport of water within that community. Results of their work will be conveyed back to the community both through personal contact and via the Wiki page the students produce. Students will base their sampling recommendations by generalizing the concepts learned from these activities (and others during the semester) to apply the course material to the service project. The final map of sighting and recommendations for Sierra Club requires the students to apply concepts from previous activities and will be completed during the lab activity: Mapping survey results.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Lab reports posted to the Wiki:
Regular written reflection exercises (Example of reflection after survey day: Survey day reflection (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 10kB Feb8 10)) The final public Wiki page with summary of project results
Exit survey

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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